Gas Chambers

Gas Chambers in Animal Shelters: Cruel and Outdated

Whether it’s due to the overpopulation crisis or because an animal is irretrievably sick or injured, animal shelters in Utah are often faced with the difficult but necessary task of euthanizing an animal. In such cases, shelters have a moral obligation to use the quickest and most humane method at their disposal. Euthanasia by injection (EBI) is the most humane, safe, and cost-effective way of euthanizing animals. UARC urges Utah shelters to adopt EBI as the exclusive method of euthanizing animal and end the archaic use of gas chambers.

Euthanasia by means of a carbon monoxide gas chamber is an outdated method that involves unnecessary suffering for the animal.

Animals placed in a gas chamber can take as long as 45 minutes to die as they bark, meow, or howl in fear. As gas fills the chamber, animals will often claw at the sides of the chamber in frantic desperation to escape. Sometimes, animals survive the first gassing and shelters must repeat this terrifying process. This happened to Andrea at West Valley Animal Services in 2011.

A shelter employee described the incident with Andrea the cat:

“…I had 5 or 6 cats to put down that day…I placed all of the cats into the chamber. I closed the door and made sure it was locked. I pushed the start cycle…The cycle completed as normal and I took the black cage out of the chamber. All of the cats were deceased except for one…I put the cat back into the chamber for the 2nd time since it was still alive…It ran through the cycle and I opened the door. I took the cat out and I observed it to be deceased…Its eyes were completely dialated [sic]. I touched both eyes and they did not blink and there was no movement whatsoever…I then placed the cat in a black bag and put it in the cooler as normal…Approximately 30-45 minutes later, Officer [redacted] asked me to return to the euthanasia room. When I did, I observed [name redacted] and [name redacted] there with the last cat that I had to put through the chamber twice. The cat was alive and looked healthy. [Name redacted] stated that she heard a cat meowing inside a bag in the cooler, opened it up, and found the cat alive.”.1West Valley City and Taylorsville Animal Services Euthanasia Guidelines and Facts. (pdf)

Internal emails also reveal that Andrea was not the only time that an incident like this occurred at this shelter – it was just the only time it received wide publicity. Incidents of animals surviving the gas chamber are relatively common at shelters that use this method.

Euthanasia by gassing is twice as costly as euthanasia by injection.

In 2009, the American Humane Association looked at data from an animal shelter in North Carolina that had euthanized more than 5,000 animals, some by gassing and others by injection. The study found that average cost to use carbon monoxide gas amounted to $4.98 per animal, while the average cost was to use EBI was only $2.29. Cost figures for North Carolina are comparable to other states. While UARC believes only the most human method should be used regardless of cost, this study makes clear that county and municipal governments should not hesitate banning the gas chamber out of financial concerns.

Euthanasia by means of a gas chamber is unsafe for shelter workers.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) notes in its 2007 Guidelines on Euthanasia that “[c]arbon monoxide is extremely hazardous for personnel because it is highly toxic and difficult to detect.” In 2009, a gas chamber at a shelter in North Carolina exploded, burning an animal shelter worker and sending him to the hospital. In 2000, a shelter worker at the Humane Educational Society of Chattanooga died after accidentally being exposed to the carbon monoxide gas used in the shelter’s gas chamber. The Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the shelter $22,800 for this incident.

The overwhelming majority of veterinary, animal protection, and sheltering organizations agree that gas chambers are inhumane.

  • The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA): “Euthanasia by intravenous injection of an approved euthanasia agent remains the preferred method for euthanasia of dogs, cats, and other small companion animals. Gas chambers are not recommended for routine euthanasia of cats and dogs in shelters and animal control operations.”
  • The Humane Society of Utah (HSU): “[T]he gas chamber is a throwback to a much cruder, less enlightened time…[t]he very least the shelter owes an animal who can’t be placed is a ‘good death’ – a quick, painless passage from this world to the next by means of EBI.”
  • The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS): “[Gas] chambers cannot be relied upon to consistently produce a humane euthanasia for shelter animals, and their use cannot be condoned.…when euthanasia must be performed in a shelter setting, EBI is the only acceptable humane method.”
  • American Humane Association: “[E]uthanizing shelter animals by carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide is inhumane to the animal and harmful to humans…euthanasia by injection (EBI) [is] the only acceptable and humane means of euthanasia.”
  • Best Friends Animal Society (BFAS): “The gas chamber is a cruel practice from what should be a bygone era.”
  • The National Animal Control Association (NACA): “NACA considers lethal injection of sodium pentobarbital, administered by competent, trained personnel, to be the only method of choice utilized for humane euthanasia of shelter dogs and cats.”

Time for change in Utah.

Utah is one of nine states where animal shelters still use this method. Animal shelters in Utah that still operate gas chambers include:

  • Carbon County Animal Control
  • Draper Animal Services
  • South Jordan Animal Services
  • North Utah Valley Animal Shelter (Lindon)
  • South Utah Valley Animal Shelter (Spanish Fork)
  • Weber County Animal Shelter
  • West Valley City Animal Shelter

UARC urges these shelters to modernize their facilities by ending the use of this cruel method. We also call on the state to ban this cruel practice by law. Bills to ban or restrict the use of gas chambers in Utah shelters have been introduced in the Utah legislature in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016. Unfortunately, these bills failed largely due to opposition from the two shelters that operate in Utah County. UARC hopes the next legislative session will be different and that Utah will join the 23 other states that have already expressly banned the use of gas chambers in Utah shelters.

References   [ + ]

Fighting Speciesism and Cruelty to Animals in Utah