Update June 1, 2009: Davie’s Law, H.B. 6/S.B. 199 is dead for this session.
Update Mar. 5, 2009: The North Carolina House Agriculture Committee heard testimony yesterday about Davie’s Law which would end the use of gas chambers on shelter animals and ban heartstickÂ and mandate safe lethal injection for euthanasia of dogs and cats.
Veterinarians Drs. Kim Sheets and Lynne Swanson and veterinary technician Susan Boyer testified in support of the bill. They each spoke from experience about theÂ suffering and danger caused by use of the gas chambers and the much safer, humane method of euthanasia, lethal injection.
The committee was provided a 2009 cost study showing in North Carolina euthanasia by lethal injection is less expensive than using gas chambers. That study is attached.
Update Feb. 18, 2009: Davie’s Law has now been introduced in the North Carolina Senate by state Sen. David W. Hoyle as S.B. 199.
For more on this important bill, read Animal Law Coalition’s report below.
Update Jan. 28, 2009: H.B. 6, known as Davie’s Law, has been filed in the North Carolina House.
Davie’s Law is named for Davie, a puppy pictured here, who survived a North Carolina gas chamber. He was found in the trash after he was gassed at a shelter.
Animal Law Coalition has been working towards the introduction of this bill with North Carolina Coalition for Humane Euthanasia (NCCHE) and American Humane Association (AHA).
Read the bill here. Rep. Cary Allred is the primary sponsor along with Reps. Rick Glazier (District 45), Ty Harrell (District 41) and Pat McElraft (District 13).
The bill would mandate euthanasia by lethal injection of sodium pentobarbital or an equivalent, or oral ingestion of the drug, for all shelter animals. The law would ban injection, however, thru the heart, a cruel and painful procedure known as heartstick. Davie’s Law would require the removal of all gas chambers from North Carolina shelters.
Sixty-four animal shelters in North Carolina currently euthanize primarily by injection, and fifty-nine of those report using this method exclusively. Employees in those shelters have been trained to safely deal with wildlife and aggressive animals. In the 32 county and city shelters that still use gas chambers, some use commercially manufactured units, while others are crudely built units constructed of cinderblock, metal, and wood.
A recent study from the American Humane Association by national Animal Care and Control Consultant, Doug Fakkema, shows that euthanasia by injection is less expensive than theÂ gassing in every scenario. This study is attached to this article as a download and was based on recent figures obtained from North Carolina animal shelters.
During the election North Carolina Governor-elect Bev Perdue, condemned the state’s use of gas chambers to kill animals in shelters.
She also 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."
Last year PerdueÂ wrote a letter to the state Department of Agriculture, urging the adoption of rules requiring use of lethal injection as the only method of euthanasia in animal shelters.
Under the proposed legislation lethal injection using sodium pentobarbital or a derivative, a procedure known as EBI, would be the only allowed method of euthanasia for animals in North Carolina’s public shelters. The bill would limit the type of injections to intravenous or intraperitoneal. The bill would ban CO gas chambers still used in public shelters in North Carolina and require them to be dismantled.
By mandating EBI, the bill will also ban other outmoded and inhumane methods of destroying shelter animals that are still used in North Carolina.
There is nothing humane about the use of the CO gas chamber in North Carolina.
Animals don’t lose consciousness or die until there is a build up of the CO gas in their lungs. This takes longer particularly for young, old, sick or injured animals when they are put into a chamber with little or no ventilation. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) reports confirm this. Shelter workers have documented that until that build up happens, they hear the piercing cries, howling, frantic calls, scratching and panic of animals. It is not uncommon for shelter workers to have to gas some animals a second time.
A 2004 North Carolina Department of Labor Inspection Report for Sampson County Animal Control describes, "The animal begins to struggle because it cannot breathe…They wait approximately 10 minutes until the animal stops making sounds…"
Animals are often crammed into the gas chambers together, sometimes on top of already dead animals. At one shelter animals are loaded into the gas chamber the night before so the worker need only turn on the chamber in the morning. Family pets killed in this way experience sheer terror and torment in the last hours of their lives.
The 2007 AVMA report does not approve of use of gas chambers for animals under 16 weeks of age and states, "[r]eptiles, 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."
Buried in its own report is an admission by the AVMA it takes a long time for mammals which by definition means dogs and cats, to die in the gas chamber! Also, if shelters must have available lethal injections for animals under 16 weeks of age, why not use it for all animals?
