Bill to end the use of gas chambers in animal shelters advances in the Utah Senate
Legislation addresses how shelters euthanize animals and wildlife
Ever since Summit County joined the no-kill movement for domestic animals, Sharon Cantwell has been advocating for more humane practices in other shelters across the state.
Utah is one of four states in the country that still uses a gas chamber to euthanize animals and seven in-state shelters have them, including Summit County, according to the Humane Society of Utah.
“We are very proud of this community and very proud of the progressiveness of it,” Cantwell said. “However, Utah has a long way to go and we hope that other communities will look at what we have achieved here and be inspired to do the most humane thing possible, which is to ban the gas chamber and euthanize humanely.”
Cantwell, the development director for Summit County’s nonprofit organization Nuzzles & Co. and a member of a local nonprofit organization Save People Save Wildlife, recently attended a hearing in the Utah Senate about a revised bill, S.B. 56, that would end gas chamber euthanasia and require shelters to adopt a policy and training program. Cantwell said several people in favor of the bill showed up, adding “it was shocking how many came out. It was standing-room only.”
“Everyone was there supporting passing this bill. It is a big battle,” Cantwell said. “We have so many more humane ways to go about this.”
Last week, the Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Committee passed the measure with a favorable recommendation. The vote was 6-2, with Senators David Hinkins and Daniel Thatcher dissenting. Sen. Peter Knudson (R-Orangeville) District 17 and Rep. Lee Perry (R-Perry) District 19 resurrected the bill, which stalled in the House last year.
“It’s always the same argument against it: because of feral animals and that puts the people at risk who are working the shelters,” Cantwell said. “Our side of the aisle says how ridiculous. Any animal that is brought in is on a cage or on a lead. All you have to do is poke the animal and then you are done. They just don’t like change and they don’t think progressively.”
The measure would prohibit the use of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide or any other inhalant in a chamber to euthanize a domestic or wild animal. It would require a shelter to administer sodium pentobarbital or a derivative as the sole method for euthanasia.
Euthanasia by injection (EBI) is “comparable in cost, faster, painless and safer for personnel,” according to the Humane Society. The organization says it takes three-to-five seconds for an animal to lose consciousness and two-to-four minutes for death when an injection is used. However, gas chambers can take up to 30 minutes.
Clay Coleman, Summit County’s Animal Control administrator, said the county has not used its carbon monoxide chamber for a domestic animal since March of 2010.
“When we find a stray a cat or dog, an owner has five business days to come get or claim the animal,” Coleman said. “After that it becomes our animal and then we can adopt it out or send it out to rescue. There are no time limits and, right now, we have an animal that has been here for three months.”
However, Coleman said the county has a “very small” gas chamber that it uses for wildlife or “nuisance animals,” such as raccoons and skunks. Coleman said the county has a trapping program where people can rent live traps to “catch as many as they can and we come and take care of those animals.”
‘That is how we dispose of them and the reason we do that is because they are just so full of disease we don’t want our officers touching them,” Coleman said. “If that law goes into place, we will, in a sense, end our trapping program.”
In 2016, nearly 150 wild animals were collected and put down as part of the county’s program, Coleman said.
Opponents of the bill argue EBI is unsafe for shelter workers and costly.
Cantwell said it is “simply not acceptable” to use a gas chamber for wildlife or ferals, which she described as “basically community cats.”
“It has to stop,” Cantwell said.
S.B. 56 will likely head to the full Senate sometime this week.
Meredith Reed was elected to a two-year term as chair of the Summit County Democratic Party and said she sees an opportunity to ride the so-called blue wave that saw a Democratic surge nationally and within the state.