Judge Issues Permanent Injunction Against Illegal Use of Gas Chambers in Georgia

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", even "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).

The Lawsuit

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

gas chamber in GAThe 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.

Spalding GA gas chamberMary 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 to 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.

Also, go here for information about Grace’s Law, H.B. 606/S.B. 232, bills pending in the GA legislature which would ban use of all gas chambers in GA.


15 thoughts on “Judge Issues Permanent Injunction Against Illegal Use of Gas Chambers in Georgia”

  1. please get rid of the gas chambers this is such a cruel way to destroy the animals ,this is so outdated there are other mre humane ways, have you ever witnessed a animal in a gas chamber? heartbreaking and so cruel, gas chambers are not the way shameful

  2. Gas chambers are barbaric and cruel no matter how you look at them. Companion animals want nothing more than to be loved in exchange for the unconditional love they give so freely. There are not enough homes for them all, and until puppy mills are outlawed and all pet owners practice responsible ownership through spay and neuter, the surplus will continue. Every person who is considering breeding their pet should first have to witness euthanasia at a shelter. Those wagging tails and hopeful eyes are quickly silenced. Chambers do not discriminate between puppies, kittens, pregnant, small, medium, large, sick, injured, and seniors who have been abandoned by their owners for a new pet. They all suffer the same stress and agony. They don’t deserve to die this way. Please show compassion and abolish the gas chambers in favor of the EBI until there is no longer a need to euthanize any pets for lack of a home.

  3. I can’t believe this continues to go on, this is the same as Hitler did in Germany all those years ago to the Jews, just how humane was that, doing this to animals is NO different, these poor babies have to die at no fault of their own only because no one wants them or someone got tired of them at LEAST allow them to go with as little pain as possible, I can’t begin to imagine the horror they go through watching others die ahead of them and what goes through their little minds, with todays technology this is uncalled for, please stop this–also put a plan in force for spay and neuter that’s the answer to this whole problem of unwanted animals—please put yourself in those animals place–HOW WOULD YOU FEEL AND THEY DO FEEL……………….

  4. We animals are disgusting!!! Where are our morals??? The idea that when I talk with some of these shelters and they talk as if it is just another day of work?

    They are dealing with living, breathing creatures that have probably had a cruel and inhumane life to begin with. What in our makeup makes us not see this as being barbaric and immoral?


  5. animal abuse is a felony in your state. i find it very ironic that inhumane gas chambers for animal euthanasia are considered acceptable. please outlaw these gas chambers!

  6. Please stop the inhumane gassing of our animals! This is 2009 not back in the days when Hitler ordered all the gassing of human beings. It was inhumane for people and it is for sure inhumane for animals. The least you can do is let the poor animals die in peace. Its the right thing to do please please no more gassing in any state laws need to be in place!!!

  7. I find it very hard to believe that “people” are still treating these animals as though they are nothing worthy of a respectable death. What efforts are these shelters making to find suitable homes for these animals? What is the treatment and care of these cats and dogs the time they are there if they are thrown into a small box to die scared and alone while being tortured? What kind of person finds this job just another day at the office? How cold and heartless. There are so many of us trying to protect these animals and are out raged this is allowed to continue. Animals are not property. They live, breath and are fully capable of suffering just like you and me. TThey are our companions, friends and for most of us, our children. Give then the respect and dignity they rightfully deserve. Stop over breeding! We wont have so many homeless!

  8. The people of GA now have a reason to report those shelters that still use gas to the authorities. They need to get these places shut down if they do not follow the law. If people don’t complain and step up to the plate, your needs and wants will never be heard, and these beautiful, innocent creatures will continue to be killed in an evil way.

    The idea that there are those who want to use this form of killing makes you stop and think. Just what kind of a person are they that they kill these innocent creatures in the first place, but to continue to kill in these barbaric ways only shows that man has lost his soul. There is no way that a person with morals, and a soul would do to these creatures what we do to them. We are the ANIMAL!

    I can only hope that the people of GA will stand up to those who are killing in these barbaric ways and make them stop or pay for the crimes! It will continue if no one makes the effort. If you know of a shelter doing this, report them. Make their lives hell, and then make them pay for what they do.


  9. The judge ruled IN FAVOR OF THE PLAINTIFFS IN SHUTTING DOWN THE GAS CHAMBERS why would you want the judge thrown in “the box” this is why things don’t get done — people react without knowing the facts – you are just the kind of person who would make antagonizing phone calls and make matters worse instead of better.

  10. COBB COUNTY, yep, is still using their gas chamber – according to Capt. Jeff Patellis, who is full of himself. I guess the judge needs to back a pickup truck to the back door, load it up and haul it away.

    That is what it’s probably gonna take.

  11. Please note that gas chambers are still in us in SC at two shelters that we work with Chesterfield and Darlington. Many people are trying to get these dogs out of harms way and give them a chance at life however there are those that don’t get that chance because of lack of funding or adoptability or timing…they are gassed.

