Macon makes transition to lethal injection for stray animals

The gas chamber used for euthanasia at Macon’s animal shelter will be demolished this week and replaced with a room where Animal Control workers can put down strays by lethal injection.

Macon City Council members who have advocated for a change in the way the shelter deals out death — Nancy White and Larry Schlesinger — as well as shelter officials and animal enthusiasts called a news conference Monday to mark the occasion. They had hoped to take sledgehammers to the cinder block gas chamber themselves, but liability concerns and the inclement weather meant real work probably won’t start until Wednesday.

Last year, the council passed an ordinance requiring that the city cease gas-chamber euthanasia by July 1. The gas chamber was used for the last time last week, said Jim Johnson, the shelter’s director. Since 1990, the state has banned the building of new gas chambers but allowed cities such as Macon that already were using them to continue doing so.

The largest challenge facing Macon’s transition has been money. Although lethal injection is considered more humane, city officials have said it can be more expensive.

But Johnson said the switch has been made possible by private donations that will cover the most costly start-up expenses. Central Georgia CARES, a fundraising effort that began last year, has raised about $50,000 to put toward the project. That money will be used to buy materials and drugs through July before the funding burden is switched to the city budget in fiscal 2010.

Macon’s Central Services Department will build the one-room euthanasia area, which is expected to be complete in about a month. Five staff members have been trained by the city vet to sedate the animals before delivering a lethal dose of pentobarbital. Johnson said the sedation step is more expensive but more humane.

“When you do it, they have no idea what’s happening,” he said. As the transition is made from gas chamber to lethal injection, officials say the city is taking an important but small first step. There are larger problems still to addressed, they said, such as reducing the animal population through education and spay/neuter programs or encouraging more adoptions. Johnson said the shelter performs eight to 12 euthanasias per day.

“The culture (in the community) really needs to change as well,” Schlesinger said.

Patti Jones, president of Central Georgia CARES, said that can happen. Jones said Macon needs to implement methods that have helped other local governments, such as Heard County, where she said the adoption rate is nearly 98 percent.

“It can be done,” she said. “The solution is having less animals and adopting more animals. ... Euthanasia is just a Band-Aid.”

To contact writer Matt Barnwell, call 744-4251.