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from the Archive: Comment on AVMA’s Euthanasia Policy

In 2011, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) accepted comments about proposed updates to its Policy on Euthanasia.  At issue is the use of the “penetrating captive bolt gun”.  This excerpt is copied from the Animal Law Coalition website; go there for full details.


“The AVMA euphemistically describes the grizzly and outmoded practice of horse slaughter as “humane euthanasia” meaning a humane, good death.

In its 2007 Policy on Euthanasia and the proposed updates, AVMA endorses use of gunshot or the penetrating captive bolt gun to kill horses. In its 2007 Policy, AVMA states that “[a]dequate restraint is important to ensure proper placement of the captive bolt….When an animal can be appropriately restrained, the penetrating captive bolt is preferred to a gunshot.”

This caveat about using “adequate” or “appropriate” restraint is echoed on one page of the 2011 proposed guidelines: “Both [gunshot and the captive bolt gun] should only be used by well-trained personnel who are regularly monitored to ensure proficiency, and firearms must be well-maintained. Appropriate restraint is required for application of the penetrating captive bolt”.  In the discussion of equids specifically, the captive bolt gun is declared only conditionally acceptable unless all criteria for its use are met. In an article linked to the proposed guidelines, there is a warning that “good restraint” is required “so that the device may be held in close contact with the skull” when fired.

But on another page in the same proposed guidelines for use of the penetrating captive bolt gun, AVMA declares it not conditionally acceptable, but acceptable as a method of killing horses. The only disadvantages cited here are that the use of the “captive bolt can be aesthetically displeasing” and “[d]eath may not occur if equipment is not maintained and used properly.”

The proposed updates nowhere mention Dr. Lester Friedlander, DVM & former Chief USDA Inspector, who told Congress in 2008, “The captive bolt [used to slaughter horses] is not a proper instrument for the slaughter of equids, these animals regain consciousness 30 seconds after being struck, they are fully aware they are being vivisected.”

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