At last night’s West Valley City Council meeting, former animal-shelter volunteer Polina Vyazovkina said she was let go from her position by shelter director Kelly Davis for criticizing the shelter’s carbon dioxide gas chamber used for euthanizing animals. “Kelly Davis fired me on Jan. 13 for using my free speech,” Vyazovkina said.
As a volunteer photographer, Vyazovkina says she and her partner Jai Breisch logged 326.5 hours of volunteer service for the shelter photographing shelter animals and loading the photos to the shelter database, which features them on two major pet-adoption Websites. But when the duo spoke out against the shelter’s gas chamber at a Jan. 6 West Valley City Council meeting, Vyazovkina says she was soon let go.
Vyazovkina was among dozens of supporters who came out to the Tuesday meeting to speak against the chamber that sparked outrage among animal-rights activists in October 2011 when it was learned that a cat named Andrea had been gassed -- twice, unsuccessfully -- by shelter staff and recovered later from a freezer where the cat was found still alive.
At last night’s meeting, Vyazovkina told the council that Davis told her that her actions and comments on the shelter’s Facebook page were giving the shelter a bad reputation. “Although it is certain that the shelter’s often-incorrect use of the gas chamber, its low adoption rates, lack of public education and inconvenient hours of operation are what bring on the shelter’s bad reputation,” Vyazovkina told the council from a prepared statement.
Breisch also challenged the management of the shelter for using the chamber on older animals despite assurances that they did not, since older animals who have difficulty breathing can suffer longer in the chamber. Breisch says that Tawny, a 15-year-old Cocker-Spaniel mix (pictured), was euthanized in the chamber.
He said the shelter could at least invest in tranquilizers for animals before they are put into the chamber. “The shelter does not even pay 20 to 30 cents to tranquilize each animal before euthanasia,” Breisch said. “I assure you that without the gas chamber and with tranquilizers, every animal will die with dignity and in a humane fashion.”
The council acknowledged that it was a hot topic and that they would explore the issue further to see about ways to make the process more humane and efficient. West Valley City Manager Wayne Pyle did speak to challenge claims that the chamber had not performed well. In a memo Pyle provided to the council, he writes that the chamber appears to have only malfunctioned once since it opened in 2009, according to his investigation.
As for the dismissal of volunteers of Vyazovkina and Breisch, Pyle says the shelter director was completely justified in foregoing the services of volunteers he felt might not support the shelter’s facilities and policies.
“If we can’t have that [support] from volunteers, then yes, it’s true, we won’t have those particular volunteers,” Pyle said. “It’s not worth the hassle, frankly, and it’s not worth the particular cost savings the volunteers have given.”