Illinois Bill Would Ban Carbon Monoxide Euthanasia

QuentinUntil recently, my definition of euthanasia included someone holding and petting an animal, while another person administered injections. But not everyone delivers a kill shot the way a shelter employee explained the procedure to me a decade ago – and not all shelters use such injections.

“Carbon monoxide chamber” was a puzzle to me at first, a clinical-sounding term my imagination connected with animals curling up and going to sleep. Incorrect. Such chambers can be dangerous to operate, animals can panic and death may take up to 45 minutes, according to a fact sheet for Illinois House Bill 4844, sponsored by Representative John Fritchey. (Rep. Fritchey also sponsored the Pet Protection Act which passed in 2007.)

In addition to banning carbon monoxide chambers, HB 4844 would reshape Illinois humane laws in several ways, including changes to euthanasia technician licensing. For example, the bill would prohibit a person convicted of specific controlled substance violations from receiving a license. Any method may fail if incorrectly administered, so the bill requires euthanasia technicians to renew their certificates every five years, with proof they have attended a class or seminar related to euthanasia techniques or guidelines.

HB 4844 would also extend euthanasia restrictions to commercial breeders, and stop the use of homemade gas chambers by private enterprises according to Ledy VanKavage of the ASPCA as quoted in the Pantagraph.

Additional information about the bill is available on the Chicago English Bulldog Rescue site, and the text of HB 4844 is available from the Illinois General Assembly (additions are underlined).

The Humane Society of the United States is one of many organizations opposing the use of carbon monoxide chambers. In an article about Virginia’s decision to stop using such chambers in 2007, HSUS explains many states still using carbon monoxide lack “direct licensing laws” which permit non-veterinarians to have access to controlled substances used in euthanasia procedures.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch covered Fritchey’s bill, noting a “veterinarian must administer or supervise the shot in Missouri” in contrast to Illinois which uses euthanasia technicians. The article also highlights Quentin, a dog who survived a gas chamber in St. Louis; the city later banned such chambers.

Quentin’s photo appears at the top of this entry, and his story is detailed in the book “Miracle Dog: How Quentin Survived the Gas Chamber to Speak for Animals on Death Row.”

Itchmo recently discussed a situation in Maryland, which also appears to lack a direct licensing law though as mentioned in the Post-Dispatch article above, Maryland has banned gas chambers.

North Carolina recently decided to continue permitting the use of carbon monoxide chambers, rather than phasing them out by 2012 as animal advocates had hoped, according to a Feb. 14 article in the Charlotte Observer.

When updating humane laws, each state moves at its own pace, hence the legislative potpourri found in my research.

In 2004, Kentucky brought new limitations to its previously permitted use of gunshot as a euthanasia method for shelters (see point 505). Analyzing the expense of a proposed law is a common practice, and the Commonwealth of Kentucky Research Commission outlined such costs in a table comparing multiple methods including .22 caliber bullets. The estimated cost of a carbon monoxide chamber is shown after the table.

Earlier this month, Itchmo reported the controversy over a Florida police officer shooting a sick police dog. His action generated a new policy for euthanizing retired, adopted police dogs.

Concerns about handling “dangerous” animals are sometimes used to defend carbon monoxide chambers, though contact is required for this method as well. An October 2006 article from Animal People online magazine discusses alternatives, such as administering a sedative by “dart” before a kill shot. Several states and localities no longer using gas chambers appear in the next-to-last section of the article.

To learn more about your state, the ASPCA Guide to Shelter Regulations is a good place to start. Even if the regulations listed for your state are vague, you can use the legislation numbers as Internet search terms to help you find animal regulations.

When using this ASPCA site, look not only at the summary, but also at the law. The ASPCA page for South Carolina mentions “Euthanasia may be conducted by barbituric acid injection, carbon monoxide gas, or gunshot.” Clicking to read the law reveals limitations on the use of gunshot.

An “info box” at the end of the Pantagraph article mentioned earlier lists states which ban and states which allow carbon monoxide chambers. Restrictions may also occur at a more local level, such as the ban in St. Louis.

Placing your state name in front of the words “euthanasia technician” plus the exact phrase “carbon monoxide” may be another useful search. Or, visit your state government Web site to see if legislation is offered online, then find the section on animals sometimes grouped with agriculture, health or other topics.

The definition of “humane” is more complicated than anything found in today’s dictionary, and its meaning changes as time brings more information and options. Individuals and organizations lend their own experiences, backgrounds, perceptions and opinions to the debate.

The AVMA offers a 39-page report on euthanasia methods and its opinions related to each, including carbon monoxide as acceptable for “individual animal or mass euthanasia” of dogs and cats with several provisions and precautions; you’ll find more information about this recommendation on page 10 of the report. In my own analysis, I consider the many competing interests and politics such a report likely represents – from veterinary businesses to laboratories to farms to households and more. That we handle deaths of various types of animals differently is a related subject, but too lengthy to pursue in this article about companion animal deaths at shelters.

