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. 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.
When an animal is injected with proper euthanasia drugs, they lose consciousness in as little as three to five 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 the small number of under-resourced shelters that still use gas chambers—or if the animal is very young, very old, ill, injured, stressed or placed in the chamber with other animals, it can take much longer—as long as 20 minutes. In the worst cases, the animal is still conscious while their vital organs begin to shut down.
Gas chambers are not only antiquated, they are cruel torture devices that have no place in society, as evidenced by all but only a handful in operation at more than 3,500 shelters in the U.S.
Kellye Pinkleton, Director of Public Policy, Companion Animals
We all share the goal of ending euthanasia of adoptable pets and the HSUS works tirelessly to keep families together, reduce the number of pets who are surrendered to shelters, increase spay/neuter access and encourage pet adoption and fostering from shelters and rescue groups. Every pet or domesticated animal—within a shelter or in the community—is deserving of a humane death when they are suffering from untreatable and severe medical or behavioral conditions, and it is vital that euthanasia be performed with the same skill and compassion that we would expect to see if we brought our own suffering animal to a veterinarian for a final act of mercy.
While most shelters around the country practice humane euthanasia by injection of approved drugs, a few holdouts still use the gas chamber. The HSUS is committed to ensuring that the inherently inhumane nature of gas chambers becomes a thing of the past.
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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 14 states have voluntarily closed their chambers, outright bans on chamber use for pets have been passed or loopholes allowing certain chambers to continue to operate closed in California, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Utah. But there are only 24 states with full bans in place, five states with partial bans and two states in which gas chambers are still used. 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% of animals forced into a chamber. Sadly, the AVMA's failure on this front has been used as a justification for continuing chamber use.
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 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 that has recently made the switch to more humane alternatives, thank them!
- Donate to our lifesaving work, which includes 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.