EBI is the preferred method of euthanasia by the American Veterinary Medical Association and National Animal Control Association. For the animal, if administered properly, it is usually no different than a shot given by a veterinarian. If the animal is or becomes aggressive, it can be sedated prior to the injection.
This bill will also protect shelter workers: Carbon monoxide gas is odorless and colorless, and shelter workers may not even know they are breathing it. It is a deadly gas, and even inhaling low levels can cause dizziness, tinnitus, blurred vision, nausea, speech impairment, confusion, loss of consciousness and even death. Long term effects even from low level chronic exposure can include blood disorders, cardiovascular disease, neurologic, memory and other cognitive impairment; convulsions, and damage to lungs. CO gas is also explosive at levels above 10%.
Shelter workers 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. A 2007 AVMA report warns, "[Carbon monoxide gas is]…. hazardous to personnel because of the risk of explosions … or health effects resulting from chronic exposure…. Leaky or faulty equipment may lead to slow, distressful death and be hazardous to other animals and to personnel." The report warns that electrical equipment such as lights, fans, etc. in the vicinity of the gas chamber, is vulnerable to explosions. Shelters rarely use CO monitors or make nearby electrical equipment explosion proof.
According to a 1993 AVMA Report, as the concentration of CO [in the body] increases, humans may experience decreased visual acuity, tinnitus, nausea, progressive depression, confusion, and collapse along with convulsions and muscular spasms. Long-term effects may include cancer and cardiovascular diseases." Countless other authorities including the American Medical Association confirm the hazards of CO gas to humans even from limited exposure. In Tennessee a shelter worker died from CO poisoning from the gas chamber. (As a result Tennessee has banned the use of gas chambers.)
Studies of the danger of CO gas are attached below and can be downloaded.
North Carolina shelter workers have been exposed to dangerous levels of CO gas: In one report gas monitor readings showed employee overexposure to carbon monoxide, which the officer believed "is occurring when the chamber door is opened to remove the animal." North Carolina Department of Labor inspection for Sampson County Animal Control in 2004.
Another report stated, "[T]he chamber is leaking and … there were visible cracks as well as an insufficient gasket around door. There is also no mechanism to facilitate venting of this unit. …It appears that this CO chamber even with corrections employed at this time will pose a significant risk to the safety and life of the operator."
"Harris checked the chamber finding that the door seals to the chamber were in disrepair and damaged in several locations. Harris also observed where attempts to repair the seals were made with what appeared to be caulking. Also noted that the integral safety systems for monitoring carbon monoxide levels has been DISABLED. Vent pipe from the top portion of the chamber is poorly fitted and sealed with what appears to be adhesive tape. During operation of the euthanasia chamber carbon monoxide monitors were used to test levels present adjacent to the chamber….carbon monoxide levels exceeded 984 ppm in the area of the chamber….After the purge cycle during removal of animals a reading of 460 ppm still remaining in the chamber as officers removed dead animals." Reidsville Fire Marshal John Harris’ inspection report of a gas chamber at Rockingham County Animal Control in 2004, on the property of Reidsville Veterinary Hospital, after repeated attempts to repair gas leaks.
High levels of carbon monoxide have been detected around the doors of gas chambers as documented in inspection reports for Granville County in 2006 and Randolph and Stokes Counties in 2007 As to the Randolph County inspection, the inspector said, "While the chambers were in operation the monitor was placed in various locations around the door seals. Levels of CO were detected in excess of 500 ppm around the door seal….It was determined that the seals did not prevent carbon monoxide (CO) from escaping while the chambers were in operation.
Inspection reports have documented dangerous levels of CO gas around gas cylinders used for the chambers. 2006 inspection reports for Columbus and Davidson counties. Neither county checks for leaks.
In July, 2008, in fact, in Iredell County, North Carolina, the gas chamber exploded with 10 dogs crammed inside. An employee was present at the time, and other workers were in the next room. The fan and other equipment near the chamber were not explosion proof.
Imagine the risk to workers at these shelters and the countless others where leaking CO gas, which has no odor or color, went unnoticed.
It is also clear that use of the gas chamber causes incalculable psychological suffering for many shelter workers.
Many states including Tennessee, Virginia, Florida, Washington, Wyoming, and New Jersey, among others, now ban the gas chamber. It’s time for North Carolina to do the same.
Other methods besides EBI that are still used in North Carolina to destroy shelter animals are no better: electrocution, heartstick, shooting, drowning and beating. Intracardiac injection or heartstick, for example, typically involves sticking a needle into a conscious animal’s heart. The animal is often stabbed repeatedly in this way.
