Heart Sticking Animals in Shelters

Heart sticking, also called a “heart shot” and more scientifically, an “intercardiac injection” is a way of killing an animal at a US shelter. I have no idea how commonplace it is. It is probably fairly rare. I hope so because it is cruel and painful. The idea is to inject pentobarbital sodium directly into the heart. It is easy to miss the heart.

“Intracardiac injections are difficult to administer effectively on a fully conscious animal because in the animal, the lungs and the heart are constantly moving.”  (Dr. Bonnie Beaver, a veterinarian and professor of veterinary medicine)

The needle has to pass through muscle and into the heart. What if the person hits a lung instead? This is not humane euthanasia, it is plain brutal killing. How can a shelter employee actually do it? A person who does this day in day out has to be ill-suited for work at an animal shelter as far as I am concerned. Heart sticking happens or happened at St. George Animal Shelter, St. George, Utah. The councilman Jon Pike thankfully finds it abhorrent and wants it stopped immediately.

There is another aspect to heart sticking that sticks in my throat: the councilman does not know if it is illegal or not. It seems the law is unclear or the interpretation of the law can be bent to make heart sticking legal. I don’t know. Whatever, it should be illegal unless carried out by a vet for genuine reasons such as the animal has poor circulation.

As it happens the operational director of PAWS, a privately-funded no-kill animal shelter says:

“They do it [heart sticking] illegally, actually,”

So, she knows it is illegal. Shouldn’t that point be cleared up and if it is illegal the shelter director should be prosecuted in the criminal courts. He won’t.

The heart shot should only be administered after the cat or dog has been deeply sedated (unconscious). I suppose that necessary preliminary step has been bypassed because it would cost more to kill a dog and it would take longer.

This cruel way to kill unwanted animals has been going on for a long time apparently. The reason for this and other major deficiencies at the shelter in question is because of a lack of adequate funding. That is the excuse. I don’t know if it is true or whether management just became very callous.

Another procedural horror at St. George’s Animal Shelter is that the cages where hosed down while the dog was in the cage. This frightens dogs and makes then aggressive and in addition to the fact that they were allowed to defecate on the floor in the cage makes them unadoptable or less likely to be adopted. It is one problem creating another.

Do we know how much animal abuse takes place at animals shelters, nationwide? No one knows. No one talks about it. The staff keep their mouths firmly shut for fear of losing their job. Sometimes, when abuse is bad, it leaks out eventually.

There needs to be checks on shelters and better management. There needs to be accountability to the residents who are paying the bills through tax through proper record keeping.

The key is management. If the person at the top is genuinely concerned about animal welfare, if she or he cares, there will be no animal abuse.  It is critical that the shelter director is of the requisite quality and experience.

Dee had the idea of fitting CCTV in the shelters as a preventative measure. I like that. There is no doubt that it would work provided videoed abuse is acted upon. It is about effective enforcement. Without enforcement of the law or procedures bad behaviour is indirectly condoned and reinforced.

Gas chambers are still used in some shelters in some states that allow it (as I understand it  – wrong? Please tell me). Now I discover that heart sticking has also been condoned in a Utah shelter. How prevalent is it, I wonder?

Original story (found by Dee – thank you)

11 thoughts on “Heart Sticking Animals in Shelters”

  1. I’ve heard the same and I’ve also been informed by several reputable people that they are not fully sedating them and ferals not sedated at all!!!

      • MADACC – Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission

        Ruth, do you know how they justify this procedure? My reading about the heart shot is that the cat or dog should be deeply sedated to make sure that the needle is inserted accurately.

        • They say that the animals are given a shot to relax them and then workers stroke them and help to calm them until the heart stick is given. So they aren’t put all the way under first.

          MADACC, according to a shelter worker at a no kill shelter, killed a bunch of kittens a few years ago despite a shelter offering to take them. They continue to kill ferals despite a county wide TNR program being put in place. I think the leadership there just sees killing as the answer to too many cats. Of course, feral cats killing and rats, so I’m not sure too many is even correct. Milwaukee has a rat problem. Killing all our stray and feral cats will only exacerbate it.

          • I get the impression that a lot of people see killing cats as fast as possible as the way forward. I understand why they think that but I strongly disagree with them. It is not right and in the long term it will prove to be ineffective. It won’t work. It is shorttermism and reactive.

  2. Milwaukee animal control uses heart stick to kill cats, but they say they sedate them first. That is what would have happened to Monty had I not went back for him.

    • Thanks Ruth. It’s about proper deep sedation. That is what makes it acceptable but even then it is wrong because it should be a second choice method after conventional veterinary euthanasia. In fact it is still wrong on a number of levels because these are healthy animals.

      Frankly this shelter is an example of how the domestication of dogs and cats has gone wrong.

  3. Sadly the ones I witnessed weren’t sedated first, I presume the shelters doing this are ran by the state an they aren’t renowned for compassion they just want to get rid of the poor unwanted cats as cheaply as possible.

  4. I have seen vets euthanize by injection into the heart or kidney when they couldn’t get into vein and I found it brutal and is one of the main reasons I stay with any cat which is being PTS for health reasons , we don’t PTS for any other reason, the thought of it being done by shelter staff is horrific 🙁

    • Yes, Marion, if a vet has to euthanise this way then he has to for medical reasons and when the animal is deeply sedated but as you say, when a non-vet kills animals routinely without sedating in this way it is horrific. This is not a shelter. It is a processing plant.


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