Alaska is one of a few states where animal shelter workers lack the authority to administer drugs to euthanize severely injured, mortally sick or abandoned animals.
Monday, the Alaska House passed a bill that would change that, giving animal control agencies the means to perform euthanasia in the most humane way without having to employ a veterinarian or acquire the drugs through a veterinary license.
House Bill 306, sponsored by Rep. Ken Lancaster, R-Soldotna, passed the House unanimously and is headed for the Alaska Senate.
"In Alaska, animal control agencies presently do not have the authority to purchase, possess or use certain drugs for the most humane methods of euthanasia for domestic animals," Lancaster said in a press release Monday. "Right now, veterinarians have to be called in, or the animals have to be transported to a veterinarian."
Only licensed vets are permitted under current law to prescribe and administer euthanasia drugs, such as pentobarbital. But in many areas of the state veterinarian visits are rare. Transporting animals to a vet can be prohibitively expensive, Lancaster said. That typically means that harsher measures for putting down animals must be used.
"Not only would this bill make euthanasia more convenient and humane, but it would also save municipalities a great deal of money," Lancaster said.
Anchorage veterinarian Dr. Paul Frederickson, secretary of the Alaska State Veterinary Medical Association, said the association is officially opposed to the legislation, but the degree of opposition among members varies.
"Officially, we are opposed," he said, adding that some members in remote areas have said they wouldn't be all that worried if the bill did pass. Liability is the problem.
In some places, shelter officials can administer euthanasia drugs to animals, but they must obtain the drugs through a licensed vet. Getting vets to agree to take on the liability has been a problem, said Marianne Clark, animal control officer for the city of Soldotna. A vet's license could be placed in jeopardy if the drugs were misused, she said.
There have been times, she said, when the city had no choice but to hire a vet to put animals down, which drove up costs.
In the past, the city has spent as much as $11 to $27 an animal to have a vet do the job. When shelter officials can obtain the drugs through a vet but do it themselves, the cost drops to between 50 cents and $2 per animal, she said.
The potential for savings in House Bill 306 go well beyond the price per dose. When a vet's services are required, the shelter might have to pay for several days' worth of employee time, animal food and other costs while waiting the day of the doctor's visit, Clark said. When the state and its cities are looking everywhere for ways to shave their budgets, House Bill 306 offers a tool, she said.
The bill, however, would make a special exemption to the Veterinary Practices Act that now limits the practice of veterinary medicine to licensed veterinarians, Frederickson said.
"This takes controlled drugs out of the control of licensed vets," adding to the potential they might fall into untrained hands, he said.
The bill would help put drugs into Alaska villages where there may already be substance-abuse problems. The drugs are labeled as deadly, but some could be diluted, he said.
Frederickson said vets support the use of euthanasia drugs as a humane way to kill suffering animals. They generally oppose shooting animals to put them down.
House Bill 306 would not preclude vets from providing services where warranted and needed. The bill would allow the state Department of Community and Economic Development to issue licenses to administer such drugs to trained technicians who are not veterinarians. Licenses would be limited to those who work for animal control agencies and who pass a euthanasia technician course, approved jointly by the National Animal Control Association, the American Humane Association and the Human Society of the United States.
Such training programs are available in Alaska, Lancaster said.
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