Oct 17 2011

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.

Oct 11 2011

What do killing apologists really think of anti-gassing advocates?

Valerie Hayes

During the 2010 Georgia legislative session, I wrote over a dozen articles chronicling the successful campaign to pass Grace’s Law, banning the use of gas chambers to kill homeless dogs and cats in Georgia’s shelters.  Those of us who worked on that campaign learned a lot–mostly about how the public, often maligned in animal welfare circles, was, in fact very compassionate, was horrified to learn about what went on in places that were supposed to provide a safe haven for the most vulnerable of companion animals, and was moved to act to bring our state that much closer to what it should be.  Ordinary people called and wrote to their Senators and Representatives in droves.

If I had a dollar for every time someone told me that “Southerners don’t care about animals, but up North, everything is just peachy,” I could open a well-funded low-cost spay-neuter clinic tomorrow.  I also know that that’s not true.  More than enough Southerners do care about animals, and there is no shortage of corruption, cruelty and abuse up North–just look at the morass that is NYC Animal Care and Control.

Despite the overwhelming voter support, the campaign had it’s nerve-wracking moments.  There was a sneak attack of misinformation the morning of a vote which was handily repelled.  There were amendments which delayed implementation which had to be mitigated, and who could forget that speech by Senator Heath in which he reminisced fondly about the euphoria-inducing properties of carbon monoxide?  The bill sponsors did what elected officials should do, and in the last hours of the last day of the legislative session, right ultimately prevailed, and the gassing of dogs and cats is now illegal in Georgia.

Which is more than I can say for Pennsylvania.

Anti-gassing advocate Steven Hoover, who used to live in GA and was a member of the Georgia Voters for Animal Welfare’s Grace’s Law team, sent the following letter via snail mail to all Board members of the Federated Humane Societies of Pennsylvania:

