The gas chambers will soon be gone.Now that there’s a new law on the books protecting stray cats and dogs at shelters from dying by carbon monoxide poisoning — as they have in some Texas communities for decades — those chambers will be mothballed.This leaves lethal injection as the only legal way to euthanize a shelter animal.“While I cringe at the thought of any animal being put down, I want to ensure that it is being done in the most humane way,” said state Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, who carried the bill in the House. “Texas is already trending away from using gas as a means for euthanasia, and this bill will further that effort by preventing the use altogether.”This bill will impact more than two dozen animal shelters in Texas, none in Tarrant County.“I’m thankful that it has been signed into law,” said Suzette Watkins, a Fort Worth woman who owns a local boarding kennel and founded the No Kill Fort Worth effort.“I’m hoping it will help. But there’s so much work to be done,” she said. “We are so behind.”This is the most recent major move to protect shelter pets since the Texas Euthanasia Act 10 years ago prevented shelter employees from strangling, clubbing, drowning or shooting shelter animals.That act left only two methods — injection of sodium pentobarbital or carbon monoxide poisoning — of euthanizing shelter animals when necessary.Gov. Rick Perry signed the bill into law, and it went into effect this month.This “put to an end a method of animal euthanasia that is recognized as cruel, expensive and unsafe,” said Josh Havens, a spokesman in Perry’s office. “By signing the bill into law, Gov. Perry was proud to add Texas to a growing list of states that outlaw gas chamber euthanasia for shelter dogs and cats.”This measure was a priority for many animal protection groups this session.‘More humane’Each year, millions of stray animals are euthanized at shelters throughout the country. In Texas, around 100,000 cats and dogs are put down each year, according to the bill analysis.And more than two dozen shelters — many in South Texas, such as Beeville, George West and Kingsville, and in West Texas, such as Odessa, Seminole and Van Horn — still use carbon monoxide, according to a list compiled by the Texas Humane Legislative Network.That will have to change under Texas’ new law.“As a pet owner, I’ve made end-of-life choices that demonstrated sensitivity and respect for the animals I’ve loved,” said state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, and author of the bill. “Animals living in shelters deserve that same consideration.”Texas’ move to eliminate the use of carbon monoxide comes as a similar measure is pending in Congress, where U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., filed a proposal to oppose gas chamber euthanasia and support state laws allowing only lethal injection.He and other supporters say poisoning is a cruel and slow death as animals are packed tightly into small chambers and carbon monoxide is pumped in.But it can take in — some cases — more than half an hour for the deadly gas to take effect, as toxic fumes burn the animals’ eyes and noses, often frightening animals and causing them to try to escape the room.“Death by gas is unnecessarily prolonged, terrifying and painful, and it is unconscionable that this tactic is still being used in this country,” said Debbie Marson, a volunteer for Homeward Trails Animal Rescue, a pet adoption effort. “Lethal injection is more humane, more cost effective and only takes seconds.“Euthanasia, after all, means ‘good death.’ Death by gas chamber does not meet this definition.”No local gas chambersOfficials at shelters throughout Tarrant County said they do not use gas chambers to euthanize animals. They use sodium pentobarbital injection when necessary.Watkins, the Fort Worth kennel owner, said she’s worried about how switching to injections might impact shelter animals in other areas of the state.“When you get into rural areas, the attitude toward animals is different,” she said. “I’m hoping it will help. But I won’t hold my breath.”She said she has heard that some shelters in Texas use the “heart stick” method to euthanize animals — sticking a syringe filled with sodium pentobarbital through the animal’s chest, into their heart.“There’s so much that needs to be addressed,” Watkins said. “But this is a great step in the right direction.”Euthanasia by injection is the recommended method, according to groups including the Texas Animal Control Association, the Association of Shelter Veterinarians, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and various veterinary and animal control associations.Animal rights groups are praising the Texas Legislature and Perry for passing this measure and making it law.“Our hope is that [with this measure], Texans can give what may have been a sad life for a dog or cat a painless and peaceful end,” said Erin Shults, director of the Texas Humane Legislation Network.
Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610 Twitter: @annatinsley