Until 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 â€“ and not all shelters use such injections.
â€œCarbon monoxide chamberâ€ 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.
The Humane Society of the United States is one of many organizations opposing the use of carbon monoxide chambers. In an article about Virginiaâ€™s decision to stop using such chambers in 2007, HSUS explains many states still using carbon monoxide lack â€œdirect licensing lawsâ€ which permit non-veterinarians to have access to controlled substances used in euthanasia procedures.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch covered Fritcheyâ€™s bill, noting a â€œveterinarian must administer or supervise the shot in Missouriâ€ 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.
Quentinâ€™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 â€œdangerousâ€ 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 â€œdartâ€ 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 â€œEuthanasia may be conducted by barbituric acid injection, carbon monoxide gas, or gunshot.â€ Clicking to read the law reveals limitations on the use of gunshot.
An â€œinfo boxâ€ 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 â€œeuthanasia technicianâ€ plus the exact phrase â€œcarbon monoxideâ€ 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 â€œhumaneâ€ is more complicated than anything found in todayâ€™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 â€œindividual animal or mass euthanasiaâ€ of dogs and cats with several provisions and precautions; youâ€™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 â€“ 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, ASPCAâ€™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 Quentinâ€™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: www.strayrescue.org