Animal rights groups fight gas chambers in shelters
Animal rights groups fight gas chambers in shelters - CBS 42
CULLMAN (WIAT) – Thousands of animals are put to death in Alabama each year, mostly because there are not enough homes to take them. While animal rights groups are not protesting that fact, they are protesting one particular method of euthanasia legal in Alabama: the gas chamber.
"It's a very sad reality that we have to do euthanasia at all,” said Allison Almand, member of BARC, which stands for “Bring Animal Reform to Cullman. The group is comprised of five different animal rescue groups in Cullman, and its primary goal is to see the local animal shelter stop euthanizing animals by gassing.
“The gas chamber takes 25-30 minutes for the animal to be proclaimed dead, while euthanasia by injection, also known as EBI, takes no more than 5 minutes," Almand said.
The Cullman Animal Shelter is one of only five shelters in the state with a registered carbon monoxide chamber. It has euthanized animals by gassing for years, but also uses lethal injections to put animals to sleep.
"It's humane, but ultimately it's death, just like injection,” shelter director Tim McKoy said. “So, is there a good way to die? No, not to me."
McKoy said the shelter is moving towards EBI euthanasia only, but in the mean time, does not have the staff to handle the volume of animals that have to be put down.
“State law requires that two certified euthanasia technicians be present when administering the lethal injection,” he said. “Only one technician is required to operate the CO (gas) chamber.”
Cullman Animal Shelter’s gas chamber is kept in a concrete room near the dog runs and across from the EBI euthanasia room. The door to the chamber room is marked with signs declaring “Employees Only” and cautioning that Carbon Monoxide is contained within.
Inside is a large metal box directly facing the door. Beside the door is a metal cage with six different partitions.
"The animals are put into a container, a cage if you will, and are put into the CO chamber,” McKoy said. “They are euthanized at that point.”
McKoy said animals react to Carbon Monoxide the same way humans do. They breathe the colorless, odorless gas, and become unconscious in about 20 seconds. McKoy said bodily functions cease in less than a minute. The CO machine runs for a 20-minute cycle.
Animal rights activists argue that the CO method does not always work so quickly, sometimes leaving animals to suffer for up to 40 minutes before succumbing.
"They do suffocate to death. That's how they die,” Almand said. “It may be peaceful for some of them, but, they're scared in this box. They're put in there by themselves and they're scared."
McKoy said yes, the animals are left alone as the gas is administered, but the hands-off approach is one reason the CO chamber is beneficial to his staff.
“It's a low impact euthanasia method for the personnel," he said. “You have to think about the human cost. I love animals, we all do, that’s why we do this job. It’s hard to have to hold an animal down, shave a spot over it’s vein and give it an injection and watch it die.”
McKoy said it’s not uncommon for animal euthanasia technicians to need therapy and counseling to cope with the emotional demands of their jobs. He said it’s particularly tough on his small staff of five, who regularly has to manage a large volume of animals.
“I’m concerned about the animals, but I’m more concerned about my personnel,” he said.
Almand said, that’s not a good enough reason to subject animals to gassing.
“This is their job, they’re supposed to be professionals,” she said, adding that BARC has offered to pay for counseling for the shelter’s euthanasia techs. “In this economy, if they’re not willing to do their job and offer injections, then there are plenty of people who will.”
Both BARC and AVRAL, which stands for Alabama Voters for Responsible Animal Legislation, say animal shelters resort to gassing because it is quick, seemingly cheaper, and can kill multiple animals at once. McKoy said at his shelter, it costs about 35 cents to euthanize an animal by gassing, and about $2.98 to administer an injection of sodium pentobarbital.
Almand said the shelter could lower the cost of EBI if it performed all euthanasia by injection, and could order the necessary supplies in bulk.
McKoy said since the shelter has operated its chamber for so many years, the machine is paid for and the shelter’s staff is fully trained, so the cost is lower than estimated by many animal rights groups.
Regardless, Almand said there’s no question EBI is the best method to euthanize animals, even if it does cost more.
"If it was the time for your animal to die, would you want your own personal animal put in that [chamber]?” she said. “Or would you want somebody to hold your animal, and give your animal one last little bit of love?"
Almand said she’s spoken directly with McKoy about eliminating the CO chamber. McKoy said the shelter is fully within the right of state law to operate it.
Almand said that was all the motivation she needed.
Together with AVRAL, she and BARC are approaching state lawmakers about banning CO euthanasia in the state. AVRAL is the only political action committee in Alabama committed to issues pertaining to animal rights.
The group has written a bill, called the Humane Euthanasia Act. Currently, it’s sponsored by Alabama Sen. Del Marsh [Calhoun and St. Clair] and Rep. Steve McMillan [Gulf Shores].
AVRAL founder Dr. Rhonda Parker said the group is hoping to ultimately call the bill “Beckham’s Bill,” named after a puppy rescued from the Cullman Animal Shelter’s gas chamber.
It’s modeled after a similar bill passed earlier in Georgia called “Gracie’s Law.”
The Alabama Humane Euthanasia Act would require euthanasia be performed by a certified euthanasia technician, and require EBI be the primary method of euthanasia, unless a person’s life was endangered by an aggressive animal.
The Alabama Humane Federation is also proposing a separate anti-gassing bill. Parker said she hopes AVRAL and the Alabama Humane Federation can join forces and compose one effective bill to present to legislators.
BARC is supporting the statewide effort, but is also petitioning to have the gas chamber banned by local lawmakers.
McKoy said he has no opposition to a change in the state law. However, he said he feels it’s a fight pointed in the wrong direction. Instead of battling the methods of euthanasia, he hopes lawmakers will also devote attention to legislation supporting spaying and neutering of animals, and licensing.
"We do have to euthanize animals that are adoptable occasionally. I’m not going to sugar coat it,” he said. “But, it falls back to pet ownership responsibility. It can be spay neuter or caring for your animals. If you allow your animals to run at large, then things happen to them."
Animal rights groups fight gas chambers in shelters - CBS 42