Sen. Dinniman leads fight to ban PA gas chambers


Like the little beagle who became a national star after surviving a supposedly fatal dose of carbon monoxide in an Alabama gas chamber, legislation to end Pennsylvania's use of gas chambers is back from the dead.

Sen. Andy Dinniman (D., Chester) wants to see his bill (SB 1329) outlawing gas chambers as a method of euthanasia at shelters and animal control facilities in Pennsylvania become law.

"There is absolutely no reason why we are still gassing dogs, cats and other animals in Pennsylvania,” said Dinniman. “At least 18 states have already banned the practice and like my bill, require euthanasia by injection of sodium pentobarbital or one of its derivatives.”

Dinniman has dubbed his bill "Daniel's Law," after the five-year-old beagle who was found alive last month at an Alabama landfill after supposedly having been destroyed in a gas chamber. He was flown to safety in New Jersey by volunteer pilots and is awaiting adoption at Eleventh Hour Rescue in Rockaway.

With 35 co-sponsors - enough to get a majority of votes in the Senate - Dinniman is confident the upper chamber will approve the measure, scheduled to be considered in the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee next week.

At the request of farm groups, last year's bill was written to exclude food-producing animals, such as chickens, who in the case of a disease epidemic might have to be gassed.

But Dinniman said with farming interests still concerned they wouldn't be exempted, this time the bill's language is more narrowly focused only on cats and dogs. (See Dinniman's discussion of euthanasia issues with Conrad Muhly of the Chester County SPCA and Brett Miller of Main Line Animal Rescue here.)

The only known opposition is from the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association.

The group - which fought against primary provisions in the 2008 dog law, namely a ban on the use of wire flooring in dog cages - said it oppose the bill but didn't say why. Dinniman says PVMA officials told him that they don't believe the shelter euthanasia methods should be subject to regulation, an argument that stunned Dinniman who points out that setting standards for professional conduct and protecting the public - animals included - is in part why the legislature exists.

"That's why funeral directors don't throw bodies out in the snow," he said.

Dinniman also said the PVMA said the language didn't provide for a way to handle "out of control dogs." [Of course the Pennsylvania SPCA, which sees more fighting dogs than any other shelter, euthanizes its dogs through injection.]

There are reportedly three shelters that still use the gas method - all of them in western Pennsylvania.

The trauma and prolonged suffering endured by animals thrown into sealed metal boxes and gassed has prompted a growing number of states and counties to ban them (See more at the Animal Law Coalition website). The Association of Shelter Veterinarians have called gassing inhumane and unacceptable.

But the American Veterianary Medical Association still considers it acceptable method of euthanizing unwanted animals.

He says the PVMA was the reason a similar bill failed last session, a charge the PVMA now denies. Nevertheless, this time around PVMA executive director Charlene Wandzilak says the group "cannot support the bill as proposed now for a number of reasons." She did not however say what the reasons were and efforts to get an answer Monday were unsuccessful.

Dinniman has scheduled a rally Sunday Nov. 13 at 2 p.m. at Thorncroft Equestrian Center in Malvern with special guest, Daniel the beagle, in anticipation of the bill's airing before the Senate Agriculture Committee next week. Also scheduled to attend are several veterinarians who support his bill. Attendees are invited to bring their pets.

The bill will also require that shelter employers be licensed as “euthanasia technicians,” who will have to complete a course in administering the drugs and to ensure they are familiar with euthanasia rules and regulations.

“Right now, the law simply says those who perform euthanasia must hold ‘adequate knowledge’ to do so, which does not go nearly far enough in ensuring the best possible care for our pets,” Dinniman said. “Euthanasia is always a very difficult decision, but when we decide to put down our pets, we do it because we want to end their suffering. Pennsylvania law must respect that fact by making sure the euthanasia process itself adds no additional suffering for our dogs, cats, and all other animals."