By JOSH GARVEY
Capital News Service
LANSING – New legislation to restrict the ways that unwanted pets and stray animals could be killed in shelters would make euthanasia more humane, advocates say.
But what some veterinarians disagree on is how economical such a mandate might be.
The proposal, which would only apply to cats and dogs, would limit euthanasia in rescue and animal control shelters to lethal injection. Supporters argue that lethal injection is less painful than using gases such as carbon dioxide to end an animal’s life.
“Death by gas is akin to drowning,” said Rep. Fred Miller, D- Mount Clemens. “I had the unfortunate experience of seeing a videotape of animals being systematically gassed and, without being too explicit, it’s a horrible thing to witness.
“As you watch these animals fight for their last breath, you realize it’s not a humane way for them to go,” he said.
Miller said that the issue came to his attention from Joe Sowerby, a real estate broker from Mt. Clemens who is an animal rights advocate and gassing opponent. He organizes the two largest pet adoption events in the United States.
Miller and Rick Jones, R- Grand Ledge, are the sponsors of the proposed legislation.
But Steve Halstead, the state veterinarian in the Department of Agriculture, said that gas is humane when properly used.
“Proper application of gassing requires training and experience,” he said. “That’s where we, in our oversight of shelters, try to be vigorous in our training and oversight from a practical standpoint.”
Halstead also said gassing is safer for shelter staff with rabid animals.
Dennis Partlo, an ordinance enforcement officer at Alpena County Animal Control, said his shelter already does what the legislation would mandate.
“When we do euthanize, we use injections. No gas chamber or anything like that. It’s just more humane,” Partlo said.
Jenny Robertson, a public relations coordinator with the Michigan Humane Society in Bingham Farms, said that although the organization wasn’t directly involved with drafting the legislation, it supports efforts to replace gassing with lethal injections.
The most recent information from the Agriculture Department showed that the 190 shelters authorized by the department killed more than 39,000 dogs and more than 73,000 cats in 2008.
Halstead said that most of the animals died by injection.
Halstead said that the department opposes the bill as it is currently written. He said that there is a higher cost associated with the lethal injections.
“We’ve had animal control facilities that have been closed because of the economic situation in the state, and others could be challenged by requiring this,” he said. “It might force those shelters over the edge.”
Miller said that although there might be a small cost increase in going from gas to injection, most of the added expense might result from existing equipment. He said that Branch County had already spent $9,000 on a gas chamber.
“For a small county with a small operating budget, $9,000 is a significant expenditure,” he said.
Miller said that a group called American Humane from Colorado has offered to find donors who will “sort of buy back the gas chambers, to help the financial transition for any county.”
But, Halstead said that if allowing only lethal injection drives three to five shelters to close, it would diminish the well-being of other animals that would be helped and housed by those shelters.
The legislation is in the House Agriculture Committee.
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.