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Georgia lawmakers weigh a ban of gas chambers as a means of euthanizing shelter pets

April 27, 2010 |  2:51 pm

Shelter

A Georgia state Senate vote last week brought the state closer to outlawing the use of gas chambers, rather than the more commonly used lethal injections, to euthanize homeless dogs and cats.

H.B. 788, also called "Grace's Law" in reference to a dog who survived an attempted euthanasia by carbon monoxide gassing, passed a Georgia House vote in March. After its passage in the state Senate, it returns to the House for a final vote to approve a change to the proposed legislation made by the Senate, according to the Florida Times-Union.

By all accounts, very few animal shelters will be affected should the new law be enacted, as it's expected to be. About 10 Georgia shelters -- holdovers from a 1990 law that prohibited new shelter gas chambers from being built but allowed those already in operation to remain -- currently use gas chambers as a means of euthanizing homeless pets.

But even that relatively small number is far too high, according to the animal advocates who support passage of Grace's Law. If it is enacted, shelters that currently operate animal gas chambers will be given three years to comply with the law by switching to lethal injection as a euthanasia method.

The American Veterinary Medical Assn. considers gassing to be an acceptable means of euthanasia on the grounds that "it induces loss of consciousness without pain and with minimal discernible discomfort," the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports.

That sentiment was echoed by one Georgia state senator, Republican Bill Heath, who recalled an incident in his own life to argue that carbon monoxide gassing was not an inherently cruel way to kill an animal. Heath told other senators that, when he was accidentally exposed to carbon monoxide while working on a car, he felt no pain and "wasn't worried about anything. There was nothing adverse about the feeling and I knew that this feeling good was a bad sign ... I can understand why people use it to commit suicide."

Not surprisingly, Heath's comments proved to be controversial. "Between 1941 and 1945 there were about 6 million people who would disagree with you about that gas," Democrat Steve Thompson retorted.

In a follow-up interview with the Journal Constitution, Heath stressed that his statements about the positive aspects of carbon monoxide gas were in no way meant as a reference to the Holocaust and added that he believed gassing was a painless process for the animals and that it was a safer method from a shelter worker's perspective.

-- Lindsay Barnett

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Photo: Two dogs await adoption in an Oakland, Calif., animal shelter. Credit: Los Angeles Times

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