Brandy Cornell quit working at the shelter Friday after she said she witnessed dogs and cats euthanized with the heart sticks by untrained technicians.
"I could hear them screaming," Cornell said about the cats when they were being euthanized.
Technicians are required by law to train in Baton Rouge once a year. Cornell provided KTBS with a letter, which you can see in the video above. In that letter Dale Keeler, who oversaw Cornell at the shelter, said that all heart stick practices would "cease" as of May 8 "until a technician is trained in chemical sedation."
Under Louisiana law, heart stick, or IC, is illegal unless the animal has been sedated by a trained professional and can feel no pain.
"I could hear them screaming."
So to be clear, here is the law on euthanasia in Louisiana:
(1) Euthanasia methods and procedures must conform with recommendations outlined in the report of the American Veterinary Medical Association on Euthanasia, dated July 1, 1978, or as revised except as provided in Paragraphs (2) and (3) of this Subsection.
(2) Euthanasia by carbon monoxide gas chambers on cats and dogs shall be prohibitd beginning on January 1, 2013 and thereafter.
(3) Euthanasia by intracardiac injection on cats and dogs shall be prohibited unless the animal is unconscious or rendered completely unconscious and insensitive to pain through the injection of an anesthetic.
(4) Euthanasia personnel shall attend the Humane Society of the United States Academy on Euthanasia or an equivalent program within one year of date of employment.
The KTBS story ended with former shelter volunteer Brandy Cornell asking,"Why would he [Keeler] tell them they would cease euthanasia until they got a sedation class? Why would he even say that if someone was already certified to do it. That doesn't make any sense whatsoever,"
She raises a good point.
Question: Every certified animal euthanasia technician (CAET) at BCAC had to sign Keeler's May 8 mandate that "all intracardiac heart sticks will cease." Why would you sign something like that if you aren't actually doing the procedure?
What is heart stick? If you Google it, you'll get headlines and images you don't really want to see so let me quote from the Human Society of the United States Euthanasia Reference Manual:
Intracardiac Injection (IC) (Injection of Sodium Pentobarbital Directly Into the Heart)
An intracardiac (IC) Injection involves the injection of sodium pentobarbital directly into the heart, where it is quickly transported to the brain. Injection into a conscious animal's heart is excruciatingly painful, even if the technician is able to locate the heart chamber on the first attempt. For this reason, IC Injection must never be administered to an animal unless the euthanasia technician has confirmed that the animal is fully unconscious. Many states and municipalities have laws dictating that animals must be fully unconscious before an IC injection.The Humane Society details specific measures to ensure that the animal is completely unconscious before such a procedure.
This is a very effective way to euthanize an animal that is unconscious, but if not, it is torture.
"I could hear them screaming."
Finding the heart chamber is difficult, even for a trained and experienced technician.
A Certified Animal Euthanasia Technician (CAET) is trained to administer euthanasia, but not sedation, and a CAET must renew their certification each year. A CAET can only do heart stick euthanasia (IC) if the animal is totally unconscious from trauma or sedation and sedation must be done by a veterinarian according to Louisiana law:
§1209. Pre-Euthanasia Restraint
A. Euthanasia by intracardiac injection on cats and dogs shall be prohibited unless the animal is unconscious or rendered completely unconscious and insensitive to pain through the injection of an anesthetic. Such prohibition is applicable to animal control shelters and their animals located on site as well as their animals which may be transported to a veterinary clinic for euthanasia. Temporary transfer of ownership of the animal to the veterinarian by the animal control shelter for euthanasia by cardiac injection is a violation of the law. The performance of euthanasia by intracardiac injection in violation of this section by a CAET and/or veterinarian is sanctionable.
B. A CAET (lead status or otherwise) shall not use any drug for purposes of sedation, or any form of anesthesia, since sedation is beyond the permissible scope of euthanasia practice for this certificate holder. However, Acepromazine, Rompun (xylazine), or Domitor (medetomidine) which are non-controlled drugs, may be legally used by CAETs for pre-euthanasia restraint of feral/fractious animals. If an animal control shelter’s animal must be sedated/anesthetized pursuant to Subsection A above, then a LA licensed veterinarian must perform this service.
Question: What sedation drugs are on site at this shelter that are used prior to the IC procedure?
This should all be recorded at the shelter and monitored as controlled substances. There ought to be a paper trail. If not, that's a big problem.
Question: There is no vet on staff at this shelter; who orders and administers the sedation drugs required by law before IC Injection?
Question: Who on staff is sedation certified and for how long? How many animals were put to sleep before that certification occurred and by what method? Are the annual certifications up to date? Do the medication logs align with procedures?
I think what we will discover is that there are no required sedatives on site at this shelter and no one certified to deliver said sedatives.
I hope not.
That aside, it is a terrible and inhumane procedure which has been outlawed in many states. It should be a last resort procedure -- not the option of choice for euthanasia.
The whistle blowers in this case are both respected members of the animal community and have excellent reputations. I don't say that to insinuate that anyone else does not have an excellent reputation; I only mean that it is difficult to question what these whistle blowers are saying.
It is clear that there are many, many questions to be investigated in this story.
The Humane Society Reference Manual on Euthanasia defines euthanasia this way:
Euthanasia involves more than ending an animal's life. It is a process that combines compassion and scientific consideration while providing each animal with a death that is free of pain and stress. Along with the technical skills required, there must be compassion and a sense of solemnity, reverence, and respect for the animals.Shelter employees and volunteers are to be commended for the work they do; it is a job that is emotionally draining, without a doubt. We must applaud and support the whistle blowers; when an injustice is done it must be corrected and in this case, when the public's trust is compromised it must be restored. Best practices must be in place and full confidence in the shelter restored.
It is incumbent on the investigators to do this.