Not long ago, shelters in dozens of North Carolina's counties killed homeless animals in carbon monoxide gas chambers. Starting February 2015, that will end. Last week the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services issued a new policy statement that relies on formal policy positions from The HSUS and the American Veterinary Medical Association to stipulate that gas chambers are not appropriate for routine euthanasia in shelters. North Carolina becomes the 25th state with a formal ban in place (you can see a map of the current gas chambers landscape here), although thankfully many of the states yet to ban gas chambers are no longer using them.
A description of the perils of gas chambers in Animal Sheltering Magazine explains why The HSUS opposes their use: "[Dogs and cats] are placed into a small, dark, hot box, filled with the lingering smells of the animals who came before them – many of whom sweated, urinated, defecated before dying. If placed in the chamber with more than one animal, they may begin fighting out of fear and desperation. The strange sights, sounds, and noises often escalate the panic. For several minutes they may exist in this state of terror, clawing and calling for a way out. They may struggle for air or begin convulsing before finally losing consciousness."
The change in North Carolina's policy is the culmination of a years-long effort spearheaded by HSUS's North Carolina State Director Kim Alboum and volunteers to raise the level of professionalism and standards of care for animals in shelters across the state, including by eliminating inhumane methods of euthanasia. Since January 2013, we've helped to close 13 carbon monoxide gas chambers in North Carolina alone, most with the aid of grants provided through The HSUS. The going hasn't always been easy – in one discouraging case, a North Carolina shelter director actually returned a grant to us rather than close the shelter’s chamber. But there is no doubt that the steady pressure applied by Kim and other advocates created an atmosphere where it was simply unacceptable to continue this method of killing.
While we celebrate victory for the animals of North Carolina, there are carbon monoxide gas chambers still operating in 10 other states. We continue to push in states like Michigan and Kansas, where bans are close to enactment in state legislatures. We will be backing legislation in Oklahoma and Utah in 2015 to ban chambers outright. And we, of course, will continue to provide grants and other assistance to allow shelters to make the transition to less harmful ways of euthanizing animals.
But even as we continue the push to elevate the field of animal sheltering, our most important priority is to pursue efforts that keep animals out of harm's way in the first place, and to ensure that pets stay in their happy, healthy homes for life. Our Pets for Life program just announced the addition of five new mentor communities, expanding our reach to more than 25 communities nationwide and directly impacting the lives of tens of thousands of animals. And we continue to fight against outdated policies that put pets at risk of losing their homes – such as the recent terrible bill in the town of Moreauville, Louisiana, that would have banned pit-bull-type dogs and Rottweilers, causing them to be taken from their homes and destroyed. Thanks to public outcry and pressure from our litigation team, local lawmakers repealed it, and we’re grateful to them for doing so.
Ultimately our goal is to keep every pet in a healthy, happy home – and, for those who do need a safety net, provide a shelter system that strives to save every life and treats every creature with dignity and mercy.