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. If not killed, Holocaust victims slipped into comas and were subsequently buried alive in mass graves.
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. Of the 35 states that allow capital punishment, five of them—Arizona, California, Maryland, Missouri and Wyoming –currently still endorse gas chambers, though their use is rare compared to other means of execution.
Humanity seems to have gotten the idea that execution by gas chamber is no way to treat our follow human beings. But somehow, apparently 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 more than 20 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.
How, by any stretch of the imagination, could this be considered justice?
While cyanide is the most used toxic gas, some shelters use chloroform for animals under 8 weeks of age. Some shelters in Arizona use T-61, a drug that immobilizes and suffocates an animal without causing unconsciousness, resulting in an even slower and more painful death. One shelter in Louisiana employs 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 how or what. Needless to say there is nothing at all humane about this practice.
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 legislations have been taking action to end this barbaric practice, as the No Kill Movement gains momentum throughout the U.S. Within the past couple years, 19 states have passed laws that either ban or restrict the use of gas chambers.
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.
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, as is now used 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. I am certain that 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 human laws and practices when it comes to animal welfare.
If you’re anything like me, the thought of gas chambers being used on friendly, healthy and otherwise adoptable animals makes you physically ill. For ways on how to help, I suggest you visit the following sites to find ways on how you can put an end to this unimaginable cruelty.