As another example, shooting is a terrifying ordeal for animals. Also, animal control and law enforcement are often not trained to shoot so that consciousness is lost instantly, and many times the animal is shot repeatedly. Needless, to say, use of firearms where people are present is never a good idea.
Certainly proper use of lethal injection requires training. But even if used properly, gas chambers present a danger to workers; and, use of the gas chambers as well as these other outmoded methods are demoralizing for workers and cruel and inhumane for animals.
The goal is to euthanize as few animals as possible, not argue over the best method for destroying them. But in the meantime, there is no reason to use dangerous, inhumane methods to destroy shelter animals.
Comments from North Carolinians in Support of Bans on Cruel Methods of Euthanasia
- 1) Mayor Bobby Cagle, Jr of the Town of Robbinsville, NC wrote to the NC Commissioner of Agriculture:
"The use of gas is not as simple as just falling asleep. This procedure places the animals in a lengthy situation of pain and fright before death.. . .the use of the gas chamber is cruel and should not be considered an acceptable method of euthanasia."
- 2) Madison County, NC municipal animal control director Robert Davidson wrote to the NC Commissioner of Agriculture:
"I find gas chambers to be extra cruel and unusual for the use of euthanasia purposes. I feel that it is much more humane and easier on the animals if we inject rather than the above use."
- 3) New Hill, NC Veterinarian Laureen Bartfield, a member of the Association of Shelter Veterinarians, wrote to the NC Commissioner of Agriculture:
"The Association of Shelter veterinarians believes that euthanasia should be performed with an intravenous or intraperitoneal injection of sodium pentobarbital or an equivalent euthanasia solution. Intracardiac injections may only be performed on anesthetized or unconscious animals."
- 4) The American Humane Association wrote to the NC Commissioner of Agriculture:
"Continuing to use carbon monoxide to euthanize companion animals – is not a humane way to end the lives of companion animals. The boxes are sometimes overloaded with animals loaded with incompatible species or animals that are too young, too old or too sick to be euthanized using carbon monoxide. Most workers would prefer to to be able to hold and comfort the animal during euthanasia, which is possible with EBI [injection]. This may help shelter workers feel that their euthanasia method is more humane for the animals in their care, and it may take less of an emotional toll on them. If done according to AVMA standards the costs to use a carbon monoxide chamber are comparable to the costs for using EBI. Using data form an animal sheltering organization, the number of dogs and cats euthanized in 2002 was 7473. The cost to use carbon monoxide poisoning – $13,230. The cost of EBI – $12,700."
- 5) Virginia Schmidt of Leicester, NC, a volunteer rescuer at Buncombe County animal pound, wrote to the NC Commissioner of Agriculture:
"Animals were put in the chamber, cats, kittens, dogs and puppies. [violation of NC law]. Some fell on the others so when the chamber was opened some were dead and some barely alive laying under other animals. The employees ended up with health problems, especially heart problems. Another Buncombe County chamber used for small animals was outdoors in the hot sun and had no gauge [violation of NC law] and no window [violation of NC law]. Wet dead kittens were taken out of it.Â I also toured the county pound in Henderson County. The employees left the room [violation of NC law] but I stayed and watched the fear on the animals’ face and them franticallt trying to get out by tearing at the plastic walls. When the gas started to come in the noise scared them more. The animals also made "messes" all over the place. The shelter was supposed to use a slide in set of stainless cages but didn’t because it was too hard to clean afterwards [violation of NC law]."
- 6) Hendersonville, NC resident and former shelter worker Angie Buie wrote to the NC Commissioner of Agriculture:
"Back in 1999 Henderson County employees screamed at the idea of putting their safety in jeopardy by handling possibly feral animals in order to inject them. The threats to quit if they were forced to "hold" subsided once they received training on IV injection."
- 7) Mocksville, NC resident Denise Spors wrote to the NC Commissioner of Agriculture:
"If you’d seen the countless number of brain damaged or nerve damages dogs and cats that I’ve seen pulled out of garbage bags at the dump that were â€˜euthanized’ by gas but survived . . . .you would agree with those of us who want euthanasia by carbon monoxide a thing of the past.
- 8) The Animal Protection Society of Caswell County wrote to the NC Commissioner of Agriculture:
"Injection of pentobarbital is the most humane form of euthanasia, and is the method used at our shelter. Unlike carbon monoxide, pentobarbital is painless for animals and poses no health risks to those who administer it. Do you know what this process looks and sounds like? Not so very different from dog fighting. . . .just as inhumane."
