Pennsylvania, gassing homeless pets since 1872

Valerie Hayes
The now-defunct Macon, GA gas chamber.
The now-defunct Macon, GA gas chamber.

Since writing about gas chambers in Pennsylvania last week, I had a nagging thought at the back of my mind that there was a particular connection between the use of gas chambers to kill shelter pets and the state of Pennsylvania, something that went beyond their simply continuing to use this cruel and outmoded method of killing.  What was it?

I grabbed my dog-earerd copy of Redemption off the shelf and consulted the index, which led me to this:

While by far the largest, the ASPCA was not the first SPCA to make the transition from prosecuting animal cruelty to running the dog pound.  In 1872, in an effort to reduce the public exhibition of cruelty favored at the time by Philadelphians in ridding the city of stray dogs, the Women’s Pennsylvania SPCA* accepted the first pound contract in the United States by a private humane society and established a three-pronged approach to stray animals.  First, it began a humane education program promoting lifetime commitments and the importance of keeping animals in the home.  Second, it offered homeless animals for adoption. Third, it  introduced the use of the gas chamber to replace old, slow and more painful practices of killing stray animals, primarily in the form of drowning, beating and shooting. [emphasis added]

So, we are living with, and animals are suffering and dying in the gas chamber because an organization took the more ‘ladylike’ route of taking up and promoting ‘kinder’ killing rather than sticking to principles, and the state of Pennsylvania has the longest history of gassing shelter pets.  It’s time to finally do something unladylike and ban the gas chamber in the state that gave it its start.

It is worth noting that while “shelters” have killed homeless pets in the gas chamber for 140 years, the excuses killing apologists give for doing so have changed.  In 1872 it was because it wasn’t as bad as drowning, beating and shooting.  In 2011, the excuse that it is humane looks utterly ridiculous to normal people, and apologists are relying more on false economic arguments to preserve the status quo.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Time marches on.

We know that the gas chamber is far from humane, that it is itself old, slow and painful.  A handful of “shelters” in Pennsylvania continue to use this cruel method of killing, hiding the shameful practice from taxpayers and donors.  It seems highly unlikely that they will stop doing so until they are forced to by the passage of  PA S.B. 969.

Pennsylvania residents should call or write their Representatives and Senators in support of S.B. 969.  Politely let them know that you want them to do the right thing and move the bill along as is and vote to end the use of the gas chamber in your state, and that their vote will influence yours.

One obstacle to banning gassing in PA is the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association.  They are actively blocking the bill.  Why?  Apparently because they can.  Some have cited economics as the reason, but that begs the questions of how is the PAVMA benefiting financially from the continued use of a handful of gas chambers, and is this ‘benefit’ really greater than the cost to the PAVMA’s reputation.  Other organizations, notably the Association of Shelter Veterinarians, recognize the cruelty inherent in gas chambers and have stated unequivocally that they have no place in animal shelters.

You can (politely) ask the PAVMA why they are supporting continued cruelty to shelter pets and placing their own organization’s reputation in self-destruct mode here:

Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association
8574 Paxton Street
Hummelstown, PA 17036

Charlene Wandzilak
Executive Director

They can still turn things around.  I’m willing to bet that most veterinarians in Pennsylvania are not happy about what the PAVMA is doing in and to their names.  If and when I get a response, I’ll publish it, and I’d like to see any responses you get as well, so feel free to post them in the comments below.

The gas chamber may have seemed expedient almost 140 years ago, but ‘expedient’ and ‘right’ are two completely different things.  We are still having to contend with the cruel legacy of that expediency.  Let’s set things right.

Ban the gas chamber in the state where it has been used the longest.

*The Women’s Pennsylvania SPCA is now known as the Women’s Humane Society.  Their ‘about’ page indicates how 140 years has produced little fundamental change in their organization’s mindset:

The Women’s Humane Society is a non-profit organization serving the Delaware Valley area.  We are located in lower Bucks County.  Our Bensalem facility is our only location and place to visit our adoptable animals.  We receive no government funding, relying instead on donations and fees that reflect our animal welfare mission.  We shelter unwanted dogs, cats, domestic rodents, birds, and the occasional ferret.  In addition to our adoption services, we offer a walk in vet clinic for routine care, cruelty investigations, an animal ambulance service for the pick up of animals being surrendered to our facility, obedience training classes and humane education programs.  Volunteers assist us in working with the public and in clerical roles.  Most of our adopted animals are spayed or neutered at our on-site veterinary hospital, which is also open to the public.

The Women’s Humane Society is an open admissions or unlimited access shelter.  We do request that people live within 50 miles of our facility as we are confident that there are other facilities with similar practices, policies, and successes between us and someone living 50 miles from our location.  If you have several adult cats to trap on your property, we request that you limit your use of the humane trap to two surrenders a week in an effort to avoid the euthanasia of adoptable cats when cages and rescue spots fill during kitten season.  We will euthanize when space becomes an issue.  We have not had to euthanize dogs because of space issues since 1999, when the internet became a popular tool in pet adoption.  There continue to be many more cats and kittens that will need homes than there are shelter, rescue, foster care space and adopters during the busy kitten season of summer and early fall.

We are a humane shelter, meaning we will end suffering or the high risk of suffering in the future for that animal or others at the shelter, in an adopter’s home, or their community.  While we respect the work of our limited access or no kill counterparts in the animal rescue and adoption field, we stand by our position to turn no one away and keep adoption affordable.  You may learn more about how we determine suffering and risks by reading the section on ‘Giving Up an Animal’ and the two adoption pages on the menu to the left.  We invite you to sign our guest book and review the many topics covered on this site.

