CAPTIVE BOLT GUNS HAVE NO PLACE IN OUR 21ST CENTURY SOCIETY
The use of the captive bolt pistol in dogs by vet- Andre Menache BSc(Hons) BVSc MRCVS
As a veterinary surgeon in animal welfare for almost 30 years, and having witnessed first-hand the effects of captive bolt stunning in dogs, I feel somewhat competent to express my view on this subject (1). Although this practice may be considered as acceptable in those parts of the world where veterinary resources are very limited, or where there is little concern for animal welfare, neither of these factors apply to 21st century UK.
The concussion caused by the captive bolt leads to destruction of parts of the brain as well as massive bleeding and an increase in intracranial pressure, all of which cause the animal to lose consciousness. Occasionally, an animal may regain consciousness after the initial concussion. This is especially likely if an animal moves its head at the instant the pistol is discharged. Worse still, the operator may inflict a serious wound, without hitting the brain at all, and be faced with a completely conscious animal in agony.
In a successful stun, although brain matter may have been destroyed, the brain stem is often left intact, which explains why the heart will continue to beat. Although this may be desirable in a slaughterhouse context, in the case of dogs, it necessitates the need for a supplementary agent, such as lethal injection with barbiturates, to ensure swift euthansia.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation,
“Captive-bolt pistols are an acceptable alternative to firearms where animals are sufficiently restrained, provided that the team understands that animals may be stunned rather than killed. They must be competent to know when an animal is only stunned and trained and equipped to kill such an animal immediately after stunning”(2).
This view is echoed by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) guidelines on euthanasia (June 2007), which state that “death may not occur if equipment is not maintained and used properly” (3).
In a letter addressed to me by the Chief Veterinary Officer of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), dated 12th January 2009, Mr S.E. Chetham writes: “we would have serious concerns over the use of the captive bolt only by lay persons because the captive bolt, in itself, does not guarantee death, merely stunning is a possibility. Secondly all our operatives who have captive bolts have pentobarbitone sodium at their disposal. I hope this clarifies our position”.
From the above, we can conclude that the use of the captive bolt pistol on its own is not an acceptable means of euthanasia in dogs. The use of a supplementary agent to ensure euthanasia, such as lethal injection with a controlled substance, is permissible only to highly trained and registered personnel. A lay person using a captive bolt pistol to kill dogs would need to ensure death either by pithing or by exsanguination, both of which raise further animal welfare concerns, assuming they were performed at all.
Therefore, in the interests of animal welfare, the use of the captive bolt pistol in dogs by lay persons should no longer be allowed in the UK.
Andre Menache BSc(Hons) BVSc MRCVS
London, 17 June 2009.