Today, we saw the closure of the last known asphyxiant gas chamber operating at a California animal shelter. If there is euthanasia of healthy animals in that state – and we hope to see that end soon enough, too – dogs and cats will not endure the sometimes protracted and painful death that comes from carbon dioxide poisoning. A 1998 law in the state banned all chambers that use carbon monoxide to euthanize animals, but failed to include chambers that use carbon dioxide.
The closure of the City of Coalinga’s gas chamber comes as a result of a grant from The HSUS, working in partnership with San Francisco SPCA. The HSUS has been working very actively since 2013 to close asphyxiant gas chambers around the country. So far, we’ve had a hand in shuttering more than 70 of them, and the number of states with gas chambers has dropped from 16 at the beginning of 2013 to just four, in Ohio, Nevada, Wyoming, and Missouri. Twenty-six states now have full or partial bans in place.
The HSUS is working with the San Francisco SPCA and Assemblyman Bill Quirk to pass a bill that would close California’s loophole. But California is not the only state with a loophole in its gas chamber ban; Maryland, North Carolina, and Louisiana also ban carbon monoxide but not carbon dioxide chambers from their shelters, and Kansas just this year passed regulations outlawing carbon monoxide, but failed to include carbon dioxide. The HSUS will work to close these loopholes.
Our work to end the use of gas chambers has made several advances in the first half of 2016. This year, the South Carolina legislature passed a full ban on gas chamber use in shelters, ending both carbon monoxide and dioxide chambers. The last known shelter using a gas chamber in Oklahoma has voluntarily stopped using it for dog and cat euthanasia, and the last operational chamber in Nevada was donated to the National Museum of Animals & Society in Los Angeles, to serve as a marker of the steps being taken to make our society more humane for animals each and every day. In Michigan, advocates fought to ensure that no gas chambers are or will be in existence, and Grant’s Bill, which would end gas chamber use, continues to make its way through the legislature.
Gas chambers are an unacceptable way to euthanize homeless companion animals. Carbon dioxide exposure causes pain and distress even at low concentrations (humans describe the pain associated with carbon dioxide exposure as excruciating). Typically the animal is placed in a small, dark box, sometimes full of the smells of the animals who came before them, where they may remain conscious for several minutes, terrified, clawing, and calling for a way out. They may spend their last minutes fighting each other; when animals are placed together in chambers, they often clash out of fear and desperation. They may struggle for air or begin convulsing before finally losing consciousness. If the chamber is old, or if the animal is very young, very old, injured, or stressed, it could take much longer. In the worst cases, the animal is still conscious when the vital organs begin to shut down.
The HSUS is working to end pet euthanasia by preventing pet homelessness and through programs to increase the adoption of shelter pets. But until the day we can bring down the number of pets euthanized to zero, we can at least try and ensure that animals receive something akin to a painless death. As we celebrate the closure of the City of Coalinga’s gas chamber, we pledge to continue our fight until all 50 states have banned all gas chamber use. One day we’ll hope to make any form of euthanasia of healthy and treatable companion animals a thing of the past.