My carbon monoxide research also turned up an anecdote about Winnie, ASPCA’s 2007 cat hero of the year. On March 24, 2007, Winnie alerted her family as carbon monoxide filled their home. Whether Winnie reacted to poison gas or to a sense that her sleeping family was getting sick, the story reminded me of the intuitive abilities of conscious animals.

And what is the significance of Quentin’s name? Quentin was named for San Quentin prison which, according to an AP article posted on the Stray Rescue of St. Louis site, stopped using the gas chamber as an execution method in 1996.

Photo of Quentin:

15 Responses to “Illinois Bill Would Ban Carbon Monoxide Euthanasia”

  1. catmom5 says:

    Great article. This issue has been in the back of my mind, but especially since I read an account by a young man whose job it was to “gas” the animals at a North Carolina animal control. He told of the horrors he and the animals endured, quite graphically. Those images have never left my mind. SO I am delighted to read that there are states and cities who are starting to do the right thing. It’s tragic that so many of these animals have to die for lack of homes, but particularly tragic to die is such a horrendous manner. Don’t we owe them at least a peaceful and gentle death? I will most definitely be reading up on my own state. Thanks for the information and the links. Maybe we can make a difference for some of these animals who die such a horrible death in these gas chambers or at the hands of cruel humans.

  2. Hazel Chambers says:

    No animal should have to die in a gas chamber. Carbon monoxide is not a poisonous gas such as cyanide. It kills by asphyxiation. The red blood cells have a greater afinity for carbon monoxide that oxygen. They absorb this gas instead of the oxygen. The afinity in humans is 600 times greater…don’t know about animals. Anyway….they slowly suffocate because they can not get oxygen into the bloodstream.

  3. Nora and Rufus says:

    EVERY STATE should ban the gas chamber for animals and there is NO EXCUSE to not do that. It is a horrific experience for the poor animal and it SHOULD BE OUTLAWED IMMEDIATELY. ANYONE who condones this method is a barbaric waste of human garbage.

  4. Margaret says:

    Welcome to the current world! I live in Canada and Euthanasia other then by lethal injection was baned MANY years ago, as it has been in many countries world wide.
    Just another reason the US is sooooo.. out of touch, and not respected by other countries anymore!

  5. Stefani says:

    In 1984, when I took a semester off from college, one of the jobs I had was as a receptionist at a vet hospital.

    I soon realized that the vet was using one of these chambers to euthanize cats. He wasn’t even doing it himself. He had a veterinary assistant who seemed like a crazy woman, who did this after hours. The interesting thing was, these cats were not cats that clients had brought it — there were always all these cats in cages back there, that this nutso seeming woman would euthanize after hours. We also had a freezer chock full of dead bodies, mostly cats.

    I was young and naiive, and worked there only briefly. I took that job with every expectation that vets love animals and the euthanasias were necessarly and humane. But then, one night when I was the only person after hours with the nutty freak, she came out cackling and laughing about how the cats struggle and freak out to the death in the chamber. It was bloodchilling.

    I should have quit that moment, but I didn’t — quite yet.

    A client called asking about euthanasia for her ailing pet. When she realized she could not afford the cost of cremation (the vet would only do it if you bought the urn, and I think it was about $100 — which was a lot more money then than it is now, this was more than 20 years ago), she asked what would happen to her pets body if she didn’t get him cremated. We weren’t allowed to release the body to her. I put her on hold and went to ask the vet. He told me that the animals were buried in a common grave by the health department. So, I got back on the line and told the lady. But the vet came behind the desk and heard me. He yelled at me: “Don’t you EVER let me hear you tell that to a client again! If you get a question like that you transfer the call to me!” I guess he didn’t realize that I was asking for a client, but I had no idea what I had done wrong, and his reaction shocked me - - after all, this is what he had just told me!

    Days later, all the pieces fell together, even in my young naiive brain. That night I was the only one after hours with the crazy assistant. She was in the back doing what she did after hours, I presume.
    A man came to the door in a service outfit. He said: “I’m from Braun company, I’m here for a pickup.” His speech was garbled, I was having a hard time understanding, so he handed me a card. It said:

    “Braun Company
    We Buy Bones, Meat, Fat and Gristle.”

    I figured out why all those cats were always back there waiting to be put in the gas chamber by the crazy assistant who cackled as she heard their struggles. I realized why we had a freezer full of dead animals all the time. I realized why the vet yelled at me for telling the lady the apparent lie he had told me — that unclaimed deceased animals were given to the Health Department for burial in a common grave.

    Needless to say, that was it for me there.

