Utah County residents and animals rights activists are pressuring the North Utah Valley Animal Shelter to end gas chamber euthanasia of dogs, cats and other animals.

On Tuesday, dozens of protesters lined up around the street corner outside the Orem City Office, holding signs and demanding that Orem “ban gas chamber killing at (the) animal shelter” and alleging that the shelter “abuses dogs & cats.”

Despite the 99-degree weather, one protester wore a black and white, full-body dog suit as they waved at passing cars, many of which honked in solidarity.

The protest was organized by the Utah Animal Rights Coalition, which alleges that “dogs and cats at Orem’s animal shelter are dragged from their cages and sealed in a chamber that fills with toxic gas, a practice condemned by nearly all veterinarians and animal shelter professionals because it can take up to 30 minutes for the animals to die while they gasp for air and suffer.”

“Orem residents deserve a shelter that values the humane treatment of animals,” Jeremy Beckham, executive director of UARC, said in a written statement. “There’s no reason this shelter can’t use euthanasia by injection, like the overwhelming majority of animal shelters already do.”

An online petition to end the “murdering” of animals at NUVAS, which is located in Lindon and services all cities in north Utah County, has received 70,290 signatures.

In a 2020 report outlining euthanasia guidelines, the American Veterinary Medical Association states that the “preferred method of euthanasia in (animal control, rescue and shelter) facilities is injection of a barbiturate or barbituric acid.”

Tug Gettling, manager at the shelter, defended the carbon dioxide euthanasia during an Orem City Council work session on Tuesday, “because we believe it’s the safest for the workers and the less stressful for them, but also the most humane method for the animal.”

Gettling noted that the method is “insidious,” meaning it doesn’t startle the animals, and that death “occurs rapidly.”

“So when you look at the definition of a humane death, that’s what you want,” he said. “Something with minimal discomfort or pain, something that acts quickly and doesn’t frighten them and completes the job.”

Gettling added, “injection, we believe, is more stressful to the animal. You have to handle them much different.”

Gettling’s description of the euthanasia practice differed vastly from that of a Lindon resident who said she was “traumatized” while working at the animal shelter in 2013 and 2014.

During the public comment portion of Tuesday’s city council meeting, the Lindon resident said she still vividly remembers animals screaming and howling in fear, and cats getting in fights in the gas chamber. When she hears a hissing noise, “I will experience very vivid flashbacks and I am back in that room killing their animals.”

“I need you to understand that it is not humane,” the Lindon resident said. “It is a very cruel method and those animals suffer.”

As a way to visualize local opposition to carbon dioxide euthanasia, members of UARC unrolled a 30-foot-long paper petition littered with signatures from 13,000 Utah residents “that want the gas chambers banned in Utah County.”

Gettling criticized the protesters for using “their methods to intimidate, coerce and misinform” and urged Orem and other north Utah County cities to allow the shelter to continue using gas chamber euthanization.

“We don’t believe we should be bullied into doing something because they disagree with it,” he said. “We believe that we should look at what the science says and consider the other considerations, which there are other considerations besides just science, and then make that decision that way.”

Gettling told the city council he is preparing a report that will outline what he believes are the best euthanasia practices, which he will then present to the city.

Orem Mayor Richard Brunst, who noted that he and other city officials have been bombarded with emails from residents opposed to the euthanasia practice, said the city “will wait to see what the research shows and go accordingly.”

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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