At the time public pressure brought by an animal advocate forced the Medina Co pound in Ohio to stop gassing cats, it was believed that the shelter staff did an admirable job caring for dogs. After all, the facility boasts a 92% live release rate for dogs. But records obtained via FOIA request appear to show that many of the dogs who were euthanized last year at Medina Co received less than the amount of Fatal Plus indicated on the label. For example, a 50 pound dog being euthanized by IV injection with Fatal Plus should receive no less than 5 cc according to label instructions. But many dogs whose weights were recorded as 50 pounds by Medina Co received only 4 cc of Fatal Plus with one 50 pound dog receiving just 3 cc. Several dogs weighing 60 pounds also received the 4 cc dose. This is a serious problem according to an animal euthanasia expert in Ohio:
The Medina County animal control officers “need to be relieved of duty pending a thorough investigation of their qualifications and ability to do their jobs,” David Balz, Ohio-certified euthanasia instructor and director of the Wyandot County Humane Society, wrote Thursday in an email to The Plain Dealer. “I would not trust them to work in my shelter, in any capacity, under any circumstances, let alone that of euthanasia technicians.”
The state of Ohio does not specifically require that those qualified to euthanize animals do so only using the dosage on the drug’s label. (The state of Virginia for example, requires exactly that.) But Ohio code does include this:
Any agent or employee of an animal shelter performing euthanasia by means of lethal injection shall do so only in a humane and proficient manner that is in conformity with the methods described in division (A) of this section and not in violation of Chapter 959. of the Revised Code.
A humane and proficient manner. In order to get a qualified opinion, I contacted David Balz myself. I asked him his view on whether using less than the label dosage, such as is evident in the Medina Co shelter’s drug logs, would qualify as performing euthanasia “in a humane and proficient manner”? He replied, in part:
I would say that it is certainly questionable. There is also the issue of using a drug “off label” in other words not following the directions or usage on the bottle. Only a licensed professional can do that. The rest of us have to use things as they are labeled. I may “know” that a particular drug will do something or that a different dosage would do a particular thing, but, not being a MD, DDS, DVM etc, I would not be allowed to do it any way except what is labeled on the bottle.
I also asked Mr. Balz to explain the concerns associated with using too little of a euthanasia drug. His reply, in part:
There are a number of problems associated with “underdosing” when using the drug for euthanasia. The most obvious is that, while the animal may literally go to sleep, it may also wake up. The problems with that are obvious. My worry about the workers in Medina is that if they previously had confusion regarding Intraperitoneal injections on cats and are now having problems with IV dosage calculations, then perhaps they also are not capable of establishing that the animal is dead before disposing of the body.
The other issue with “underdosing” is that at the doses we recommend you are basically “anesthetizing” the animal to the point where the base of the brain shuts down and the animal’s heart and lungs simply stop working – long after total unconsciousness which is the first effect. Picture the human operating room and the doctor asks the patient to start counting backwards from 100 – the doctor injects the drug and the patient says 99………and is unconscious. From that point on the level keeps deepening. Obviously in anesthesia we support the patient, but in the case of euthanasia they rapidly go into coma and then stop completely (at recommended doses they are unconscious in seconds and dead in 1 to 5 minutes). During this process there is an “excitement” phase where the patient/animal may flail about injuring themselves and others. When the animal is underdosed it becomes more likely that this excitement phase will occur or be extended. Thereby potentially being dangerous for the workers.
Public records obtained via FOIA request show that Medina Co shelter director Del Saffle, whose initials appear on all of the underdosed dogs, received training and certification in euthanasia practices in 1995. Although many shelters require their euthanasia technicians to continually update their training and certification, Medina Co apparently does not. Even without recent training, anyone performing euthanasia in an animal shelter should be reading and following the label instructions for the drug being used. No animal shelter employee should be underdosing animals with euthanasia drug under any circumstances. If there is to be any deviation from the label instructions, it is always recommended to overdose and never to underdose animals being euthanized.
From the HSUS euthanasia reference manual:
Technicians can help minimize the chances of record-keeping errors by rounding up (never down!) to the nearest milliliter[.]
[R]ounding up and administering slightly more drug than technically needed is perfectly acceptable (it is never acceptable to use less than the label dose).
Medina Co reportedly places euthanized animals into an onsite incinerator. The implications of the shelter’s practice of routine underdosing of dogs with euthanasia drug are obvious and disturbing. Why was this practice ever allowed at Medina Co and when will the county put a stop to it?