To: The board and members of the PA Federated Humane Societies
From: Steven Hoover, St. Marks Episcopal Animal Welfare Director
Subject: Your continued use of savage gas chambers
Despite the efforts of many PA citizens who TRULY care about animal welfare, especially our loving and innocent companion animals, you still engage in the barbaric practice of gas chamber use, in the full knowledge of how cruel and antiquated these chambers are. Many COMPETENT agencies involved with animals have adamantly spoken out against chamber use – The Association of Shelter Veterinarians, National Animal Control Association, and American Humane, just to name a few.
Tragically, your callous indifference extends to your workers in the shelters who use these chambers as well. It is well documented that there have been many serious injuries to workers in shelters that used chambers. One shelter worker in Tennessee even died from carbon monoxide exposure. If this happens here in PA, what will be your excuse and justification for this taking place?
In the past few years, eighteen states have outlawed chamber use and reverted to the only kind and merciful means of euthanasia [sic–unless they are irremediably suffering, it’s killing]  – EBI. What is that word in your association’s title again? Oh yeah – humane. Your ghastly and ghoulish use of the chambers is the very antithesis of the word humane. I seriously doubt any of you have witnessed a chamber execution. Well I have. I have seen the terror in the animals eyes. I have seen them attack each other in panic. I have seen them defecate and urinate on one another. To keep using these chambers and call yourselves humane is absolute hypocrisy in the extreme.
Those states who now only use EBI faced the same challenges and problems that you face to make the switch and yet made the change you claim is impossible for you to make – eighteen times over. If this board and members do not have the competence, intelligence, and capability to do what eighteen other states have recently done, then it is time for you to step down and let others who have these qualities take over to insure the trust of PA citizens you have abused.
With disgust and revulsion,
Steven Hoover
OK.  He’s upset and frustrated, but he’s also absolutely right about gassing being cruel and antiquated and something that a growing number of animal groups (even ones not usually considered progressive, such as NACA) have come out against.  Georgia, on the other side of the Mason-Dixon line, where people aren’t supposed to care, has banned gassing.  He’s absolutely right that no one who supports or is indifferent to continued gassing, has any business usurping a position that rightfully belongs to a real animal advocate, someone who would put an immediate stop to this gratuitous cruelty.
How do you think members of the Board would react to this letter?
In one case, that of Karel Minor, also of the Humane Society of Berks County, we know.  He sent the following email reply, under the subject line “Is there room on that high horse of yours”:
Dear Steven,
I received your kind letter. Until I received it, I had no idea that I was using a carbon monoxide chamber but apparently I am and was simply completely unaware of it. Of course, I am obviously being as broadly sarcastic and you were being broadly and inaccurately accusatory. The fact that some member of Federated Humane Societies of Pennsylvania uses- legally uses, I should add- a carbon monoxide chamber no more brands the rest of its members “ghastly and ghoulish” than the obstructionist and hypocritical actions of PVMA make my staff veterinarians obstructionist hypocrites. Or the cynical blocking of a bill to ban chambers by some members of the legislature brands the members who have sponsored chamber ban legislation cynics. Or for that matter, those in your neighborhood aren’t boorish Johnny Letters just because you opt to be.
Allow me to clarify reality for you. PA Federated has publically [sic] endorsed chamber ban legislation. We have actively lobbied the legislature to bring a bill up for a vote. We have worked hard to find language which would not be blocked by the parochial interests of the PVMA leadership (which as we know is not an animal welfare group intended to protect animals but a professional affiliation group intended to protect their “industry”). Where I say, “we”, I also mean “I” because I have personally spent a great deal of time on all these things. To my knowledge a single non-profit shelter uses a chamber and have expressed their desire to no longer do so. However, without the DEA license of a veterinarian or legislation allowing direct shelter licensing, their alternative is not EBI, it is closing their door to animals completely and in their determination, that would result in further suffering. You are probably not aware that I attempted to arrange to have my staff veterinary licenses extended to that organization but I was prevented from doing so at risk of losing my organization’s insurance and being forced to close my doors.
You have the luxury of not facing what that shelter faces. You have the luxury of tarring all with the same brush from your mount on your high horse because you don’t have to make real world decisions. Just because you don’t see us wandering around Harrisburg wearing a gas mask and scaring off legislators doesn’t mean we have not been working hard on this issue and that we don’t care about it. Further, the fact that someone even uses these devices does not even necessarily mean they are happy about. So as neighborly as you are with your offer of advice for all of us, I’ll politely decline the ever so useful guidance you offered in your recent missive.
I want to draw attention that I am replying on a non-HSBC email account [worlddomination@thelastpunk.com]. I’m doing so because I am taking a rare and uncharacteristic step. That is to provide you with the response that you deserve in the strict clarity with which it should be delivered. That sort of directness is not acceptable via a professional email, so I am sending it to you, person to person. I want you to know I have given a great deal of thought to the best and most concise reply which best addresses your uncharitable, mean spirited, vitriolic, and petty attack on a group of people of whom you no little or nothing.
That response is this: Mr. Hoover, please go fuck yourself. [emphasis added]
Karel Minor
OK.  He did say please, but it’s the other stuff he said that I’m concerned about.
  • If he and his organization have campaigned against gassing, why did he take this so personally?  The level of vitriol has me concerned.  Mr. Hoover obviously struck a nerve.  His reaction leads me to believe that his conscience is other than clean about this.  If he truly believed that there was a misunderstanding, why not just calmly present the facts and clear the air so that everyone could work together to ban gassing in Pennsylvania?  Why the vitriol, or the  misreading of Mr. Hoover’s original letter?
  • He emphasizes that the use of the gas chamber is legal.  The issue here is that it is wrong.  Not cool.
  • “To my knowledge a single non-profit shelter uses a chamber and have [sic] expressed their desire to no longer do so.”  He should be able to state this information definitively and completely.  The phrase “to my knowledge” indicates that he is not sure.  Why is he not sure?  According to this article, there are may be three.  How many are there?
  • The statement “…their alternative is not EBI, it is closing their door to animals completely and in their determination, that would result in further suffering.”  In my opinion, this is far worse than Mr. Minor’s invitation to masturbate.  No, those are not the two alternatives.  A professional should keep track of trends in their ‘business’.  The biggest trend in animal welfare in the past hundred years is the No Kill movement.  The No Kill Equation is the only viable alternative (pun intended).  The 90% Club is hardly a secret society.
  • He seems to be arguing that since their jobs are so hard, they should get a pass for committing cruelty.  Call yourself a “Humane Society” and cruelty becomes legal, your job is so incredibly hard, unlike everyone else’s jobs, and you are free to wallow in self-pity over your acts of cruelty, and everyone else should feel sorry for you too.  Shades of “blame the public”.  Cry me a damn river.
  • His attitude is one of a member of a private club, and he is acting as if his organization is operating in a vacuum.  The reality is that to ban gassing, or to accomplish anything on behalf of shelter animals, you have to muster the support of the animal-loving public.  You do not accomplish that, if I may be so “direct”, by writing responses such as the one above.
Mr. Hoover is not alone in seeing Karel Potty-Mouth’s Minor’s organization as part of the problem.   According to the article mentioned above:
We don’t know how many animals die this way or who is doing the gassing because the Federated Humane Societies of Pennsylvania – the umbrella group representing the three remaining shelters in the western part of the state that use carbon monoxide to euthanize animals – won’t reveal the names of the shelters fearing retribution by activists.
Retribution?  Just what are they thinking?  How about some facts instead of vague accusations?  During the campaign for Grace’s Law, I published the list of all known gas chambers in GA repeatedly.  At the start of the campaign, the GVAW  knew of 11, but because of the publicity, we were informed of two more, bringing the total to 13.  If there was any “retribution”, those lonely few who defended gassing would have shouted it from the rooftops.  There was none.
Banning gassing in PA should be a slam-dunk, being North of the Mason-Dixon line and all, and likely having fewer chambers, and therefore less “investment” in their continued use than GA or WV or AL.  Gassing continues because the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association, for reasons I can’t fathom, is blocking it, and because the Federated Humane Societies of Pennsylvania is “protecting” “shelters” who still gas from the very people who could take them from gassing to No Kill if only they knew and had the right leadership–the animal-loving
The fact that the exact number of chambers is a secret tells me that they are being operated by nonprofits–that donors are unwittingly funding animal abuse.  Pennsylvania has an Open Records law, so municipal, taxpayer-funded  pounds would be required to disclose if they gassed.  This whole situation is as disgusting as it is tragic, and it’s pretty damned tragic.
An organization or leader truly committed to saving animals would:
  1. Do things for animals.
  2. Tell people about it.
  3. Ask for help.
Which in no way resembles:
  1. Kill animals in the gas chamber.
  2. Try to keep it a secret.
  3. Tell people to go frack themselves.

This isn’t rocket science.

Mr. Minor, pretty please with sugar on top, implement the No Kill Equation. [emphasis mine]