SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – The COVID-19 pandemic brought unique challenges to animal advocates during the past year and a half, with a surge in adoptions during the peak of quarantine but then an increase in surrenders after life began returning to normal.

A number of pet owners kept their animals indoors more than usual, hindering their social skills and fueling the development of separation anxiety. Meanwhile, bills related to the betterment of quality of life for animals in Utah seemed to take a backseat as legislation addressing the pandemic took center stage during this year’s session.


Linda Hapsmith, shelter coordinator at Emery County Animal Shelter joined ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen for an IN FOCUS discussion over the overcapacity issues they’re facing at their facility. She said they saw a brief spell at the beginning of the year where the shelter had zero dogs and zero cats in its facilities, which Hapsmith said has never happened before. They suspect the pandemic had a lot to do with it as people hunkered down in their homes over the winter during quarantine. However, once mask mandates were lifted and more people were vaccinated, they saw an uptick in owner surrenders and an explosion in cats.

Hapsmith said anecdotally, economics and housing seem to be a large factor for owner surrenders. Most of their surrenders have been with their owners for more than a year, so the pandemic may have exacerbated their financial and housing situation to the point they need to move or turn in their pet, because they can’t afford to keep them anymore. She said the pandemic also shut down rescue groups from visiting them regularly to transport unadopted animals to other shelters in the state.


Jeremy Beckham, executive director of the Utah Animal Rights Coalition (UARC) talked about their advocacy efforts to eliminate gas chamber euthanasia practices at two remaining local animal shelters in the state, North Utah Valley Animal Shelter (NUVAS) and South Utah Valley Animal Shelter (SUVAS). For nine consecutive legislative sessions, Utah considered bills to ban gas chamber euthanasia entirely, but the legislation never made it to the governor’s desk for signature into law.

So now, he said they are focusing their efforts on local officials. During an Orem City Council meeting back on June 15th, UARC unfurled a long, printed list of names from their petition that’s garnered tens of thousands of signatures. Currently, 26 states plus the District of Columbia now explicitly prohibit the practice by statute. But even in most states where it is lawfully permitted, there are no shelters still using this method in 2021. The three states with known shelters still using gas chambers for euthanasia is Utah, Wyoming, and Ohio.

Beckham said it takes more time for an animal to lose consciousness and subsequently die in a carbon monoxide chamber than it does when euthanizing by injection. They likely experience unpleasant symptoms such as carbon monoxide poisoning, headache, confusion, dizziness, nausea, and convulsions before they die. There have also been cases where animals survived their horrific gas chamber experience and were subjected to the procedure multiple times. When not fatal, the exposure can result in permanent brain damage and cardiac injury.

Requests for comment from North Utah Valley Animal Shelter and South Utah Valley Animal Shelter were not returned.


Randee Lueker, rescue and event coordinator for Salt Lake County Animal Services talked about pet summer safety and ways to keep them safe during the hot temperatures. One of the top dangers is pet owners leaving their dogs in cars. Temperatures inside a car can increase by an average of 40 degrees an hour, with the bulk occurring in the first 15 to 20 minutes. For most companion animals, heat exhaustion, irreparable damage occurs in an animal’s body and the chance of death is likely at 110 degrees.

Other dangers include walking dogs during hot temperatures and risking burns to their paws and exposing them to heat exhaustion when hiking on trails that are fully exposed in the sun on hot days. Although it doesn’t pose a deadly threat to dogs, advocates advise to also stay indoors with your dogs on days when there’s fireworks outside such as the 4th of July or Pioneer Day.

To watch the full IN FOCUS discussion with Hapsmith, Beckham, and Lueker, click on the video at the top of the article.

Catch IN FOCUS discussions with ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen weeknights on the CW30 News at 7 p.m.

Rosie Nguyen is an award-winning journalist who joined the ABC4 News team as a reporter in January 2018. In September 2020, she embarked on a new journey as the anchor for the CW30 News at 7 p.m. Although she’s not out in the field anymore, she is continuing her passion for social justice and community issues through the nightly “In Focus” discussions.