    That clinic has long since closed, but the vet in question is now a practicing acupuncturist in our area and I have seen his name on some of those “best vets” lists. I wish I could name him but I have no doubt he would sue me, as this was 20 years ago and I have no evidence remaining of this, except my very vivid and disturbing memories.

    The Toonces Project
    “Is Your Pet Safe at the Vet?”

  6. Stefani says:

    BTW, thank you Candace, for a very well researched piece.


  7. The Lioness says:

    It’s great news that more states are getting with the times and banning this awful practice! Change can’t happen fast enough, but it’s nice to see change happening at all.

    Stefani, what a horrible, horrible experience! I’m so sorry you had to endure that kind of environment and awfulness!

    ~The Lioness

  8. Denise says:

    Oh stephanie, that is an awful thing to have to go through. These people were crazy. Oh those poor animals. they must have been making dog and cat food. I think we need very strict spay and neuter laws in this country. it would cut this down. So I was thinking I live in michigan and we have channel 7 news abc. They have an investagator. I wonder if you could contact someone and not give your name and have him checked out in someway. I know he is in a different business but he sounds like he should not be working with human beings. gosh how awful for you. You never forgot that. you were young and didn’t know and they knew it. take care Denise

  9. Stefani says:

    Denise, thanks for your kind words. It was awful, and the way she described the cats struggles — it haunts me.

    But this was 20+ years ago, and as HORRIBLE as it is — this makes it more horrible — I am pretty sure he didn’t break any laws.

    I don’t know where he got those cats, but he might have been euthanizing shelter cats at a reduced cost to the shelter, and then turning around and selling their bodies to a rendering plant. I doubt that was illegal, although it should be.

    Also, 20+ years ago in Virginia (where this occurred), I doubt the carbon monoxide chamber was an illegal euthanasia method. But even if it was, how could I even prove it existed? The whole hospital has been gone for years.

    If I went to the press with this story, all it would get me is a lawsuit.

    If it’s any consolation, he does have a disciplinary record with the state. So that’s something. But it is for something totally minor. Not this.


  10. kathy says:

    My experience, Stefani, Denise, and everyone else—vets are vets because they want to make a lot of money. If you find one that is an animal lover, hang on for dear life!

  11. Denise says:

    Hi Kathy and Stefani, I know exactly what you mean Kathy. Stephanie, just thinking you could kind of drop the hint somwhere without letting them know who you are. If you don’t feel comfortable you are right not to do it. you don’t want them knowing it came from you. we are not made like that none of us here. I just wonder what kind of person could do that job. I mean she sounds like she didn’t see the cats has living beings it haunts me and I wasn’t even there. I almost everyone had to spay and neuter there animals to cut this breeding down. there are to many of them out there. its just heartbreaking. Stfani just reading your note at the bottom of the page. He is a bad person and so was that awful women. I sure ope one day they will get what they deserve. it’s just not human to be like that. take care everyone here. Denise

  12. G in INdiana says:

    kathy, that’s why I love my vets. They are old time farm vets who do not have tall the whiz bang fancy stuff in their offices. They charge the same rate now as they did in 1998 when we started going to them. The same receptionists and assistants are there today, They do not take on vet students or just graduated vets trying to learn the ropes. They have both been in the same place for over 20 years.
    They told us what they do with the unclaimed animals and it is off to the rendered for them, just like when a cow or horse dies on a farm. It is not illegal. Unsavory but not illegal.
    What is wrong with the vet Stefani wrote of is the lies he told about the lies he was telling to his clients. He should have been straight with them as our vets are with their clients. While we do have places to bury large dogs and cats, most folks do not. Most people leave their deceased pet with the vet and pay a disposal fee, according to my vet’s receptionist.
    Our vets pay to have the carcasses removed, they do not get paid FOR them.

  13. Barbara A. Albright says:

    Having witnessed inhumane euthanasia with my own dog “Pocket”, here in New Hampshire on October 18, 2006, via the toxic chemical potassium chloride (overdose) as sole agent intraveneously, I can’t fathom how inhumane euthanasia is still allowed anywhere in the USA. Humane euthanasia solution (sodium pentobarbital) is CHEAP—-no excuses !!

    For an animal, there are lots of things far worse than death, fraud,torture, and cruelty. I live EVERY single day with the memory that I could not even provide her with a humane death. Animal and human cruelty go hand in hand.

    “Pocket’s Story from NH” or

  14. emily says:

    I would note that if a person is smart enough to get into vet school just wants to make a lot of money there are easier ways available to them to make a whole lot more money than a vet does. There is good and bad in every profession.

  15. shelby says:

    I believe that it is inhumane to use gas chambers, especially when dogs are able to feel pain. would you like to see your grandma suffer 45 min. to die, purposely???? no. why do animals not have the right to live, or die humanely? maybe there is an over population but there are ways to stop things such as this. it’s wrong. ughhhhh

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