Out of Gas
It goes without saying that we all want to see the day when there’s no more euthanasia of healthy and treatable pets. Few things stir greater passions—there’s so much to do because each homeless animal put to death is a tragedy, really. But let’s also remind ourselves how far we’ve come. As a movement, we’ve succeeded in driving down euthanasia of dogs and cats by 80 percent, from 15 million in the mid-1970s to fewer than three million today. With aggressive campaigns to promote shelter and rescue adoptions, with determined efforts on behalf of spaying and neutering including more targeted outreach to underserved communities, with pet retention programs to keep animals from reaching shelters in the first place, and with innovative organizational partnerships between shelters and rescue groups, the goal of ending routine euthanasia is within reach.
But until we get to that point, euthanasia must be performed as humanely as possible. And one thing is clear: gas chambers do not belong in our nation’s public or private shelters. Imagine the stress and confusion for a healthy adult dog placed in the terrible confines of a gas chamber and then the door clangs shut. Then think about the effect on the old, young, sick, or injured. Simply stated, it’s impossible for this kind of euthanasia to be conducted humanely. Or with dignity.
Gas chambers take a needless toll on the physical and psychological wellbeing of staff too. Animal care workers have even been injured and killed by carbon monoxide—the colorless, odorless and tasteless toxic gas used in most shelter chambers.
Excessive financial costs further erode any conceivable justification for gas chambers. Studies have shown that operating a gas chamber is more expensive than using humane euthanasia drugs. It’s time to mothball gas chambers, period.
Indeed, we’ve been making progress toward that goal. In the past 10 months, Kansas, Pennsylvania, and Texas have all passed laws to ban gas chambers. That brings to 23 the number of states with bans or partial bans. Nearly a dozen other states have voluntarily eliminated chambers. In Mississippi, the legislature failed to pass a statewide ban, but animal welfare groups succeeded in eliminating the last chamber from the state.
There’s no exact census of how many gas chambers are actually in use. In the remaining states where gas chambers are most common—including Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, and Oklahoma—there may be as many as 150 or as few as three dozen. But the numbers continue to drop as The HSUS and other groups provide one-on-one support to help shelters convert to more humane methods.
Within the last two years, for example, six North Carolina shelters have voluntarily stopped using chambers. In many cases, shelters need the legal authority to license and purchase drugs used for euthanasia by injection, and after such legislation is adopted, they can dismantle their gas chambers for good.
Looking ahead, a statewide ban is under consideration in Michigan. Efforts are underway to require more humane methods in other states. At the federal level, Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va., co-chair of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, and Lou Barletta, R-Pa., have introduced resolutions condemning the use of gas chambers for shelter animals. HSLF will continue to support these legislative initiatives.
So our goals here are two. We are closing in on the day when the last shelter gas chamber in the United States is shut down, and let’s finish that job right away. Meanwhile, we cannot spare even a moment in our quest for the wonderful day when every adoptable cat and dog can find a forever home and euthanasia of such animals passes into history.