What is your State’s Law Regarding Animal Shelter Use of Succinylcholine Chloride?

Succinylcholine chloride is a drug described as “a skeletal muscle relaxant used as an adjunct to anesthesia, to reduce muscle contractions during surgery or mechanical ventilation and to facilitate endotracheal intubation”.  I interpret this to mean that, in the proper dosage, the drug will relax the patient enough to allow an anesthetic breathing tube to be placed in the throat.

On page 21 of the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Guidelines on Euthanasia there is mention of the drug in reference to stranded marine mammals:

For stranded whales or other large cetaceans or pinnipeds, succinylcholine chloride in conjunction with potassium chloride, administered intravenously or intraperitoneally, has been used. This method, which is not an acceptable method of euthanasia as defined in these guidelines, leads to complete paralysis of the respiratory musculature and eventual death attributable to hypoxemia. This method may be more humane than allowing the stranded animal to suffocate over a period of hours or days if no other options are available.  [emphasis added]

In 2009, The Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners suspended the license of a vet who was using succinylcholine chloride to euthanize animals.

This week, the state of Indiana ordered a halt to pet killings by means of controlled substances at the Cass Co Humane Society after a former ACO went to the local news:

The Cass County Humane Society was first brought to the attention of 6News’ Joanna Massee by former animal control Officer Nikki DeChamps, who said animals were euthanized with a drug that causes them extreme pain and panic — succinylcholine chloride.

“Within seconds after you give them the injection, they appear to be in terrible, terrible, intense pain and agony,” DeChamps said.

It turns out that the shelter doesn’t have a license for controlled substances.

Cass County Humane Society President Dr. Chris Ciotta, a licensed veterinarian, said the drug is only used to immobilize animals in emergencies and denied it was ever used euthanize animals.

Ciotta said another drug, pentobarbital, is used for euthanasia, but it’s a controlled substance that the Cass County Humane Society isn’t licensed to use and never has been, Massee reported.

The state and federal Drug Enforcement Administration tightly control who has access to pentobarbital. Ciotta said he has the drug shipped to himself and gives it to the shelter, which is run by the Humane Society, for use.

“I’m providing the medications, so I’m overseeing it,” he said, admitting that he isn’t always there when the drug is administered. “It’s not a perfect world we live in. I can’t be here all the time.”

Gee, I hope that’s not the defense he’s planning to use with the feds.

Kim Kesler, the shelter director, was asked why the facility isn’t licensed for controlled substances.  (I wouldn’t use her reply as a defense either.)

“I don’t think anybody even really looked into … or even really thought of it,” Kesler said[.]

In many states, it’s illegal to use succinylcholine chloride for euthanizing pets.  Indiana is not one of those states.  There is currently a bill in the SC General Assembly to make the use of succinylcholine chloride for shelter euthanasias illegal here.  (The bill would outlaw the gas chamber as well.)  Do you know where your state stands?  Please share in the comments.  Bonus point if you provide a link to the law.

21 thoughts on “What is your State’s Law Regarding Animal Shelter Use of Succinylcholine Chloride?

  1. This is the reply I got from my former boss,Dr. Jonathan Turetsky, the BEST vet in the world, when I asked him about this drug:Full ViewRe: Succinylcholine
    To: myspiritdogs@yahoo.com

    ——————————————————————————–

    OMG…..that is horrifying. Beyond words. Succinylcholine is a drug that paralyzes. The individual is completely conscious but unable to move a muscle. I believe that respiratory muscles are also affected, so death occurs by suffocation with the victim completely aware of it but unable to do anything.

    I have no personal experience with the drug, and I haven’t looked it up in Wickipedia, but this is what I recall from school. At that time (and maybe still) it was sometimes used in conjunction with other drugs for induction of anesthesia in horses. In those cases, the horse was supposed to simultaneously lose consciousness.

    There is no question that if it is being used for euthanasia without other drugs to cause unconsciousness (and I can’t imagine why they would go to the trouble; if they were doing that they could just give pentabarbital alone) it is unspeakably cruel.

    Jonathan

    Let me know what you find out.

    I will look up what NYS laws are re:this “unspeakably cruel” drug.

