Killing of shelter animals raises uproar

HOUSTON: Four dogs, four cats are shot; city officials defend action.

February 2, 2010 

Houston police shot and killed all eight remaining cats and dogs lodged at the city's Animal Protection and Safety shelter on Tuesday after homes could not be found for the animals.

Some of the four dogs and four cats had been unclaimed at the facility since November, and the city wasn't prepared to keep them forever, said department head Sgt. Charlie Seidl, who shot them.

"We stretched out as long as we could," Seidl said. "At one point in time, we were completely full. So we were able to adopt out the animals that we could adopt out, but with these ones that were left we weren't able to do that. And like I said, we can't hang on to them indefinitely."

Some of the animals in the shelter Tuesday received an 11th-hour stay. Evelyn Rohr, a volunteer at the shelter, said she managed to get six or seven cats out before the culling and planned to deliver them to rescue facilities in Anchorage.

Cindy Liggett, of Kitty and K-9 Connection animal rescue in Anchorage, was preparing to accept some today. But others were not so lucky. Liggett said she was in the process Tuesday of trying to find a home for a black Labrador retriever in the shelter. But by the time she found someone interested, it was too late.

"This is how much notice we were given," Liggett said. "By the time I got that phone call and I called back, Evelyn (Rohr) said, 'It's too late. He's already dead.' "

The Alaska Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said it would have tried to help find homes for the animals, but Houston animal control hadn't contacted the agency.

News of the euthanasia sparked outrage among some animal lovers, who denounced the chosen method of killing.

"There are more humane ways of killing animals than taking them out and shooting them," Liggett said. "We are not a poor society. We are not a backwoods community. There is a vet clinic there."

Said Rohr: "I mean, this is barbaric. I think there are better ways to handle it."

No one at the Houston city offices seemed prepared to take credit for directing the action. Several involved parties, including Seidl, said Mayor Roger Purcell ordered the animals put down.

"This was basically a directive that was given to me, and it's a lawful order, so I carried it out," Seidl said. "It's unfortunate any time you have to put down animals."

The chain of events recounted by Rohr also included an order from the mayor to police to kill the animals after an officer at the shelter -- who could not be reached for comment Tuesday -- refused to do it.

Purcell, however, said he was in Juneau on Tuesday and flatly denied ordering the animals killed, saying he knew nothing about it until a reporter called his office.

"Animal control keeps them for three to five days and then they're disposed of in a legal way. But I don't get told when they dispose of dogs," Purcell said. "I know our officers try really hard to find homes and we keep dogs longer than any other."

Purcell said the city was working to have its animal control officer licensed by the state to euthanize animals by lethal injection rather than having a veterinarian do it at greater cost. But he offered no apologies for the method used, saying it is common in rural areas around the state.

Liggett said shooting the animals as a cost- saving measure is cruel. She painted a picture of terrified dogs being led to their slaughter rather than getting the quiet, peaceful end they would see with lethal injection. And with a bullet to the brain there's always the possibility of something going terribly wrong, she said.

Sally Clampitt, executive director of the Alaska SPCA, said lethal injections offer the most humane way to euthanize an animal, though the group recommends doing so only when an animal has major health problems or is dangerous. Injections on sedate animals ensure nothing goes wrong and that the animal is at peace at the end, she said.

"I think that's really horrible, frankly," Clampitt said of shooting the animals. "Our position is that euthanasia done by a licensed veterinarian is the preferred and most humane way."

Find James Halpin online at adn.com/contact/jhalpin or call him at 257-4589.

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