SB 56 to ban gas chambers killed twice in House committee

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MURRAY, UT (March 6, 2017) -- Animal Shelter Amendments bill fails despite free training and lower cost


For the third year in a row, a proposed bill to end the use of gas chambers for shelter animal euthanasia failed to pass the Utah Legislature. On March 3, 2017, the motion to recommend S.B. 56 - Animal Shelter Amendments sponsored by Sen. Peter Knudson and Rep. Lee B. Perry failed in the House Government Operations Committee with a vote of four yeas and four nays. The bill passed the Senate Floor with a 19-7 vote last month.


Failing to pass out of the committee Thursday, March 2, the bill was amended to preserve the option to euthanize by injection or other means by the director’s discretion. It was heard a second time Friday, March 3, before a full room of nearly 50 supportive constituents.


“We thought we put this bill down humanely yesterday, but it appears it’s still alive,” said House Government Operations Committee Chair, Rep. Jeremy A. Peterson. Ironically, there have been cases where animals have lived through the gas chamber process, which is why animals are placed into a freezer after euthanasia in a gas chamber to ensure death.


“We’re disappointed that this bill failed again,” said Gene Baierschmidt, executive director of the Humane Society of Utah. “We firmly believe that with proper training, every animal welfare worker can safely and humanely handle all types of animals. The idea that more cats and dogs will continue to needlessly suffer in gas chambers saddens us deeply.”


“To pass a state law that is against the American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines is wrong,” said David Moss of West Valley City Animal Shelter in opposition to the bill. “If the AVMA changes it [their guidelines], we will follow it.”


In 2016, Nicole Cottle with West Valley City spoke in support of passing a similar bill, HB 187 to end gas chamber euthanasia.


The AVMA lists specific guidelines to follow if a gas chamber is used. “In the 2013 Guidelines, euthanasia by intravenous injection of an approved euthanasia agent remains the preferred method for euthanasia of dogs, cats and other small companion animals. Gas chambers are not recommended for routine euthanasia of cats and dogs in shelters and animal control operations,” said Dr. Gail Golab, director of the American Veterinary Medical Association's Animal Welfare Division.


Sheriff James Tracy of Utah County spoke in opposition to the bill saying his staff already uses euthanasia by injection (EBI) on 30 percent of their animals and the gas chamber for the other 70 percent because they do not like to hold the animals when they pass. “It’s not the money… the biggest issue is the issue of emotional and mental stress on our staff,” said Tracy.


Supportive animal welfare worker, Spencer Conover told the committee that he has worked in multiple high-volume animal shelters for seven years and has euthanized over 5,000 animals during his career, all by injection only. “Opposition to this bill will tell you they need the gas chamber because of safety,” said Conover. “You can check with any of my HR departments; there is not a single bite on my records. Why? Because I have received the proper training and resources to euthanize these animals humanely by injection. Resources and training that is available to all of the shelters in Utah that are currently utilizing the gas chamber. So, why do they do it? Because it’s easier to put an animal in a box, flip a switch and walk away while that animal suffers.”


The final statement of support allowed by the committee came from Dr. John Zeigler. “I can tell you that the experience from a staff standpoint when euthanasia is administered if the staff is properly trained and properly equipped, the experience of the staff is greatly enhanced by a peaceful IV euthanasia experience rather than a gas chamber. Utah would be way behind the times from a veterinary medicine philosophy and practice standard to allow the use of gas chambers.”


Research comparing EBI to gas chambers has shown that EBI is less expensive, painless, faster and safer for personnel. Using a gas chamber is only less expensive if it is improperly used, i.e., more than one animal is placed into a chamber at one time.


The proposed amendment to SB 56 altered the bill’s original intent; however, supporters were eager to move it to the House Floor for further discussion.


The Utah Animal Control Officers Association offered EBI training at no cost to staff if they transitioned to EBI only and permanently destroyed their gas chamber.


Out of the 57 animal shelters that the Humane Society of Utah tracks, only eight have a gas chamber. Utah is one of four states in the U.S. that uses a gas chamber to euthanize shelter animals.