Gassing in animal shelters nears abolition, but continues on farms & in fields

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2010:


Momentum toward abolition of gassing
shelter animals was evident in seven of the last
states where gassing continues as the May 2010
edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE went to press, but a
faxed publicity release received near deadline
made clear that abolishing carbon monoxide
chambers will be just the start of abolishing
gassing altogether.
The publicity release touted kits for
connecting the exhaust pipes of cars, trucks,
and lawn mowers to hoses, in order to gas
burrowing animals with unfiltered hot fumes.
The American Veterinary Medical
Association still accepts use of gassing to kill
small animals, including dogs, cats, and
captive wildlife, but not gassing with exhaust
fumes. “Fumes from idling gasoline internal
combustion enginesÅ are associated with problems
such as production of other gases, achieving
inadequate concentrations of carbon monoxide,
[and] inadequate cooling of the gas,”
summarizes the AVMA publication Guidelines on
Euthanasia. “Therefore, the only acceptable
source is compressed carbon monoxide in

Sixteen states have banned gassing
shelter animals, including Illinois, New
Mexico, New York, and West Virginia in 2009.
The legislatures of five states– Georgia,
Louisiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and
Utah–considered bills to prohibit gassing during
their spring 2010 sessions.
Georgia banned installing new gas
chambers in 1990, but allowed existing gas
chambers to remain in use. The Georgia bill,
sent to Governor Sonny Perdue on April 29, 2010,
would require the 11 agencies that still gas
animals to stop by January 1, 2013.
The Louisiana bill was approved by the
Louisiana Senate 35-0 on April 27, 2010, and was
referred to the state House of Representatives.
The Louisiana bill began moving after
Humane Society of Louisiana founder Jeff Dorson
toured the Terrebonne Parish animal shelter on
March 12, 2010, “in response to three written
complaints alleging that the gas chamber
malfunctioned on occasion, employees did not
properly use it, and condemned animals suffer as
a result,” reported Houma Courier senior staff
writer John DeSantis.
The Louisiana bill would ban the “heart
stick” method of injection killing, as well as
gassing, “unless the animal is unconscious or
rendered completely unconscious and insensitive
to pain ” by pre-sedation.
The Michigan bill to ban gassing went to
a legislative hearing in May 2010.
The Pennsylvania anti-gassing bill
cleared the state senate agricultural and rural
affairs committee, but with an amendment to
exclude “activity undertaken in a normal
agricultural operation.” The exemption would
allow continued use of exhaust fumes to kill
animals such as woodchucks. Mounting air-tight
tents over poultry barns and then killing the
birds inside with gas is also standard procedure
in response to outbreaks of contagious illnesses
such as exotic Newcastle, a fungal infection,
and avian influenzas.
The Utah anti-gassing bill was disabled
by amendment after North Utah Valley Animal
Shelter director Tug Gettling testified to the
Utah House government operations committee that,
as Tony Semerad of the Salt Lake Trib-une
paraphrased, “Gas chambers give shelter workers
some distance from the animal’s death, while
also providing a safer option for putting down
wild or aggressive animals.”
Bain Cate, public health director for
Victoria, Texas, and Victoria shelter assistant
manager Heather Kern made similar arguments in
April 2010 to Gabe Semenza of the Victoria
Advocate, in response to protest against gassing
led by Austin nurse Sheila Smith. “Austin, San
Antonio, Corpus Christi, Houston and many other
Texas cities [have already] banned the method,”
Semenza mentioned.
In Ohio, Licking County animal control
director Jon Luzio in early 2010 resisted
pressure to replace gassing with lethal
injection, also in the belief that gassing is
easier for staff, but in mid-March agreed to
phase out gassing. About 70% of the animal
shelters in Ohio had reportedly already switched
from gassing to sodium pentobarbital injection.
In Idaho only the animal control shelters
in Chubbock and Pocatello still gas animals,
Idaho Humane Society director Jeff Rosenthal told
Katy Moeller of the Idaho Statesman in April
2010. “The Idaho Falls Animal Shelter recently
