Chances are most people would associate the phrase “gas chamber” with the Holocaust, and rightfully so. Its genocide program is perhaps the most widely documented use of gas chambers in history. Within concentration camps, one gas chamber was large enough to kill as many as 2,500 people at once.
Deaths within gas chambers are extremely slow and painful, as the commonly used hydrogen cyanide gas takes its time to suffocate its victim, leaving them gasping for breath, choking on their own vomit or, in some cases, slamming their heads against the chamber walls to put themselves out of their misery.
Nowadays, of course, we look at such mass cruelty as a regrettable thing of the past; a practice that is thankfully no longer in use. However, that is not the case. The states of Arizona, Missouri , and Wyoming currently still endorse gas chambers as a means of capital punishment, though their use is rare compared to other means of execution.
For the most part, humanity seems to have gotten the idea that execution by gas chamber is no way to treat our follow human beings. But somehow, it is still a fairly common means of executing shelter animals.
An estimated 6 to 8 million dogs and cats are cared for in U.S. shelters every year, roughly half of which are euthanized. In about 30 U.S. states, gas chambers are still in use. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) even lists it as an acceptable means of euthanasia.
Think about that for a moment. A method of execution deemed too cruel and unusual for our worst criminals—serial killers, rapists, pedophiles—is deemed acceptable for use on dogs and cats, simply because no one wants to adopt them.
While cyanide, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide are the most used toxic gasses, some shelters use chloroform for animals under 8 weeks of age. Some shelters in Arizona use T61, a drug that immobilizes and suffocates an animal without causing unconsciousness, resulting in an even slower and more painful death. Some shelters even employ the use of acrid exhaust gas; its hot fumes burn the animals’ skin and eyes as they suffocate to death.
At least in the case of human prisoners, they know what to expect as they step into the gas chamber. Animals do not. They are placed in a hot box of sorts, hear the hiss of gas, become dizzy and start to panic, clawing at the chamber’s walls, calling for help that doesn’t come. Generally the process of gassing an animal takes about an excruciating half hour. Most of this time, they are alert and conscious that something is terribly wrong, though they don’t know what or how.
Not only is the use of gas chambers inhumane in itself; abuse of gas chambers is common as well. While most shelters require one animal per chamber and close observation of the process, some employees have been reported shoving many animals in the chamber at once and then walking away. Some don’t even bother cleaning the chamber out; they put live animals in with the dead ones who were executed previously.
These horrible chambers have proven dangerous to employees as well. When improperly maintained or mishandled, the toxic substances can cause illness and even death to those in close proximity. There have been numerous cases of shelter workers dying while operating gas chambers.
Thankfully, state legislators have been taking action to end this barbaric practice as the No Kill Movement gains momentum throughout the United States. Back in August 2012, Massachusetts outlawed gas chamber euthanasia; and in October of that year, Pennsylvania did the same, followed by Texas in May 2013. In September 2013, a bill banning gas chambers passed state senate in Michigan.
Sadly Minnesota and North Dakota are not among of the states that have banned gas chambers. In fact there is currently a campaign to stop its use at the Humane Society of Goodhue County in Red Wing, MN.
Way back in 2003, in a shelter in St. Louis, Missouri, a Basenji mix named Quentin was, miraculously, the sole survivor of seven dogs placed in the gas chamber at once; the first survivor in the shelter’s 64-year history. A shelter employee, moved by Quentin’s will to live, called the Stray Rescue Organization, which gladly took him in. Randy Grim, founder of Stray Rescue, would later write the book Miracle Dog: How Quentin Survived the Gas Chamber to Speak for Animals on Death Row. Due to Grim’s lobbying efforts, the St. Louis shelter eventually shut down its gas chamber.
On October 3rd, 2011, a beagle was placed in a gas chamber in Florence, Alabama along with 17 other stray dogs. Somehow he survived, was dubbed a “Miracle Dog,” and found a family in New Jersey thanks to Eleventh Hour Rescue later that year. The family named him Daniel. In addition to representing the No Kill Movement, he became the subject of a book called Daniel the Miracle Beagle in 2013.
In June of 2010, Grace’s Law was passed in Georgia after a shelter dog survived an agonizing 30-minute gassing session. The dog, aptly named Grace, was subsequently adopted, and now serves as a mascot for the No Kill Movement.
Judging from these cases, what we need to do is spread awareness of this outrageously cruel practice and funding for organizations lobbying against it. If more U.S. citizens were aware that this archaic form of torture is still in use, the momentum against it would skyrocket and lead to more humane laws and practices when it comes to animal welfare.
For information on how you can help, head to the websites for organizations such as the ASPCA, the American Humane Association, or the Animal Law Coalition. Facebook is also not a bad place to support campaigns, as they provide opportunities to sign petitions, call your local legislators, and generally keep up to date with the latest news in animal cruelty prevention.
– Särah Nour