Some Texas animal shelters have until January to comply with a new law that bans the use of compressed carbon monoxide to euthanize dogs and cats. Although the shelter operators say they welcome the change, they also say that adapting to the new requirements will be neither easy nor cheap.
Last month, Texas became the 21st state to ban the use of gas as a means of euthanasia for animals that have not been claimed or adopted. Now the only legal method is injection of pentobarbital.
Ethel Strother, president of the Texas Animal Control Association, said the use of carbon monoxide had waned.
“It’s just gotten to be a thing of the past,” she said.
Strother testified at a March committee hearing about how many Texas cities had already abandoned the use of gas.
According to a Texas Humane Legislation Network survey of 1,200 cities, 29 still used gas as the primary means of euthanizing animals as of April.
Among those is the shelter in Eagle Pass in South Texas.
Hector Chavez, who runs the public works department there, said that the transition to injections had already cost $1,000, for certification for himself and two animal control officers as euthanasia technicians. Now, he said, a workroom with a floor safe to store the drug will have to be constructed. He foresees needing another employee to help euthanize the feral cats and stray dogs that the shelter often takes in.
Before 2003, shelters in Texas could euthanize animals by any means. At that time, Texas legislators sought to limit the method of euthanasia to injection only.
For the last decade, the Eagle Pass shelter mostly used carbon monoxide.
"It may not be the best, but it was legal," Chavez said.
"I totally agree that we need to change,” he said. "All I’m saying is we need a little time."
Some cities fought the removal of carbon monoxide as an acceptable method in 2003 because they argued it was more cost-effective. Lawmakers allowed the practice to continue to get the bill passed, said Skip Trimble, a legislative liaison for the Texas Humane Legislation Network.
“But we did make them use commercially compressed carbon monoxide gas,” he said. "Rather than hooking a hose up behind a pickup truck and letting that kill them."
Currently, carbon monoxide must be administered in a sealed chamber with a sensor to ensure the right mixture of gas and a way for a worker to monitor the animal.
A 2009 study by the American Humane Association said that euthanasia by injection was cheaper, roughly half the $4.98 cost per animal of compressed carbon monoxide. Shelters are required to have pentobarbital on hand, because state law did not allow elderly, pregnant or sick animals to be euthanized with carbon monoxide.
Many animal-rights groups testified at the March hearing that eliminating the procedure would reduce staff turnover rates at shelters, characterizing the use of compressed carbon monoxide as “emotionally disturbing” for workers to have to witness.
"They were all old," Watson said. "They had long, good lives, but that's a very hard thing to do and I think we ought to be as humane as we can with the pets that are in the shelters as well."