COLUMBIA — The city of Moberly officially put an end Wednesday to the practice of using a gas chamber to euthanize animals at the Moberly Animal Shelter.
In exchange for a $3,000 grant from the Humane Society of the United States, which will fund training and other resources, the city dismantled and discarded its gas chamber, though it had not been used since 2015.
Tasha Koeven*, director of Animal Control for Moberly, says the chamber's existence strained the shelter's relationship with the community.
"People just basically degraded the shelter because we had a chamber even though we hadn’t used it," Koeven said. "We had a lot of people bashing the shelter saying, 'If it's still there, there's still a chance.'"
Since Koeven started working at the shelter in 2014, she has seen the chamber used just once. The shelter was over capacity and had to put down a dog. She said it was an unpleasantly memorable experience.
"(The dog) was just scrambling in there and gasping for air. Then it finally collapsed and was knocked unconscious, but it didn't die for about 10 minutes," she said.
The Humane Society of the United States says Missouri is one of four states with operational gas chambers in animal shelters. While the chambers are mainly used to euthanize wildlife and feral animals, they have been used to euthanize pets.
Amanda Good, Missouri State Director for the Humane Society of the United States, called the practice inhumane.
"It puts stress on the animals and when they're stressed their bodies go into an adrenaline situation," Good said. "This can prolong their death."
Good said that the animals can take minutes to die — even longer if the chamber is not maintained properly. Sometimes the animal's organs can even fail while it is still conscious.
Nationwide, the typical method of euthanizing a pet is lethal injection administered by a veterinarian or trained clinician. As a previous veterinary technician, Good said she has seen hundreds of these injections. She said the process is painless and the animal will go unconscious in three to five seconds.
Koeven worked with Good, the Humane Society and volunteers to get support from the city of Moberly to destroy the chamber. They petitioned the city of Moberly, and the Humane Society offered the shelter a $3,000 grant if the chamber was eliminated.
On a legislative level, attempts to outlaw gas chambers have gone nowhere in Missouri, Good said. The Humane Society has decided to focus instead on getting shelters to end their use of the chambers voluntarily, as in Moberly.
She said the Humane Society is willing to work with shelters to get them to destroy their chambers. According to Good, the Humane Society will offer grant money and education to shelters. This education will focus on teaching shelters how to deal with rescues in an attempt to lower the number of animals needing to be euthanized. Good said she also wants to show shelters that lethal injection will cost roughly the same amount as a gas chamber.
Although there is no reliable list of shelters that still use a gas chamber, Jefferson City's animal control department does use one, under strict conditions, according to the Jefferson City Police Department's regulations manual.
It can only be used after consultation with a shelter veterinarian who deems it a necessity, a case in which the animal poses a physical threat to the veterinarian or staff. The policy also states that no dogs or cats can be euthanized by that method.
But Good said that regardless what kind of animal is involved, they should be euthanized in the best way. She said she understands the safety concern, but there are tools that make lethal injection safe and allow someone to maintain a safe distance from the animal.
Good said each gas chamber destroyed is a step towards a more humane state.