- 9) Alvin Stein, who initiated the California legislation banning gassing I that state wrote to the NC Commissioner of Agriculture:
"Our state (California) had to settle several problems with claimants including deformed babies born and lung problems before we outlawed the chambers. The gases are insidious and our experience showed that it was virtually impossible to keep them running to perfection- which is necessary for the humaneness to the people and animals."
- 10) Raleigh, North Carolina attorney and Wayne County Animal Control Advisory Board member Jean Hollowell wrote to the NC Commissioner of Agriculture:
"I have had the opportunity to observe euthanasia by lethal injection and gas chambers. While I realize that lethal injection incorrectly administered can be very painful, carbon monoxide is always painful even when administered with commercially produced equipment. I strongly believe that North Carolina needs to establish euthanasia by lethal injection as the ONLY method. "
- 11) Chapel Hill, North Carolina attorney Bree Lorant wrote to the NC Commissioner of Agriculture:
"All gas chambers using any poisonous inhalant gas to kill animals should be put out of use immediately, not in the year 2012. Animal control employees using these machines are at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, and thousands of animals are suffering an inhumane death. They do not merely breathe in the gas and die, but rather go into convulsions and bleed and are screaming. A loophole allowing extreme kill methods in practically any circumstance is not acceptable. "
- 12) University of Pennsylvania College of Veterinary Medicine professor Dr. Michael Moyer states:
"Sheltering is deliberately, inexorably and philosophically moving away from mass killing asan acceptable method of dog/cat population control. That there are technical features of one system that distinguish it from other such systems is irrelevant. None of these are capable of overcoming the humane and philosophical objection to mechanized death at the core of those who have moved away from this technology."
- 14) Susan Gardiner, a volunteer at the Guilford County animal pound, wrote to the NC Commissioner of Agriculture:
"The director once told me a litter of puppies had to be destroyed and the machine was used [violation of NC law]. When she opened the top, one of the puppies that had been â€˜destroyed’ was sitting upright, alive. She had to give it an injection to spare it any more suffering."
- 15) Maysville, NC Veterinarian Lynne Swanson wrote to the NC Commissioner of Agriculture:
"Staff members of two different municipal shelters have approached me just this year, concerned about panicky sounds from animals in their gas chambers. When they voiced their concerns to the chambers’ manufacturer, he told them not to worry, the animals are already unconscious. The staff members don’t believe him. How can anyone know that death has occurred in five minutes if the gas chamber can’t be opened for 20 minutes? Animals could appear dead but yet be deeply unconscious. In reality, gas chambers are so inherently fraught with problems. . . that it’s a stretch to see them as a viable option in our state. Just two years ago, the staff of a local shelter was using a 4 ft. pole with a syringe and dull needle duct-taped to the end to try to inject pentobarbital into the heart of terrified cats unrestrained in large wire cages, all with the knowledge of a corrupt veterinarian, and shelter employees were threatened when they complained. It took a court case to try to correct that wrong."
- 16) Ashley Oliphant, PhD of Cornelius, NC wrote to the NC Commissioner of Agriculture:
"Absolutely no circumstance would justify the use of a gas chamber, and some counties will manipulate this loophole to avoid changing their procedures."
- 17) Janice Jordan from the Raleigh based North Carolina Museum of History wrote to the NC Commissioner of Agriculture:
"Lethal injection is the most humane manner of euthanizing unwanted animals and should be instituted in all shelters without exception. I am also opposed to the rather absurd proposal to allow un-air conditioned animal control vehicles."
- 18) Member of the Forsyth County, NC Animal Control Advisory Board and manager of the Forsyth County Humane Society Lori Sears wrote to the NC Commissioner of Agriculture:
"I have personally witnessed the horrifying deaths ofÂ [sic] via carbon monoxide and peaceful deaths via lethal injection. The employees of shelters whose jobs are already stressful enough would also benefit from lethal injection as the only means of euthanasia."
- 19) Green Mountain, NC resident and former shelter worker Susan Garriques wrote to the NC Commissioner of Agriculture:
"The terrors of the gas chambers were known and not allowed. We used sodium pentabarbital."
- 20) Franklinton, NC resident Viv Graves wrote to the NC Commissioner of Agriculture:
"I personally rescued an adult dog from Vance County that survived the gas chamber at the animal control officer’s request. That officer couldn’t bear the thought of having to put the dog back in the gas chamber.