Officials concerned about funding for euthanasia switch

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Dennis Weist with the Clovis Animal Shelter offers a pitbull a bowl of food during feeding time Wednesday at the shelter. The state Senate has approved a bill that would eliminate the use of the gas chamber to euthanize stray dogs and cats. The Clovis An

By Sharna Johnson

Clovis may soon be forced to change the way it destroys stray dogs and cats.

Euthanasia seems poised to become the law of the state.

And while both sides in what was a contentious issue in Clovis say they accept this, the question of who pays the cost of changing remains at issue.

The debate centers around House Bill 265, a law that forbids gas chamber euthanasia — the method now employed in Clovis — and specifies euthanasia must be by lethal injection.

The bill passed the state Senate Tuesday by unanimous vote, 38-0, and now awaits Gov. Bill Richardson’s signature to become law.

Richardson has made his support of the bill well-known and is expected to sign it. It would become effective July 1.

Clovis Mayor Gayla Brumfield says she is glad to see the law will change.

“Personally, I think it’s a good decision. All the rest of the state does it this way,” she said Wednesday.

“I think that it’s time to move on and we need to start working on training some of our people.”

Brumfield said she is confident Richardson will provide state tax money to help pay the costs of changing.

Costs for making the switch are estimated at $141,200 for the first year, and an annual cost of $92,200 for subsequent years.

Clovis City Commissioner Juan Garza, who opposed lethal injection when the issue starting heating up last spring, said Wednesday while he is resigned to the change, he wonders where the money to pay for the switch will come from.

“What’s done is done and what we need to concentrate more on is the future. How are we going to be able to get revenue to pay for this change,” he said.

“I knew it was coming. I’ve been following the bill and it’s a feel good bill. They (the state) don’t have the extra money…but they’re mandating this.”

Richardson had pledged $100,000 to help Clovis convert during the height of the citywide debate last December.

Garza has long argued the gas chamber was an effective and humane method of killing dogs and cats and the expense of changing over to lethal injection places too heavy a financial burden on taxpayers when they already have a system that works.

“The American Veterinary Association still approves of that method. Does it really makes sense to go to the expense when it’s really just (an issue of) perception? It’s just a perception, it’s a feel good bill to me,” Garza said Wednesday.

Garza said in all his research and even first-hand observation of both methods, he could find no proof that gas chambers were less humane.

The Clovis Animal Shelter destroyed 2,457 cats and dogs in 2007, according to city figures. Some of those cats and dogs come from Portales, which contracts with Clovis to dispose of its strays.

“We are killing the animals and it bothers me that we are still having to do that… Maybe if we can stop killing the dogs then we’ll be okay,” Garza said. “But I don’t think that’s going to happen… I feel bad for these animals but until we get more responsible owners to take care of their pets, nothing is going to change.”

Garza was one of four city commissioners in December to vote against a recommendation by the animal task force sub-committee to switch to lethal injection.

The issue first arose in the spring when Animal Protection of New Mexico began lobbying Clovis leaders, predicting changing legislation and offering financial assistance to make the transition to lethal injection.

Brumfield has long supported the community switching to lethal injection and has on numerous occasions said the governor has pledged his financial support for the transition in conversations they have had.

As recently as last week, Brumfield said Richardson reiterated his support and his awareness that funding is an issue for communities forced to change.

Even though Clovis voted against the switch, Brumfield said she believes the governor will still help with funding.

“He wanted us to be proactive and move forward… This was an issue that he feels very deeply about and he will absolutely sign it,” she said.

Brumfield said funding may also come from a companion bill, HB 892, which seeks to establish a $500,000 appropriation to help communities afford the transition.

The bill has not made its way to the floor yet, with two days left in the session.

“The cost between the two methods is really a wash,” Brumfield said, explaining that expenses associated with the change were going to be needed eventually anyway.

Garza and other commissioners who voted against the switch were always concerned because there were promises of funding but never any proof that the money would come through if they conceded to lobby efforts, he said.

“The bottom line was that we were concerned if we gave into the demands of this group without getting in touch with the governor and then didn’t get the funding…politics is politics and it’s so sad that they don’t really have an idea how much it’s going to cost until they really start doing it,” he said.

Garza said he still receives e-mails from people who live outside the area, criticizing his stance on the issue but that about 90 percent of the constituents he has heard from support his position.

People have accused him of being cold and heartless, Garza said.

But Garza said he truly believes the two euthanasia methods are equal and does not believe gas harms animals any more than lethal injection. To Garza, it was always a matter of pragmatism and protecting the interests of constituents.

“I love animals, I have pets,” Garza said. “I do care. I have grandchildren that have pets. For me not to have feelings about it would be pretty cold, and I’m not that way,” he said.

“We’re going to put this behind us and we’re going to move on.”