This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The vast majority of animal shelters in the U.S. have ceased to use the carbon monoxide (CO) gas chamber to euthanize cats and dogs as well as wildlife, and with good reason. This method is an inhumane relic of the past, and it's time for it to be eliminated statewide.
Overall, fewer animals are being euthanized nationwide. However, in some circumstances, it may be necessary to relieve an animal's irremediable suffering or unacceptable quality of life. When these situations arise, we do not take the decision to euthanize lightly and must ensure the act is carried out in the most humane manner possible.
As the largest open-admissions animal shelter in Utah, the Humane Society of Utah has only used euthanasia by injection (EBI) for more than 50 years and is proud to say we reached no-kill standards for both dogs and cats combined in 2015. The Humane Society of Utah urges support of House Bill 187 – Animal Shelter Amendments sponsored by Rep. Johnny Anderson to only allow EBI for all animals and remove gas chambers in Utah animal shelters.
Even under the best of circumstances, it takes minutes before an animal loses consciousness inside a gas chamber, or longer if the chamber not perfectly calibrated and maintained. Uptake of CO is impossible to measure if the animal is very young, elderly, injured or stressed. The truly humane alternative and the one proposed by HB187 is EBI the injection of each animal with the drug sodium pentobarbital. When sodium pentobarbital is introduced into the system intravenously, the animal loses consciousness within three to five seconds and is no longer able to feel pain, fear and agitation.
In most of the country, the gas chamber has already been voluntarily removed. Utah is one of only eight states where the practice still exists. Even in Utah, the overwhelming majority of our animal shelters do not use the gas chamber. Of the 57 shelters that the Humane Society of Utah tracks, 50 use EBI only while seven still use a gas chamber.
In its 2013 Guidelines for Euthanasia of Animals, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) does not recommend gas chambers for routine euthanasia of dogs and cats in shelters and animal control operations.
Furthermore, every major national animal welfare group in the United States, including the National Animal Care & Control Association (NACA), Association of Shelter Veterinarians, American Humane Association, the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the Humane Society of the United States, and Best Friends Animal Society denounces the use of gas chambers to euthanize shelter cats and dogs.
Research has shown that EBI is less expensive, faster and safer than using CO, which is extremely hazardous, toxic, explosive and difficult to detect. The long-term experience itself has shown that with proper training, even wild (e.g., skunks, raccoons) overly aggressive or fractious animals can be easily and painlessly sedated before being euthanized via EBI. Compassion fatigue is only minimally related to euthanasia. These days, awareness of compassion fatigue issues is higher, and there are plenty of resources available to help organizations support the emotional and mental well-being of their employees or volunteers.
Animal shelters are being held to a higher standard and responsibilities have evolved over the last 50 years. As we learn more about animal physiology and psychology, we need to update and change our approach to euthanasia. Surely, if we must euthanize animals in a shelter setting, we at least owe them the fastest and most effective method possible which is the purpose of EBI.
Gene Baierschmidt is executive director of the Humane Society of Utah.