Update Mar. 23, 2009: Fulton County Superior Court Judge Tom Campbell of the Atlanta Judicial Circuit entered a permanent injunction against the Georgia Department of Agriculture on Mar. 12, 2009.
The injunction prohibits the GDOA from continuing its practice of "authorizing, allowing", evenÂ "encouraging" the illegal use of gas chambers in public animal shelters. The order voided all licenses issued by GDOA to shelters that are violating the Georgia Humane Euthanasia Act in gassing dogs and cats.
The order came in a lawsuit filed in 2007 for violations of the Georgia Humane Euthanasia Act which was passed in 1990. O.C.G.A. §4-11-5.1
The Georgia Humane Euthanasia Act
That statute mandates that the use of sodium pentobarbital or a derivative must be the exclusive method for euthanasia of animals in public shelters. O.C.G.A. §4-11-5.1(a); Ga. Comp. R. & Regs §40-13-13-.08(1)
There are exceptions, however, that have allowed some shelters to continue to use animal gas chambers in Georgia. The statute specifically exempts or grandfathers in those gas chambers in use at the time the Humane Euthanasia Act became effective on July 1, 1990 "if such animal shelter or facility notifies the Commissioner of Agriculture, in writing, on or before August 1, 1990, that such a chamber was in use by such animal shelter or facility on July 1, 1990." O.C.G.A. 4-11-5.1(b)(1).
Rural counties with populations less than 25,000 people are also exempt from the ban on animal gas chambers. O.C.G.A. §4-11-5.1(h).
Also, the statutes provides "in cases of extraordinary circumstance where the dog or cat poses an extreme risk or danger to the veterinarian, physician, or lay person performing euthanasia", then animal gas chambers may be used. O.C.G.A. §4-11-5.1(c) Basically, any dog or cat that a veterinarian or anyone else believes may bite them can be shoved into a gas chamber rather than euthanized by EBI.
Under this state law no animal may be left unattended during euthanasia. O.C.G.A. §4-11-5.1(f).
By way of background, in March, 2007 Chesley Morton and Jennifer Robinson filed suit in Fulton County, Georgia Superior Court, claiming the state Department of Agriculture and its Commissioner, Tommy Irvin, have long violated state law by condoning the use of gas chambers to kill animals in public shelters.
The plaintiffs claimed the GDOA and Irvin did not limit use of the gas chambers to the already broad exceptions allowed under the GA law. Instead, said the plaintiffs, GDOA and Irvin illegally allowed counties to use the gas chambers basically as they pleased.
Morton is a former member of the Georgia House of Representatives who sponsored the 1990 Georgia Humane Euthanasia Act. The other plaintiff, Jennifer Robinson, said that her dog, Pacino, got out and was picked up by Clayton County Animal Control. He was put to death in a carbon monoxide gas chamber before she could claim him.
The complaint in the case said that the state Department of Agriculture and Irvin have licensed animal shelters that illegally use gas chambers. They are also said to have inspected and approved the use of illegal chambers. Specifically, the Dept. and Irvin are alleged to have approved the use of gas chambers in Chatham County and Bulloch County and the installation of a chamber in 2005 in Tifton-Tift County.
The plaintiffs in the case, Morton and Robinson, asked the court for an injunction, to require the state to comply with the law and stop issuing licenses to any new shelters that would use gas chambers and to refuse to renew licenses of current shelters that kill animals by illegally gassing them.
And Judge Fulton has now granted that injunction! Attached to this article are copies of the judge’s orders. The plaintiffs were represented by Schiff Hardin, LLP, Bruce A.Wagman and Walter H. Bush
The Cruelty of Animal Gas Chambers
Euthanasia by injection of sodium pentobarbital or EBI is far more humane than killing animals in carbon monoxide gas chambers. As the complaint described, several dogs and cats are forced into small cages and wheeled into the chamber which resembles a metal box. Their cries, whining, howling and scratching are plainly audible to anyone in the vicinity of the chamber. Their agony and fear, their suffering, goes on for some time. Puppies, kittens and pregnant or sick animals may not die quickly. They may require multiple gassings before they are finally dead.
Many times animals are denied food and water during the day before they are gassed to make clean up more convenient. There will be less feces and urine from the gassing if they are first starved and denied water. Of course, this only adds to their stress.
In 2006 in a highly publicized case, a dog, Grace, was found alive in the Liberty County, Georgia gas chamber after a gassing, though she was shaking violently and covered in the blood, feces and urine of the animals who died around her in the chamber.
In hearings on the permanent injunction in this case, one witness’ testimony that cats slammed themselves against the gas chambers’ walls in frantic efforts to escape. The witness also described dogs howling and scratching desperately as they slowly suffocated.
Judge Wright’s Ruling
In a subsequent hearing on a motion for a preliminary injunction, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Cynthia D. Wright ordered the Georgia Department of Agriculture to enforce the 1990 Georgia Humane Euthanasia Act.
The judge noted the Department and its commissioner had violated the law by permitting shelters, with "a wink and a nod," to gas animals to death for the past 17 years.
"We have an elected official, not a judge, who has clearly been told by the General Assembly, ‘This is what needs to happen,’ and has ignored what the General Assembly has said," Judge Wright said in her ruling.
The evidence presented at the hearing established animals suffer greatly in gas chambers. There was testimony about animals who were gassed 2-3 times before they finally succumbed. The staff can hear the frantic cries from animals inside the chamber as they die.
Mary Green, director of animal protection for the Department of Agriculture, testified several counties use gas chambers to kill dogs and cats though some may be exempt under the law. But she acknowledged at the time this lawsuit was filed, her staff only located one request from a county for an exemption.
Subsequent Contempt Hearing
Following Superior Court Judge Cynthia Wright’s ruling, spokespersons for Bulloch and Cobb Counties and the Warner Robins city shelter in Houston County announced gas chambers will continue to be used anyway.
But a cease and desist letter was sent to Cobb County officials who illegally installed a new gas chamber in 1995, nearly 1/2 a decade after the GA Humane Euthanasia Act went into effect. Cobb County does not qualify for any other exception. GDOA had actually approved the use of the new chamber in a May, 2007 inspection.
County officials ignored the letter, but in October, 2007 Judge Tom Campbell of Fulton County Superior Court found the state officials in contempt for failing to comply with the Georgia Humane Euthanasia Act.
The question now is will GDOA and Irvin comply with Judge Campbell’s order toÂ stop "authorizing, allowing or encouraging" the illegal gassing of dogs and cats in Ga’s shelters?
The Georgia Humane Euthanasia Act can be found in Animal Law Coalition’s Laws on this page.