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April 04, 2013

Mississippi to Seal Last Shelter Gas Chamber

As a movement, we are getting closer to the day when no healthy or treatable animals are euthanized in public and private shelters for lack of homes. We are making tremendous progress – with spay/neuter rates now close to 80 percent for owned pets, with adoption rates inching up as more people realize they can get a great animal and save a life by working with a shelter or a rescue, with the fortification of state anti-cruelty laws and the crackdown on puppy mills, and with innovative community-based programs such as Pets for Life helping to deliver services to people and animals in the communities that need them most.

With all this progress being made, it’s hard to imagine that animals are still suffering as a result of crude killing methods in some shelters. It’s a marker of progress that the days are long gone when animal control agencies conducted mass drownings or electrocutions of unwanted animals. But there are still a number of shelters not practicing true “euthanasia,” opting instead to use outdated and unnecessary carbon monoxide gas chambers. In states such as Kentucky, North Carolina and Texas, where humane euthanasia drugs are legal for shelters to obtain, there is no legitimate reason for any facility to continue this outdated practice.  

Cat colony housing at the tricounty shelter
Kathy Milani/The HSUS

The HSUS has long worked to achieve the goal of eliminating gas chambers from the sheltering landscape. In the last five years, for example, we’ve successfully pushed for gas chamber bans for shelters in Alabama, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania, bringing the current total to 20 states where gas chambers are specifically outlawed. Just last July I blogged about our support for Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va. (co-chair of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus) and Lou Barletta’s, R-Pa., introduction of a federal resolution condemning the use of carbon monoxide gas chambers for euthanasia of shelter animals.

We have also been making a difference one shelter at a time, by encouraging individual organizations to dismantle their gas chambers through training and education, financial incentives and public pressure. There are at least half a dozen states in which there is no official ban on gas chamber use, but each individual shelter has made a commitment to more humane methods of euthanasia. In many cases, behind-the-scenes advocacy has achieved the greatest results. A prime example comes from The HSUS’ Mississippi state director, Lydia Sattler, who would not take no for an answer when the state legislature chose not to act on a bill to eliminate gas chambers in that state. She made it her mission to get the job done outside the state capitol. I am thrilled to announce that as a direct result of her efforts, the last gas chamber used in the state of Mississippi will soon be sealed.  

The battle is not over, though. Just last month, The American Veterinary Medical Association published its most recent “Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals,” in which it changed its classification of gas chamber use from “acceptable” to “acceptable with conditions.” This is movement in the right direction, but it’s too slow. We want the professional veterinary community to join with us to say that the era of gas chamber use in shelters is over, and it’s time to finish the job.

We all share the goal of ending euthanasia, and The HSUS works tirelessly to prevent pet homelessness, promote spay/neuter education, and encourage adoption from shelters and rescue groups. When the decision is made by a shelter to perform euthanasia, it must be performed with the same skill and compassion that we would expect to see if we brought our own suffering animal into that facility or to a veterinarian for a final act of mercy.

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