August 31, 2015
Bringing an End to Inhumane Euthanasia
Why the gas chamber should no longer be used in shelters
If you've ever had to put a beloved pet to sleep, then you know how heartbreaking it can be to lose a member of your family.
Yet at the end of a cat or dog's life, the peace of a quiet room, the soft embrace of someone who cares, and a gentle, painless sleep induced by a trained technician is one of the kindest gifts we can offer a suffering animal. When an animal is injected with proper euthanasia drugs, he loses consciousness in as little as 3-5 seconds.
Contrast that with the workings of the gas chamber. If you're sensitive to animal suffering, its operation cannot help but disturb you. Animals are placed into a small, dark, box, one that's sometimes full of the smells of the animals who came before them—many of whom may have urinated or defecated before they died.
If animals are placed in the chamber together, they may begin fighting out of fear and desperation. For several minutes, they may be in the box, terrified, clawing and calling for a way out. They may struggle for air or begin convulsing before finally losing consciousness.
Under the best circumstances, it takes minutes before an animal loses consciousness inside a gas chamber. But if the chamber is old or not well-calibrated—a frequent issue for under-resourced shelters—or if the animal is very young, very old, ill, injured or stressed, it can take much longer. In the worst cases, the animal is still conscious while its vital organs begin to shut down.
When you have a shelter that’s gassing animals, the community doesn’t want to go there. Once the chamber's gone, there’s a higher level of trust. —Kim Alboum, director of the Emergency Placement Partners program at The HSUS
We all share the goal of ending euthanasia, and The HSUS works tirelessly to prevent pet homelessness, increase spay/neuter access, and encourage adoption from shelters and rescue groups. But when a shelter decides that euthanasia is the only option, it is vital that it be performed with the same skill and compassion that we would expect to see if we brought our own suffering animal to our veterinarian for a final act of mercy. While most shelters around the country practice humane euthanasia by injection of approved drugs, some still use the gas chamber, a method The HSUS and every other major animal welfare group believe belongs in the past. The HSUS is committed ensuring that inhumane euthanasia methods like gas chambers become a thing of the past.
FAQS About Gas Chambers
How is The HSUS helping to end the use of gas chambers?
For years, The HSUS has helped shelters voluntarily transition away from the gas chamber to the more humane euthanasia by injection by providing grants and training, and has assisted with passing outright chamber bans. Since 2013, approximately 70 chambers in 13 states have voluntarily closed their chambers, and outright bans on chamber use for pets have been passed, or loopholes allowing certain chambers to continue to operate closed, in Pennsylvania, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, California and the Commonwealth of Saipan. But there are only 27 states with full bans in place, and gas chambers are still in use in at least 4 states. Our ultimate goal is to have bans passed in all 50 states so that no pet's life ever ends in a gas chamber.
Why do some shelters still use gas chambers?
Although the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has declared that euthanasia by injection is the most humane method of euthanasia currently available, it has failed to condemn the use of chambers in shelter settings. We believe this is a mistake. To be truly humane, the method used must not only be pain-free, but stress-free for the animal. Not only can gas chambers cause physical pain for ill, injured, old and young animals (the majority of animals facing euthanasia in shelters), they cause stress in 100 percent of animals forced into a chamber. Sadly, the AVMA's failure on this front has been used as a justification for continuing chamber use.
Where are gas chambers still active?
See the map at left and this chart for state-by-state specifics about gas chamber usage and to find out about current activities to combat it.
What can I do to help?
- If your shelter still uses a gas chamber, share your concerns with shelter leadership and local officials, write letters to the editor (here are suggestions for talking points) and encourage your local media to expose the problem.
- Encourage your state legislators to support a statewide gas chamber ban if your state doesn’t already have one).
- If you know of a shelter of a shelter that has recently made the switch to more humane alternatives, thank them!
- Donate to our work advocating for legislation to ban the chamber and provide grants to struggling shelters so they can provide the education, training and supplies needed to discontinue use of the chamber.
Remember: Most people enter shelter work because they care about animals, and do not enjoy killing them. More often than not, they simply don’t have access to the tools or information they need to make the switch. Approach your shelter and officials with the goal of understanding what their challenges are, and figure out how you and other advocates can help them meet those challenges.