Help Stop Davidson County Gas Chamber

animal gas chamber

Update Aug. 10, 2011: Last night at least 200 people packed the Davidson County, North Carolina County Council meeting room to try to convince commissioners to abandon the archaic carbon monoxide gas chambers still used to kill shelter animals.

A motion to do just that was filed by Commissioner Cathy Dunn, but no other commissioner seconded it. A number of residents spoke in favor of the motion.

Instead, the commission unanimously approved a motion by Commissioner Fred McClure that recognizes lethal injection as the preferred method of euthanasia that should be used whenever possible. 

Why would it ever not be possible to use humane euthanasia?   

Also, questions have been raised as to whether Davidson County is in compliance with state law and regulations concerning euthanasia and use of CO gas chambers. Tina York, a county resident, has submitted a series of complaints to Lee Hunter, Director, North Carolina Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services:

Records reveal violations of 2 NCAC 52J .0602 which prohibits use of CO gas chambers for "[a]nimals that appear to be less than 16 weeks in age". York explains, "As you will see, the records [show] two three month old puppies listed as being euthanized by methods of CO and many other puppies and kittens listed as CO methods as well with no indication of age." 

York continues, "The shelter’s fan is not in compliance with 02 NCAC 52J .0605 Chamber Requirements: …(f) Any chamber electrical wiring or components exposed to carbon monoxide must be warranted by the manufacturer to be explosion proof." There is no such warranty even though the manufacturer, Ralph Houser, DVM, represented as much in a recent inspection report. (Yes, in North Carolina, manufacturers are allowed to conduct the inspections of their own Co gas chambers.) Also, the manufacturer warned, "These fans cannot be used if the environment surrounding them is not always free of flammable gases, vapors, or liquids; combustible dust; or ignitable fibers or flyings." This danger on top of the numerous leaks discovered over the years. Leaks of CO gas. 

Records of animals killed at the shelter fail to indicate age or the initials of the person(s) who put them into the gas chamber as required by law.  02 NCAC 52J .0101

Some animals do not appear to be held for the requisite 72 hour hold period and instead are killed immediately. The shelter does not appear to keep complete adoption records as required by law.

For more on the use of CO gas chambers in Davidson County and elsewhere in North Carolina, read Animal Law Coalition’s report below.

Original report: In 1999 Davidson County, North Carolina county manager Robert Hyatt insisted a carbon monoxide gas chamber was necessary to kill shelter animals. He said humane euthanasia by lethal injection was not possible until the county found someone qualified to administer the injections. At that time the county spent at least $6,500 on a carbon monoxide gas chamber.

Now in 2011 there are 5 shelter staff actually certified to perform lethal injections. But the county still uses the gas chamber.

Of the state’s 100 counties, only 21 still use this outmoded, cruel means to kill shelter animals.  

Even though as a 2009 study of North Carolina shelters established, lethal injection by sodium pentobarbital is less costly. (See study in Animal Law Coalition’s downloads) 

Even though as Davidson County inspection reports for 2006-2009 reveal, there have been numerous leaks from the chamber or carbon monoxide gas cylinders, meaning the county’s shelter staff are exposed to deadly carbon monoxide gas which even at low levels can cause illness, disease, mental impairment, and even death.  (See attached report) 

Even though there is a national trend to prohibit the use of CO gas chambers in animal shelters; relatively few animal shelters nationwide continue to use CO gas regardless.

And, even though North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue, has condemned the state’s use of gas chambers to kill animals in shelters.  

Gov. Perdue has endorsed "work[ing] towards a community where all pets are wanted pets." "But until that is possible," said Perdue, "the thousands of stray and unwanted animals that must be euthanized each year in North Carolina deserve a peaceful death, and shelter workers deserve access to a means to end animals’ lives safely, compassionately, and with dignity.

"[I]…oppose… the use of gas chambers to euthanize animals in shelters.  This method is inhumane, especially in light of the fact that injection by sodium pentobarbital is a more humane, suitable substitute to euthanize animals."

In 2009 Davidson County Commissioner Cathy Dunn echoed the governor, stating in response to a resident’s inquiry:

"Thank you for your letter concerning gassing.  I too agree that this is a horrible way for animals to be put down. 

"I have always been an advocate for animals and love them because they are part of my family.  …I will discuss this matter with the other Commissioners and get their opinion.  If there is a way to change this, it should be done, period!  Again, thank you for bringing up such an important issue".

If there is any doubt about Commr. Dunn’s description of the gas chamber as a "horrible way for animals" to die, read the statement here by Paul Caravan.

Go here to read a number of statements from witnesses to the use of the gas chamber in North Carolina to kill animals.

