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Gas chambers for animals now verboten in Texas

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

According to the website www.stopgassingtexaspets.com, the following city and county animal shelters in Texas still euthanize shelter animals using gas chambers Beeville; Bovina; Bracketville; Cuero; Devine; Eagle Pass; El Campo; George West; Grand Saline; Greenville, contracts with Hunt County; Kenedy; Kermit, contracts with Wink; Kingsville, contracts with Kleberg County; Lyford; Mathis, contracts with Ingleside on the Bay, Lake City and San Patricio County; Medina County, contracts with Hondo; Odessa, contracts with Goldsmith; Plainview, contracts with Petersburg; Portland, Raymondville; Refugio County, contracts with Austwell, Bayside, Refugio and Woodsboro; Sabinal; Seminole, contracts with Seagraves; Sinton, contracts with Odem; Stinnet; Taft; Van Horn; Victoria County, contracts with Victoria; and Yoakum.

However, the above entities will now quickly have to find a more humane way to dispose of unwanted animals.

On Friday, May 10, Gov. Rick Perry signed SB 360 into law, legislation which prohibits euthanizing animals in gas chambers. To date, over 1,000 Texas shelters euthanize shelter dogs and cats via sodium pentobarbital injection. Historically, lack of access to these drugs has been an issue for shelters that want to transition away from gassing.

Bandera County Animal Control recently euthanized 10 animals for space considerations. However, the euthanization was done by injection. As near as anyone in the sheriff's office can remember, it has been approximately a decade since a gas chamber was used at the county's animal control facility on Highway 16 North.

In a joint press release, ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) and the Texas Humane Legislation Network (THLN) commended Texas legislators and Perry for prohibiting the "cruel use of gas chambers."

Sponsored by Democrat Senator Kirk Watson, the new law not only bans the use of gas chambers but also protects shelter workers from exposure to dangerous working conditions stemming from the use of carbon monoxide.

"We applaud Governor Perry for signing this bill into law and for adding Texas to the list of states where gassing is no longer allowed. We mobilized our membership and focused on this legislation in hopes that we would see the day when Texas would end the use of this cruel device," said Deborah Foote, state director of ASPCA Government Relations for Texas. "We are grateful to Senator Watson, the Texas Humane Legislation Network and the advocates who have worked so hard to ensure passage of this law."

According to the American Humane Society, two weeks ago, a petition containing the signatures of 22,000 supporters from across the United States was delivered to Perry, urging him to sign the legislation into law.

SB 360 was passed by the Texas Senate on March 27 by a vote of 30-0 and by the Texas House on April 26 by a vote of 135-0 with one member signifying "present," but not casting a vote.

Prior to the enactment of this legislation, the Texas Humane Euthanasia Act allowed for euthanasia to be administered via a sodium pentobarbital injection, also referred to as euthanasia by injection (EBI), or by commercially compressed carbon monoxide gas.

This new law will limit the approved methods to injection only. When performed properly, euthanasia by injection of sodium pentobarbital is the safest, most humane method available - and the least stressful to the animal. In gas chambers, animals may suffer extensively and claw to get out of the chamber before succumbing to a hideous death.

"Now every Texas shelter can give homeless dogs and cats a peaceful end to life," said Shelby Bobosky, vice president of the THLN. "This new law will prevent unnecessary suffering of animals throughout the state, and we thank Texas lawmakers for passing this critical legislation." Her comment was echoed by THLN Director Erin Shults, DVM.

Currently, more than 100,000 dogs and cats are euthanized every year in Texas shelters. Despite now being able to offer unwanted companion animals "a peaceful end to life," it remains incumbent upon every shelter to initiate an adoption program that would allow as many animals as possible to be placed in loving homes.

The 29 city and county shelters mentioned in the first paragraph must now scramble to comply with the new law because SB 360 shuts down gas chambers across Texas effective immediately.