BY AJ TRAGER
BRANCH COUNTY – There is only one remaining county in Michigan still using gas chambers to euthanize unwanted animals at local shelters.
Four of Michigan's 83 counties were still utilizing a gas chamber at the beginning of this year but three have since banned the practice following the introduction of Michigan Senate Bill 403 on June 16, authored by state Sen. Marty Knollenberg, R-13th District, and co-sponsored by state Sens. Rick Jones, R-24th District; Ken Horn, R-32nd District; Tonya Schuitmaker, R-26th District; John Proos, R-21st District; Curtis Hertel Jr., D-23rd District; and Jim Marleau, R-12th District. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Agriculture.
Gas euthanasia, or the "inhalation method," is legal; however, opponents believe the practice is inhumane because it is stressful on the animals and may take several minutes for the animal to die. The inhalation method is "acceptable with conditions" and "may have greater potential for operator error or safety hazard, are not well documented in the scientific literature or may require a secondary method to ensure death," states the 2013 American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines for the euthanasia of animals.
The intravenous injection method is the "humane method" recommended by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, based on the AVMA guidelines for euthanasia.
Branch County, located south of I-94 by Coldwater and Union City, remains the last county in the state to use a gas chamber. Michiganders for Shelter Pets spoke with Sheriff C. John Pollack of Branch County Aug. 31, who said that the gas chamber was still usable despite being involved in a fire at the Animal Control facility in May of this year.
According to Animal Control officer Ernie Baker of Branch County, the gas chamber has only been used to kill six dogs since 2013. Because of a program supported by several local animal groups, the shelter works to find homes to adopt out animals taken in.
On Aug. 25, the Van Buren County gas chamber that was discontinued in February was finally deposited in a scrap yard by Shelter Director Kasey Murphy. Prior to the Van Buren County Sheriff's Office taking control of the Animal Control office in 2004, the chamber was used to euthanize approximately 1,200 animals each year, according to a news release by the department.
The Berrien County board of commissioners unanimously passed a resolution Aug. 27 that mandates legal injection as the only form of euthanasia permitted at the facility. The chamber will be phased out over a period of 90 days.
According to the 2014 Animal Shelter Annual Report compiled by the Michigan Department of Agriculture, the Berrien County Animal Shelter took in 1,286 dogs and euthanized 43 percent of them. That same year, 87 percent of the 1,641 cats accepted into the shelter were put down.
Exactly one day later on Aug. 28, Animal Control Director Michael Grice of Cass County announced that "the agency will stop using the euthanasia machine effective Jan. 1, 2016 or sooner."
While the machine continues to comply with American Humane Society standards and continued use of the machine is "acceptable with conditions" by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the county believes it is time to discontinue its use, Grice says.
Several bills have been introduced over the past couple years seeking to outlaw the use of gas chambers but none, so far, have made it to the governor's desk. SB 403 aims to outlaw the practice of gas chambers in the state and holds that intravenous injection is the only humane method of euthanasia.
According to a 2011 poll conducted by the Associated Press, 71 percent of Americans support a shelter approach to unwanted animals in place of euthanasia. The American Human Society says that 2.4 million adoptable cats and dogs are put down in U.S. shelters every year and suggests that owners spay or neuter their pets to reduce overpopulation.
Call To Action
Contact your local state senator to ask for their support on SB403. Visit http://www.senate.michigan.gov/fysbyaddress.html for up to date contact information for all state senators. Members of the Michigan Committee on Agriculture can be found at http://www.senate.michigan.gov/committee/agriculture.html.
Branch County residents are encouraged to attend an upcoming county commissioner meeting to be held at 11 a.m. Sept. 24. Visit http://www.co.branch.mi.us/departments/8 for a list of all county commissioners and their contact information.