Wednesday, January 28, 2009

On gassing cats

Here is an excellent article on the less-common but continuing practice of killing shelter animals via gas chambers.
Barbara Mansfield has become an advocate for homeless animals, especially those that are euthanized with gas at many of the state’s shelters.

A resident of Pasquotank County, Mansfield is raising awareness about soon-to-be-introduced legislationadvocating humane euthanasia practices and a ban on gassing.

Although most of North Carolina’s animal shelters use lethal injection to euthanize animals, 32 shelters, including the tri-county animal shelter for Chowan-Gates-Perquimans and Hertford County shelters, use carbon monoxide gas chambers.

How gas chambers work: Multiple animals are placed together in the chamber. It is not pre-charged (because the chamber is fairly large, pre-charging would be dangerous to the humans placing animals inside). The length of time to unconsciousness is therefore quite long while the chamber fills with gas. The animals panic, vocalize, and struggle.

Sometimes animals may not all succumb to the gas. In unfortunately situations, when staff open up the chamber, a few animals may still be alive. The chambers either needs to be refilled all over again, or a secondary form of killing has to be administered. If lethal injection isn't available to begin with (otherwise, why gas?) the secondary killing form is likely to be a physical method, brutal on both the animal and the human who administers it.

(Note: small chambers are also used to kill sick or injured wildlife. These chambers are pre-charged with CO2 gas, only one animal is placed within the chamber and the animal is usually caged unless it is already comatose. If the chamber is not pre-filled, because it is so small it fills very quickly. Unconsciousness takes place in about a minute in a large raccoon, death within 3-5 minutes. It's still not particularly humane, in my opinion, but it is significantly different from large chambers that gas multiple animals, especially larger animals such as dogs).

This comment from the article is very telling to anyone who has experienced burnout in an animal shelter or animal laboratory:
Bass advocates use of the gas chamber statewide and claims her colleagues prefer the use of a gas chamber for euthanasia.

“We prefer the chamber because it’s less stressful on us,” Bass said. “Putting the animals down is hard enough, and now we have to worry about comforting each one as we do it?”

And a later comment makes it clear we still have a long way to go in educating shelter staff about how simple it is to restrain a feral cat:
“It’s a personal choice here, older dogs and puppies we don’t put in the gas chamber, it’s usually just for the aggressive ones we can’t handle,” Bass said. “Can you imagine trying to hold down a feral cat for an injection?”


Yes, I can. It's done hundreds, probably thousands of times a day, at spay/neuter clinics and vet offices across the United States. And yet so many animal sheltering professionals (and veterinarians) still are unaware of it. That would appear to be our fault. How do we do a better job? Instead of making shelter managers out to be demons for using gas, how do we make it easier for them to switch?

It IS very stressful to work in a shelter and kill animals. The fact is, it's part of the job. And its the responsibility of every professional in every field to strive to use the best tools available. If the job of a shelter manager is to handle the unwanted pets of a municipality in the most professional manner, appealing to "personal choice" isn't an option.

In additional, taking personal responsibility for killing individual animals also forces us to see them as individuals rather than a herd. As humans, we are more likely to take extra steps to lower the death rate, I believe, if we rebel against killing so many individuals. We are more likely to look at other optons--increasing spay/neuter, creative adoption events, etc. if we rebel against having to kill so many animals.

We are less likely to do this if we just load up the chamber, turn on the gas, turn off the gas, put in our earplugs, and come back in an hour.

When it comes to domestic animals, it is time for the gas chamber to be put to sleep, retired as a back-up only until, as most shelters have already discovered, it gathers so much dust someone says "why do we even still have this thing around?"

4 comments:

joanna said...

In additional, taking personal responsibility for killing individual animals also forces us to see them as individuals rather than a herd. As humans, we are more likely to take extra steps to lower the death rate, I believe, if we rebel against killing so many individuals. We are more likely to look at other optons--increasing spay/neuter, creative adoption events, etc. if we rebel against having to kill so many animals."

Absolutely. It is so painful to read this article, but you are so right in suggesting that we need to think of other ways to deal with overpopulation. SOmetimes I think I'd like to retire and turn my 2 and a half acres into a very small scale retirement home for unwanted pets--cats and dogs.

Margie Elmendorf said...

I totally agree with you. I didn't know it was that bad. Makes me feel even worse. Guess I will try even harder than I have been to rescue as many cats as I can. I just wish I could make a little money so I could take more into my house.

Felyne said...

Hard to restrain a cat? My vet showed me how when I had my first cat. It is simple, easy, and non-stressful to both me and the cat.

I'm wondering if this lady should be doing what she's doing.

Tanya Seybert said...

I struggle with this, I know we have overpopulation of pets but why do we have to end their life, i value animals lives and feel that this is terribly wrong. I have realized that an animal sheltor in Ohio only gives the dogs three days then they gas them. I want to help I dont know how to even begin to try.