Andy Kim is a former GOVERNING staff writer.
It’s estimated that 6 million to 8 million dogs and cats are cared for in U.S. animal shelters each year -- roughly half of which are eventually euthanized. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) prefers euthanasia by injection (EBI) over all other methods of ending animal lives. But some shelters still regularly euthanize their animals by placing them in gas chambers -- a method that the AVMA lists as an “acceptable” means of euthanasia. This method, however, is coming under attack in several states.
A primary reason EBI is preferred by the AVMA, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and other animal rights organizations is because it’s considered safer than gas chambers for both animals and shelter workers. When improperly handled or poorly maintained, the substances used in gas chambers can cause serious illness -- or even death. There have been numerous cases of such incidents, including that of a shelter worker in Tennessee who died in 2000 while operating a faulty gas chamber.
As a result, some states are taking action to lessen or eliminate gas chamber use in public animal shelters. Currently, 19 states have passed laws that either ban or restrict gas chamber use. This past summer, Georgia and Louisiana enacted laws that prohibit their use as a means of animal euthanasia. Grace’s Law was passed in Georgia after a dog survived a 30-minute gassing attempt, and it’s now illegal to kill any shelter pets in gas chambers. Louisiana’s law also banned gas chambers, but it doesn’t go into effect until 2013.
A similar bill in North Carolina failed to get out of committee, but the state did pass a direct licensing law. “More states need to pass [such] law[s],” says Kim Intino, the HSUS director of shelter services. “It allows a trained animal shelter worker to administer sodium pentobarbital without the direct supervision of a veterinarian.” Many shelters still using gas chambers are underfunded and understaffed. They also are hesitant to change their ways since new laws include possible cost increases associated with purchasing supplies and training staff for EBI. A direct licensing law, says Intino, would allow understaffed and underfunded shelters to implement EBI on a regular basis without incurring the costs and schedule restraints associated with veterinarian supervision.