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Humane Euthanasia

The issue of humane euthanasia—the least cruel ways in which to end the life of an animal in a shelter, pound or even a veterinarian’s office—has been the subject of debate for some time. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) developed guidelines that were the basis for standards of care for many years, but that is changing around the country. The two most common means of euthanasia are lethal injection and the use of carbon monoxide chambers.

While the AVMA discusses a variety of methods for animal euthanasia, the only method endorsed by most humane societies is the administration of a lethal injection of sodium pentobarbital on an individual basis by a veterinarian or veterinary assistant. Euthanasia by Injection (EBI) is now thought to be the most humane way for humans to euthanize shelter animals. EBI is also the method preferred by the National Animal Control Association, the Association of Shelter Veterinarians, and The Humane Society of the United States. Furthermore, with the knowledge that this method causes the least amount of stress or pain to an animal, EBI provides shelter workers the dignity they deserve when facing the difficult reality of euthanizing pets.

Carbon monoxide, a once popular way to kill animals in shelters, especially when there is a high euthanasia rate, has fallen out of favor with a majority of shelters and pounds around the country. Carbon monoxide poses a danger to humans because it is colorless, tasteless, odorless, and highly explosive. A gas chamber must be constantly checked and maintained to ensure that there are no cracks in the structure or failing seals. When carbon monoxide is released in a confined area, it can cause asphyxiation, kidney damage, or induced coma. It is also dangerous to put aggressive and/or wild animals in the gas chamber. In addition to being more humane for the animals, sedation methods utilized with EBI are safer for shelter staff in cases of highly aggressive and wild animals. Gas chambers are not recommended by humane organizations, although they are still in use in some states across the country.

The American Humane Association commissioned a study on the costs associated with using EBI versus gas. Using data from an animal sheltering organization in North Carolina, the reported number of dogs and cats euthanized in 2007 was 5,427. The study, which is applicable to other jurisdictions, showed that the cost of using carbon monoxide gas was $4.98 per animal. The cost of using carbon monoxide poisoning without a tranquilizer was $4.66 per animal. The cost of using EBI, however, was only $2.29 per animal. Cost figures from North Carolina are comparable to other states. Thus, EBI is also more economical than gas.

Currently, many states have laws that explicitly ban gassing for all types of animals in shelters. Some of the states which prohibit gassing in some way include: Arizona, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, Tennessee and Virginia. To see if your state has a law or legislation regarding humane euthanasia, go to the Animal Law Resource Center. If there is legislation in your state, please call your legislators to let them know where you stand on these issues. If there is no law or legislation, you can download a model law from the Animal Law Resource Center to take to your legislator.