  12. We are no better than Hitler!!! Are these states in the same country and time as the rest of the USA states????

  13. I live in Bulloch County, GA where gassing is still happening in spite of the laws and subsequent charges of contempt. Additionally, The Bulloch Animal Shelter responds to any nuisance call about cats without any proof and they secretly lure cats with tuna, impound, torture then destroy them. They will not return your calls when a cat goes missing, they will not allow you to go back into the holding area to see if your cat is there and they will not always allow you to buy back your pet if they admit to having it. They destroy the animals in less than the required 72 hours and say “the animal got away!”. I have been managing a feral colony for 10 years successfully and the colony was down to 12 cats. I’ve befriended, spayed, neutered, vaccinated, fed, provided heated shelter in winter and cool shelter in summer. As the animals have become socialized, I’ve adopted them out and am now using Feral Stat as a b ack up for any new or unsocialized animals. The neighbors (3) have always fed these animals but the colony was not managed and grew out of control before I began to invest in their care. Last week a new neighbor blamed 25 yr old ducktwork leaks on a cat. All of my cats were accounted for. She unfortunately lives next door. She would not let me see the duct work or rescue the cat, though she claimed the cat was still inside the ductwork (because there likely wasn’t one). We have many opossums and raccoons in our neighborhood etc. Instead, she becan secretly trapping my cats with Animal Control’s help by placing tuna in cages less than 10 feet from where I feed my cats. Of course I did not know about it until my two Alphas went missing and I saw the Animal Control truck. They refused to let me buy back my cats claiming that they “got out”. This was after a different worker told me laughing that “They were HUGE cats. They really tore that cage up, urinated all over the place”. In other words, they caged them together, like fighting pit bulls. I am sick over this and can’t stop crying. The local police no longer has jurisdiction however, I spoke with an officer who adopted one of the kittens five years ago and he said “I am sure that they killed your cats. They can’t escape from a steel cage and if they did, they would still be inside the building. Your cats should have never been caged together-the only reason they’d have been put in the same cage would have been for gassing them”. He said Animal Control broke the law by – 1)not giving me my animals, 2)destroying them before 72 hours, 3)treating them inhumanely and likely 4) gassing them. The police officer also said they have a horrible reputation for cruelty to animals. Animal Control (notice humane is not in their title!) also picked up two 4 month olds. When I bought them back Animal control took their photo and yelled at me: “If I pick them up again, I will press charges and take you to court”. He is very hostile and crude and my pets were both frightened beyond any fear I’ve ever seen in an animal, sick, dehydrated and covered in feces. They were trapped on the neighbor’s side of their fence missing most of the boards – 10 feet from where I feed my cats. The neighbors kids would call the cats through their fence to play with them. This is a very bad situation. I have rescued, cared for and loved animals my entire life and this is the worse thing I’ve ever experienced. I’m disgusted by Animal Control’s cruelty and complete irreverance for life. There is no excuse for the actions of those neighbors either who set this into motion. The remaining cats are all inside my house until I can figure something out and they are not happy either. If anyone can advise, I’d appreciate the help or moral support. I’m contacting everyone I can think of including Judge White and the GA legislators regarding this and Grace’s law. Thank you for letting me vent. I’m so very saddened and discouraged.

  14. I write to offer my sympathy and support in your battle to help homeless and starving cats.

    I see you as one of the angels on this earth and you are going through the heartbreak and anguish that comes to all who seek to do what’s right, kind and humane for animals. Sadly, as yet there are far too few people like you on the planet, so you carry the burden of care which thousands of others have thrust off themselves. You’re up against the callousness, brutishness and sadism of the many who don’t give a toss about the suffering of any being except themselves.

    You have the empathy, the compassion and the heart which so many have not yet found within themselves. And in this you are blessed, even though it brings suffering to you.

    I understand your anguish as I too have had a lifetime in animal rescue and been down the road you are now on. Years of trying to support a feral colony, and to be regularly attacked by pitiless humans for doing it. I too know the heartbreak as others tried to poison, shoot, and terrorise the colony I cared for and feared for. During the years I was helping the colony I was sworn at, abused and often in considerable fear for my own safety. When you do all in your power to protect, heal and help these desperate animals only to find others sabotaging your work, it IS truly heartbreaking.

    There is no easy answer. You can only do your best in a very tough situation. Re-think your strategies in relation to feeding and the new neighbour. You obviously can’t keep the cats closed in your house forever, though it feels like this is the only way at present to protect them from further abuses. Is there any way you can bring about a change of heart in the new neighbour? They’re upset by the presence of the colony so close to them, probably fear disease or their garden being invaded. Is there any way you can put their fears to rest and even awaken a spot of sympathy in them? Could you arrange a proper meeting with them to discuss the situation and ask them to tell you what troubles them most.

    If you can temporarily put aside your dislike for them and the horrific things that have resulted from their intervention, and show your understanding of their fears and problems it will then give you an opportunity to reassure them that the cats are healthy, what you’ve done for them etc. I know this is a big ask but if you can tackle such a meeting with them it might produce understanding on both sides and be a turning point for better relations in the future – for you, the cats and them.

    (I remember once when I finally swore at a neighbout who was down on the colony and wanting it destroyed. It was so out of character for me to do that, but by then I’d started to detest this man. Later I regretted my reaction and rang and apologised to him. He was obviously pleased and we had a constructive talk about the colony while I listened patiently to his fears about the colony and let him know I understood where he was coming from and that I was doing my best, and so on. From then on he had an attitude of ‘live and let live’ and he never bothered the colony again.

    Is there any way you can shift the feeding area to a more obscure spot where you and the cats can be as inconspicuous as possible? As I don’t know the details of your situation or the terrain I can’t advise on practical stategies.

    I also know that nothing I can say will take away your pain at what’s happened and what you and the cats have been through. Just try to stay strong and rally support from others, as you’re doing, especially those with influence. You’ve done so much good, a ton of good, as you’ve laboured hard and long to bring these animals into a far better state than would have been their lot if you hadn’t done this work.

    Singlehandedly, you can’t stem the tide of darkness around you, nor change the brutishness of those who have damaged you and the cats, but you can know and stand tall knowing that you are fulfilling your soul-work. There is no greater work in this world than to bring comfort, healing, hope and wellbeing to others in desperation – animal or human. Be comforted by that knowledge and although it won’t heal the deep pain you’re feeling right now it will give you the strength to continue your compassionate work. A big hug from me.

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