14 Responses to “Pennsylvania, gassing homeless pets since 1872”

  • Sharon Baines Says:

    Please end the practice of killing animals in gas chambers! This is horrific, barbaric, so very cruel and absolutely unnecessary!!!

  • Valerie Hayes Says:

    Having been part of the successful campaign to pass grace’s Law in GA, I have to say that I believe that the most effective way to get rid of gassing is to pass laws at the state level banning them. This entails finding a committed and smart sponsoring legislators in your state’s House and Senate. You work with them to do research and draft a bill (you can use the original version of Grace’s law as an example) and to shepherd it through the legislative process. When we were campaigning for Grace’s Law, we did not rely on petitions, but asked voters to call or write or visit their legislators in support of the bill at each and every critical point. Legislators are interested in being re-elected, and that is what gives voters influence over them and motivates them to support a bill or not. To learn more about how to navigate the political process on behalf of animals, I recommend reading the brochures on political advocacy from and Julie Lewin’s book “Get Political for Animals” available from Amazon or her website For a collection of materials pertaining to the Grace’s Law campaign, see

  • Elina K. Says:

    omg, this just makes me sooo angry! I can’t believe this practice still exists. We would never end a human life this way.. how is it okay for a dog or cat? I just wrote to the PAVMA:
    Hi Charlene,

    I am writing to you and the whole association as a very concerned citizen, wondering why it is that the PAVMA is in support of continuing the cruel and inhumane use of gas chambers is shelters? I am very confused as to why an organization that should be in support of animal health would be okay with something so barbaric. I am certain that the majority of veterinarians in Pennsylvania are not happy with your stand on the issue, as well as most if its citizens. I ask that you please take into consideration the views of those around you, because by blocking the bill to outlaw gas chambers, you are only drawing negative attention to your organization and it will cost you your reputation.

    Please reconsider your stand, as you can make a difference for the lives of these animals. They already suffer so much. They don’t deserve to die a slow and painful death. Euthanasia is the only humane way of ending their very sad lives, which we created in the first place.

    Elina Kaufman
    Concerned Citizen

    Hopefully they read it and reply! Everyone, please email or write them as well… we can make a difference!!!!

  • Valerie Hayes Says:

    Thanks for doing that, Elina! If you get a reply, please do post it in the comments. I have yet to get a reply myself, which I will be blogging about shortly.

    • Elina K. Says:

      I just got a reply!:

      “Ms. Kaufman – PVMA is not in favor of shelters using any type of euthanasia other than euthanasia drugs as approved by the appropriate body. That is what we are trying to work with the legislature to ensure. We are also supportive of shelters having euthanasia technicians, trained professionals to euthanize animals, that are governed by the State Board of Veterinary Medicine. The information you received is untrue and misconstrued. We are in favor of veterinarians being able to use euthanasia methods that are in accordance with the AVMA Guidelines for Euthanasia of Animals. Veterinarians, within their medical judgment, should be permitted to use euthanasia methods in their practices that are in the best interest of the practice’s staff and the animal being euthanized. That is what we are advocating. I hope that clarifies our position.

      Charlene Wandzilak
      Executive Director”

      What are your thoughts on her reply??

      • Valerie Hayes Says:

        I just re-sent my original email, so I am still waiting for a reply. This reply is vague in that it fails to address the specific problem–that they are blocking the gas chamber ban bill, as described by its sponsor in this article:

        If this is not true, or if they have changed their stance on this issue, I’d like to see them publish a statement unequivocally supporting the bill and to do everything in their power to see it quickly passed.

        The stuff about what veterinarians do in their practice is a distraction. I am not impressed.

  • Elina K. Says:

    I just wrote back to them:

    “Hello Charlene,

    Thank you for your response, but I am still confused on a few issues.I did not say you are in favor of one way of death over another. I am saying that for some reason the PVMA is standing in the way of the gas chamber bill being passed, which is clearly stated in this article: If the information in this article is innacurate or if the PVMA has changed its posititon on the issue, the people would like to see you publish a statement unequivocally supporting the bill and to do everything in your power to see it quickly passed.

    You say the PVMA is trying to work with the legislature to ensure that shelters use euthanasia, but you did not give even one example of how the PVMA is doing this? How are you working with legislatures? What are you doing exactly? Why wouldn’t you make a statement making this clear to the public, which would help this bill so much? A lot of things are not making sense.

    I don’t need your distractions about the PVMA and its stand on veterinary offices. I am talking about gas chambers in shelters. Obviously, no animal hospital or veterinarian is going to use a gas chamber. Please don’t try to distract the issue.”

    We’ll see if they reply now…

  • Valerie Hayes Says:

    Thanks for doing this! Whatever happens, this should get interesting.

    • Elina K. Says:

      Of course! I cannot live in a society where gas chambers are okay! disgusting!! Yes, it will be interesting to see if they reply to that…


  • K. N Says:

    The Women’s Humane Society also euthanizes ALL pit bull terrier type dogs. They say this is because those dogs are more difficult to adopt out and they dont want them to languish in a shelter. This is ridiculous. Many people love pits and calling them “unadoptable” does nothing but perpetuate breed stereotypes.

  • PHYLLIS Says:


  • Caroline Clune Says:

    Stop these terrible concentration camps for animals now. Stop gasing animals immediately

  • Terri Dyer Says:

    On Judgment Day, animals will cry out against those who have abused them All creatures “have speech intelligible to God and the Holy Spirit.”

    God hears their cries and will listen “on the last day” when “all creatures will utter an accusing cry against the ungodly who have shown them abuse here on earth.”

Leave a Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.