Bill of the Week: No 'Easy Death'

Bill ends animal shelter gas chambers

Bill of the Week: No 'Easy Death'

When Seagoville Police Sergeant Karl Bailey was asked to run the town's animal shelter, he knew he had a problem. Although he took an early stand against killing healthy animals, he knew the shelter would sometimes have to euthanize animals that were on their last legs.

Knowing little about running a shelter, he asked the officer who formerly ran the shelter how that euthanasia was carried out. What he heard did not settle well. Testifying before the Texas Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, Bailey recounted the talk. "She explained to me what happens in the gas chamber, how you have to fight to get the animals in there sometimes and they seem to sense what's about to happen. They can smell the death and the gas and what goes on in the chamber. And then once the gas is turned on…they scream and they thrash about in there." Hearing the gruesome details, Bailey asked the town to shut the practice down.

It was an evolution for the shelter in a state that has not always been kind to shelter animals. In the analysis to his Senate Bill 360, Sen. Kirk Watson notes that gas euthanasia was at one time considered humane. Before the passage of the Texas Euthanasia Act of 2003, "Texas shelters were killing dogs and cats by drowning, shooting, clubbing, strangling, and by carbon monoxide poisoning from truck and car exhaust systems hooked up to makeshift plywood boxes." In recent years, animal welfare and veterinary organizations have begun to view carbon monoxide euthanasia with the same distaste as they viewed the bygone methods.

In fact, Seagoville and 29 other Texas municipalities have outlawed the use of carbon monoxide gas to euthanize shelter animals. Watson's bill follows those examples by solely approving sodium pentobarbital injection (also called euthanasia by injection or EBI) for euthanasia. Advocates say that EBI is the most humane form of euthanasia, allowing for compassionate administration and a less painful death. Gas chambers do not allow such care. Animals are placed in an unfamiliar environment, sometimes with other animals, where the sights, sounds, and smells can trigger stress. The death isn't always quick either. The Humane Society of the United States cites concerns with old, ill, and injured animals, whose medical conditions can delay the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Gassing animals can be harmful to technicians as well. Bailey mentioned in testimony that the gas chambers used in Seagoville were not properly sealed, exposing shelter workers to the carbon monoxide. But even with proper sealing, the transport, placing, and handling of stressed animals carries a risk of bite or scratches from agitated animals. In a blog post in favor of the bill, Austin Humane Society Chief Veterinarian Dr. Katie Luke laid the argument out simply. "Gas chamber euthanasia is inhumane, expensive, and dangerous for the humans using it. Euthanasia by injection has been established as the most humane method available by major humane and veterinary groups. I feel strongly that if the majority of Texans would choose not to euthanize their own pets with a gas chamber, we should be giving the same consideration to animals euthanized in our shelters."

State lawmakers agreed. In a rare show of bipartisan support, SB 360 sailed through both the House and Senate with no dissenting votes. On May 10, Gov. Rick Perry signed the bill into law.

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News, Karl Bailey, Texas Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, Senate Bill 360, Kirk Watson, Dr. Katie Luke, Austin Humane Society, Animal Welfare, Animal Euthanasia

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