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  2. California state law does not prohibit it, so far as I can tell, although I’ve never heard of any shelter using it:

    597u. (a) No person, peace officer, officer of a humane society, or
    officer of a pound or animal regulation department of a public
    agency shall kill any animal by using any of the following methods:
    (1) Carbon monoxide gas.
    (2) Intracardiac injection of a euthanasia agent on a conscious
    animal, unless the animal is heavily sedated or anesthetized in a
    humane manner, or comatose, or unless, in light of all the relevant
    circumstances, the procedure is justifiable.
    (b) With respect to the killing of any dog or cat, no person,
    peace officer, officer of a humane society, or officer of a pound or
    animal regulation department of a public agency shall use any of the
    methods specified in subdivision (a) or any of the following methods:
    (1) High-altitude decompression chamber.
    (2) Nitrogen gas

    597v. No person, peace officer, officer of a humane society, or
    officer of a pound or animal regulation department of a public agency
    shall kill any newborn dog or cat whose eyes have not yet opened by
    any other method than by the use of chloroform vapor or by
    inoculation of barbiturates.

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    1. Arizona law states which methods are legally allowed.

      § 11-1021. Proper care, maintenance and destruction of impounded animals

      A. Any animal impounded in a county, city or town pound shall be given proper and humane care and maintenance.
      B. Any animal destroyed while impounded in a county, city or town pound shall be destroyed only by the use of one of the following:
      1. Sodium pentobarbital or a derivative of sodium pentobarbital.
      2. T-61 euthanasia solution or its generic equivalent.
      C. If an animal is destroyed by means specified in subsection B, paragraph 1 or 2 of this section, it shall be done by a licensed veterinarian or in accordance with procedures established by the state veterinarian pursuant to § 3-1213.

      From what I find online, T-61 is an injectable euthanasia agent comprised of three drugs: a local anaesthetic, a strong hypnotic, and a paralytic. It must be administered intravenously at the dose and rate recommended by the manufacturer.

      Advantages:

      * it is not a controlled drug and so availability is less restricted, however it needs to be ordered, stored and used like a controlled drug because of the potential for abuse

      Disadvantages:

      * must be given as recommended; intravenously, slowly
      * in dogs there may be vocalisation and muscle contractions upon injection

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  3. Grace’s Law explicitly forbids using it to kill pets:
    http://www1.legis.ga.gov/legis/2009_10/fulltext/hb788.htm

    “Any substance which is clinically proven to be as humane as sodium pentobarbital and which has been officially recognized as such by the American Veterinary Medical Association may be used in lieu of sodium pentobarbital to perform euthanasia on dogs and cats, but succinylcholine chloride, curare, curariform mixtures, or any substance which acts as a neuromuscular blocking agent may not be used on a dog or cat in lieu of sodium pentobarbital for euthanasia purposes.”

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  4. After searching for the NYS law(s) re: this substance, I find that no animal in NYS may be euthanized outside of the standards of the AVMA, which prohibits the use of this obnoxious drug, if I remember rightly.

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  5. This is absolutely horrifying and cruel beyond measure!
    I’m a nurse and we use Succ for inducing anesthesia, but NEVER EVER EVER without using a sedative to induce unconsciousness first, and thats on HUMAN BEINGS! To do that to a helpless animal is just outrageously cruel, and those people should be SHOT, no better, they should experience it for themselves, just like those who use gas chambers and decompression chambers to execute animals.

    While I believe we can achieve NO KILL in every shelter, IF I was going to euthanize a pet, the overdose of sodium pentobarbital is for now, the most humane way to do it, as they slip into unconsciousness, in MY ARMS while I talk sweetly to them and stroke their ears and belly.

    Gas chambers and Decompression chambers and this use of Succ Choline is unspeakably cruel, and should fall under the laws of animal cruelty.

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  6. This makes me sick !!! This veterinary and people iin charge of this shelter should be given a nice big dose of this crap. I’m so sick of people getting away with this shit. These poor animals suffered in so much pain and I so sick of it. We need to do something about it. Is their anything I can do to see that these people a punished. These people should not be allowed to be around any animals every again!!!!!

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    1. If you – or any readers – are in Indiana, you could contact your state legislature and ask them to put forth a bill on humane euthanasia of pets that outlaws the use of this drug.

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      1. Yes, I am in Indiana and am totally embarrassed with what has happened. We don’t have any laws regulating pet stores that sell animals, we don’t do this, and we don’t do that. It is incredibly frustrating how animal related issues tend to go unnoticed.

        I contacted my state reps right after I heard about this. Nothing will be done, sadly.

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  7. Texas code sect. 821.052
    a) A person may euthanize a dog or cat in the custody of an animal shelter only by administering sodium pentobarbital or commercially compressed carbon monoxide.
    b) in short, sect. b says that all other animals must be euthanized in accordance with most recent reports of the AVMA Association Panel on Euthanasia.

