The debate over county animal shelters using gas chambers to euthanize sick or unwanted animals is heating up in southwest Michigan.
In the beginning of 2015, only 4 of Michigan’s 83 counties still used the “inhalation method,” or “gas chamber” to kill unwanted animals at county animal control facilities.
Cass County, southwest of Kalamazoo, still uses a chamber. Branch County, south of Battle Creek, probably still would too, but its animal shelter burned down earlier this year.
Van Buren County, along the Lake Michigan shore south of Saugatuck, stopped the practice in February. It announced Friday it would remove the chamber, and invited the public to join them in dismantling and scrapping the parts on Tuesday morning.
Berrien County, which includes the cities of St. Joseph and Benton Harbor, also still uses the gas chamber method.
A growing number of opponents there, like Berrien Springs resident Virginia Holden, say the chamber prolongs an animal’s death and is more expensive than injections.
“It’s a big steel box that the door closes and then this hissing sound starts from the gas coming in. It doesn’t take much to understand that that would be rather stressful for an animal,” Holden said.
In Berrien County, carbon monoxide is pumped into the chamber.
“The animals are struggling to breathe. It’s not a pleasant way to die and it can be a very lengthy way to die,” Holden said.
“There are stories from people I know and trust, vets who will tell you that animals scratch to get out. They’re struggling to breathe,” Holden said.
The intravenous injection method is the humane method recommended by Michigan’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, based on American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines.
Bills that would outlaw the use of gas chambers statewide have been introduced at least twice, but so far, none have made it to the governor’s desk to become law.
Berrien County officials declined an interview for this story. However, in an email, Animal Control Director Val Grimes said about 20% of the animals that are euthanized are put in the chamber. The remaining 80% that are euthanized get an injection.
“This includes wildlife,” she wrote, “Our shelter takes in everything. No animal is turned away. We do not pick and choose.” The facility does euthanize pets at an owners’ request as well.
Berrien County is building a new facility for animal control operations. Holden hopes the gas chamber won’t be a part of it.
This week, Holden and others will petition Berrien County Commissioners to follow Van Buren County, and the vast majority of Michigan counties, in ending the use of its gas chamber.