In September, 2010, the National Animal Control Association (NACA) adopted a policy: "NACA considers lethal injection of sodium pentobarbital, administered by competent, trained personnel, to be the only method of choice utilized for humane euthanasia of animal shelter dogs and cats."

The Association of Shelter Veterinarians agrees, stating flatly that "the use of carbon monoxide for individual or mass companion animal euthanasia in shelters is unacceptable due to significant humane, operational and safety concerns…[C]arbon monoxide euthanasia should be banned in shelters."

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is even considering not recommending the CO gas chamber for "routine euthanasia" of dogs and cats.  Though it is not clear AVMA will abandon its longime support for carbon monoxide gas chambers.

Basically, the AVMA’s 2007 Policy on Euthanasia states use of carbon monoxide gas chambers is an "acceptable" method of "euthanasia". The AVMA’s stance is seen as a green light for shelters to continue to use this outmoded, barbaric means of killing animals.

Many don’t read the AVMA’s fine print.

The AVMA finds CO gas chambers "acceptable" as a means of killing as long as the proverbial camel fits through the eye of a needle. The AVMA envisions a laboratory setting rather than the reality, which is untrained shelter staff shoving animals into a gas chamber, turning it on and leaving the room.  The AVMA report states:

"commercially compressed CO [gas must be] used and the following precautions …taken: (1) personnel using CO must be instructed thoroughly in its use and must understand its hazards and limitations; (2) the CO chamber must be of the highest quality construction and should allow for separation of individual animals; (3) the CO source and chamber must be located in a well-ventilated environment, preferably out of doors; (4) the chamber must be well lit and have view ports that allow personnel direct observation of animals; (5) the CO flow rate should be adequate to rapidly achieve a uniform CO concentration of at least 6% after animals are placed in the chamber …; and (6) if the chamber is inside a room, CO monitors must be placed in the room to warn personnel of hazardous concentrations. It is essential that CO use be in compliance with state and federal occupational health and safety regulations."

On top of that, AVMA recommends the CO gas chamber should be regularly cleaned, maintained and inspected, flow rates monitored, animals separated by species and restrained and noise that may frighten animals is to be reduced or controlled. The AVMA does not recommend use of the CO gas chamber for animals under 16 weeks of age or which might have difficulty breathing like pregnant, old, ill, or injured animals.

Then there is the endless list of safety requirements because CO gas is  dangerous, and shelter staff are at risk from CO poisoning when they load and unload or clean the gas chamber, breathing in low levels of the gas on a regular basis.  Not to mention the risk of explosions such as occurred at the Iredell County and Lincoln County, North Carolina public shelters just in the past 2 years.  

See what we mean about the fine print? But there’s more.

Buried in AVMA’s 2007 Euthanasia Report is the admission:  "Reptiles, amphibians, and diving birds and mammals have a great capacity for holding their breath and anaerobic metabolism. Therefore, induction of anesthesia and time to loss of consciousness when using inhalants may be greatly prolonged. Other techniques may be more appropriate for these species."  

Translation: Most animals including mammals like dogs and cats, can hold their breath and it may take a long time before they actually inhale enough CO gas to lose consciousness and they will suffer terribly in the meantime. For more on the 2007 AVMA Policy on Euthanasia….

One reason the Davidson County Commission has not abandoned the archaic gas chamber may be because of one of AVMA’s own, Ralph Houser, DVM, profits from manufacturing and selling CO gas chambers in the state, including in Davidson County.

Houser not only makes and sells CO gas chambers, he is paid to provide the euthanasia "training" for many North Carolina shelters as well. Including Davidson County. In other words, the shelters provide a place for Houser to demonstrate his product and then pay him to show shelter workers how to use it! All under the guise of "training" shelter workers in "euthanasia".  Houser refuses to permit public access to the "training". And, Houser now does the inspections for the gas chamber used in Davidson County.


Contact the Davidson County commissioners and urge them to do away with the CO gas chamber and when necessary, use humane euthanasia, lethal injection of sodium pentobarbital. The staff and resources to make the switch to the more humane, cost effective lethal injection are there; the commissioners need only vote yes to make it happen.

Chairperson Sam Watford –  

Vice -Chairperson Larry Potts- larry.potts@davidsoncounty​

Commissioner Cathy Dunn- cathy.dunn@davidsoncountyn​

Commissioner Don Truell- don.truell@davidsoncountyn​

Commissioner Fred McClure- fred.mcclure@davidsoncount​

Commissioner Billy Kepley- billyjoe.kepley@davidsonco​

Commissioner Todd Yates- todd.yates@davidsoncountyn​

Join us on Facebook to stop the use of the CO gas chamber in Davidson County.

Find Animal Law Coalition’s 3 part series on gas chambers in North Carolina.