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  8. Here is a 2008 Fordham Urban Law Journal article, “Anesthetizing the Public Conscience: Lethal Injection and Animal Euthanasia,” comparing death by injection for humans vs. for animals.

    Appendix I (p. 853) is a clearly organized chart showing which states explicitly or implicitly ban paralyzing agents, which states express a strong preference for pentobarbitol-based drugs (my state, Washington, is one), and which states are silent on approved methods of killing animals.

    Appendix II (p. 854) gives state law citations.

    Click to access alper.pdf

    Note the ending discussion, at the bottom of p. 851, about the controversy over the killing of shelter animals and about how, ironically, HSUS considers humane methods vital for the current system to continue:

    “Interestingly, the Humane Society of the United States finds itself in the middle of a controversy every bit as heated as the debate over the death penalty, namely whether animal shelters should euthanize stray cats and dogs. The Humane Society, taking the position that the euthanasia of millions of animals a year is an absolute necessity, has noted that the public’s confidence in a program that involves the euthanasia of animals depends on the credibility of the program’s administration . . . ”

    The author, Ty Alper, is a Berkeley law professor and human death-penalty specialist:

    http://www.law.berkeley.edu/php-programs/faculty/facultyProfile.php?facID=5490

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  9. To those who are interested in studying the minds of serial killers, this was the worst drug of all in the hands of a sadist: not only was it impossible to detect after a few moments, until recently there was no test for its presence in the body. Fortunately that has changed in the last few years.

    This drug was used by two famous serial killers for that reason and because it left the victim conscious but totally unable to move. Several of the victims literally suffocated because they could not properly breathe under its debilitating effects.

    This is not a drug to have in any animal shelter – no matter how well guarded. This should only be used in well-controlled surgical settings where licensed and credentialed anesthesiologists are on duty and administering the drug. Even anesthetists should not be allowed to get their hands on this most deadly drug.

    Just my 2¢ worth…

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  10. That’s not euthanasia. Euthanasia is humane.

    That’s killing an aware being by suffocation. Anyone using that method should be subjected to it.

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  11. Cass County Animal Shelter used Succinylcholine exclusively for cats. Kim Kesler lied as did Dr. Sciotta when it was brought to light. Close to 95% of all cats who enter that shelter are destroyed in this unbelievably cruel way. Dogs are destroyed with a heart stick – it is faster. It takes too long to find a vein in a paw and use anesthesia the humane way. Kesler is a monster. Sciotta’s wife defended the shelter and her husband, lied about drug usage, and totally destroyed my name and reputation in this small community. I am new to Logansport. They said that the shelter had been doing things correctly and that the animal control officers were the inhumane ones. I was trained by an AC officer who was trained directly by Kesler. I refused to euthanize …even humanely, but had Kesler on my back constantly threatening me – I did not want to lose my job, I was the only animal advocate here who also protected the rights of the animal. I used SuccC one time on a dead cat. Kesler had no way of knowing the cat was already dead and it got her off my back for awhile. Every animal that was euthanized had a written report with the drug amount listed. Kesler alone had control of these reports and the drug ordering, usage, etc. To say she had no knowledge of what was going on was patently false – ridiculous. She deserves to go back to her previous job, waiting tables or bartending or whatever – she can hurt less living things that way. After I had this broadcast on Channel 6, Kesler walked off of the job because of some threats. I told Ciotta’s wife not to worry, she would be back, where else could she find so many innocent creatures to hurt under one roof.

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  12. I live in Indiana. I recently had to have my cat put down, and because money was a factor, I went to the cheapest vet that I could find. This would be the Portland vet, which killed my cat with a dose of this very drug. It was horrific, awful, surreal….. and the worst, cruelest ending my cat could ever have received. I didn’t realize I had signed her up for such a terrible death until I saw her reaction to the drug. I will spare you the description… but I will have this memory for as long as I live. And I think the vet, who has done this to countless animals, should suffer the same fate. I feel like I let my beloved pet down, and I can’t undo it. Once the medicine was administered, it was a long, slow, awful death full of suffering and pain. If you live in Indiana, please steer clear of the Portland vet on 32, for your pet’s sake…. and your own. My Pudge is now buried in the back yard, and her suffering has ended… but if the story of her death can save even a single other animal from a similar fate, I want it to do so. Please, please, PLEASE…. ASK ahead of time. Will the animal be sedated? What method is used? Do not spare yourself the details at the expense of your pet! Or, you may very well regret it for as long as you live. I know that I will.

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