dismantled the gas chamber that it had used for
years,” wrote Moeller. “The machine broke down
and couldn’t be repaired, said Irene Brown,
manager of the shelter. The shelter couldn’t
afford $30,000 for a new one, so now all
euthanasia at the shelter is done by lethal
Moving opposite to public opinion and the
national trend, Illinois Republican candidate
for governor Bill Brady in late February 2009
briefly sponsored a failed bill to require animal
shelters to cut costs by gassing multiple animals
at a time.
The argument that gassing is easier on
staff is often disputed by shelter personnel,
including Pocatello Animal Shelter manager Mary
Remer. “To watch a dog go to sleep in your arms,
I don’t see how that can be inhumane,” Remer
told Moeller. “Putting them in the chamber and
walking away–it does feel cruel, and we don’t
like to use it.”
Other common arguments for gas chambers
are that the security requirements for possession
of sodium pentabarbitol are difficult for
shelters to meet, and that staff without
extensive training in the use of sodium
penta-barbital often will resort to the heart
The security issue in February 2010
brought an investigation by the Missouri
Department of Agriculture of procedures at the
Jefferson County Animal Control Center, after
Jefferson County animal control director
acknowledged that shelter veterinarian Sherry
Torregrossa is rarely present when animals are
killed–which is common throughout the U.S. at
shelters that employ trained euthanasia
technicians. Torregrossa said she had visited
the shelter only once in three years. Most of
her work for the county, explained Christine
Byers of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, is
sterilizing animals who are offered for adoption.
By federal law, however, the possession
and use of sodium pentobarbital must be under
veterinary supervision.
The case arose out of a dispute over the
shelter’s decision to euthanize an
owner-surrendered Sharpei mix for dangerous
behavior, after the dog had been claimed by a
local rescuer who planned to return him to his
previous home. The dog was surrendered after he
escaped from the home and attacked another dog.
The dog’s family were advised that to keep him,
they would have to “pay for 10 citations, build
a concrete-based enclosure for dangerous dogs,
and retain $100,000 liability insurance,” wrote
A 10-year dispute over heart-sticking at
the Robeson County Animal Shelter in North
Carolina ended on April 20, 2010 when county
health director Bill Smith told a news conference
that shelter staff would switch to the
AVMA-recommended intravenous injection method.
“There was talk of a new law at the state level,
so we decided it would be better to go ahead and
switch now,” Smith told Fayetteville Observer
staff writer Mike Hixenbaugh.
Heart-sticking without pre-sedation is
already illegal in South Carolina. Three
Cherokee County Animal Shelter personnel with
fined $237 each for heart-sticking in April 2009.
One of them, who resigned, had previously been
fined $200 for shooting a dog. “Testimony showed
Cherokee County officials who operate the shelter
did not receive a license to possess the drugs
used to properly carry out the procedure until
April 2009,” wrote Janet S. Spencer of the
Spartanburg Herald-Journal.
Shooting animals surfaced as an issue in
early 2010 in Houston, Alaska; Canton,
Mississippi; and Hinckley, Utah.
The Houston animal shelter was closed for
the balance of the 2010 fiscal year, ending in
July, after mayor Roger Purcell failed in an
attempt to fire police officer and animal control
supervisor Charlie Seidl.
Canton animal control officer Alonzo Esco
was fired in January 2010. A hearing to decide
whether Esco should be charged with cruelty and
illegal animal dumping is to be held on June 21,
2010. Esco was charged in April in an unrelated
domestic violence case.
Hinckley mayor Christie Tolbert denied as
categorically false a report posted by the Helen
Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe,
California, and amplified by Fox 15 News of San
Diego, that stray animals in Hinckley are shot,
run over, and then thrown into sewage treatment
“Hinckley Town contracts with a local
veterinarian for euthanasia services. Animals
are held between five and seven days depending on
the temperament of the animal,” Christie said.
Afterward, Christie added, most dogs and cats
are adopted.

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