Gas Chambers: Where Political Dogma Meets Dogs…and Slowly Suffocates ThemPosted by in Uncategorized
I call Harrisburg’s bluff.
I’ve seen enough of politics to know that demonstrations of legislative bravery on the part of politicians are more likely a sign that there was no real danger in the first place. Like a courageous vote in support of “freedom” or loving our grandmas. When we see unanimity, it’s all too often a sign of bipartisan collusion to support something which has 100% public approval or has 100% no chance of actually passing for one reason or another.
So when the Gas Chamber Bill, SB 1329, was bravely passed by a unanimous Senate vote this week, I had a sense something wasn’t right. When I read the gutted bill, I knew something stunk to high heaven. The bill which passed was a shell of the bill which had been introduced. And its utter lack of content explained exactly how it passed with no opposition.
The original SB 1329 did not just ban gas chamber euthanasia. It did the heavy lifting of addressing the reasons that there are still any animal shelters and animal control facilities using this antiquated and inhumane method.
Gas chambers are rarely used in shelters by choice. They are used because some shelters don’t have access to the veterinary license required to obtain the industry standard drugs used to perform humane lethal injection. Not every shelter is fortunate enough to have a vet on staff. Many are in rural communities where local vets are few and far between, and not always willing to simply “give” a shelter access to their license for a variety of reasons, such as liability concerns. These shelters feel that using gas chambers, which are unbelievably not, I repeat, are not, considered inhumane by the American Veterinary Medical Society, are better than no option at all.
While I personally feel that if you can’t use the best industry practice, humane lethal injection, for euthanasia you should close your doors, I also know that very good and humane animal welfare professionals have a moral conviction that a less desirable method of euthanasia is preferable to starving, freezing, being shot, or being hit by cars. I also know that most would absolutely prefer to make use of the best, most modern means of euthanasia and decommission those antiquated death chambers.
The original SB 1329, which had gone through years of horse trading between the veterinary lobby, the agriculture lobby, the animal sheltering lobby, the anti-gas chamber advocates, finally cobbled together the elements of an effective and smart bill. It banned the use of gas chamber euthanasia in most cases. Animal shelters, animal control facilities and private vet practices would be banned from using them. However, a system of direct drug licensing, used in 17 other states, for shelters and animal control facilities would be created. The state pharmacy board would create guidelines for drugs and their purchase, along with training requirements for non-veterinarian euthanasia technicians, to allow those few currently non-licensed facilities to purchase and safely use the appropriate drugs and techniques to euthanize animals.
It appeared that everyone could be on the same page. All the parties even offered up some wiggle room here and there to ensure that a good bill didn’t fail because it wasn’t perfect to all. This was the chance for bravery and unanimity.
As is so often the case, 1329 faced a death of a thousand amendments. Maybe private vets should be exempted (although not a single vet was asking for that to my knowledge). Maybe “aggressive” animals should be exempt (as if it’s easier to get Cujo into a little metal box than walk up behind him and stick in him the butt with a tranquilizer). Maybe this, maybe that. But it seemed like maybe these unneeded amendments might be handled and the good version voted on. Well, they were dealt with all right. They weren’t included at all.
And neither was anything else.
The final version, voted 48-0, banned gas chambers. But it left out the direct licensing provision. It included an exemption making it clear that anyone, you, me, Joe Puppy Mill, could shoot their animals. It exempts “normal agricultural activities” from the ban. This creates an interesting legal dilemma. Since the Puppy Mill Law requires breeders to use a vet to euthanize dogs but this bill says anyone may shoot their animal, which law would trump? Since it exempts agriculture, and puppy farms are considered to be agriculture in Pennsylvania, does this mean they can also now start using gas chambers if they all decide its “normal”?
This ambiguity makes it clear what is really be going on here and why this is a huge bluff being directed at those of us in animal welfare. The original bill posed a major philosophical problem for the Governor and the conservatives in Harrisburg. It actually created a new government bureaucracy to be in charge of direct licensing. It would require more oversight and enforcement by the Bureau- sorry- Office of Dog Law Enforcement. This runs counter to Corbett’s seeming effort to shrink the government through a death of a thousand incompetenties and to protect our citizens from government by stripping us of all our protections from everything else. Just look at the utterly unqualified people being selected for key positions. Look at the game of chicken being played with the budget of Dog Law and other agencies. Look at how even when he does appoint competent people to state positions, he ensures their ineffectiveness by not actually holding meetings and letting them do their appointed job. Look at how he refuses to enforce regulations on the books which would protect people and animals.
Strip is all away. Keep the vets happy. Keep the farmers happy. Keep the conservatives happy by not growing the government. Keep the liberals happy by allowing them to vote on a puppy hugging, feel good, so-stripped-as-to-be-meaningless gas chamber ban. Who cares what the animal shelters think? Corbett’s already screwed them over (after Rendell robbed the Dog Law budget) by cutting the tiny amount of funding provided to shelters by the state to do the state’s own job of dog control. Better yet, count on us to demand the bill be scuttled because it’s such a bad one and then they can all shrug and say, “We tried, but they shot it down.” SB 1329 simply became a way for everyone in Harrisburg to express their effectiveness at getting something, blocking something- whatever the personal political agenda may call for- and wrap it up with a bow in a bill which wouldn’t be signed even if it did pass both chambers. Such bravery. Such unanimity. Such crap.
I say we call their bluff. Let’s demand passage now. Let’s force them to pass it and give them none of the credit for being courageous or bi-partisan. Give us our ban; we’ll give you no new “burdensome regulations” in exchange. We will know what they did. We’ll know how they put their tails between their legs and lived up to every negative impression the public has about our elected government. That is can’t be effective, that it plays games with our lives and livelihoods. That it puts dogma and ideology ahead of safety and need. Pass SB 1329 in the House. Get it signed by the Governor.
You may ask, “What about the problems with it? What will the shelters do?” The answer is simple. Let’s give shelters what they need to do it right. You and me. I will commit right now to joining with other qualified animal welfare professionals to create a non-profit management services organization (MSO), to be up and running by the effective date of the law, which will provide euthanasia by injection training by veterinarians and experts in the field. This MSO will provide access to DEA site licenses, oversight and insurance. This MSO will provide management assistance and audit support to ensure both the proper use of the drugs and techniques and compliance with all state and federal law, and will do it affordably for any who ask. The sheltering community in Pennsylvania has the capacity to do this. People like you have the financial capacity to make it a reality. And it’s people like you who can help make sure the appropriate legal challenges are mounted when the next puppy farmer shoots all his dogs and points to this intentionally contradictory law as a justification.
We can embrace this ridiculous farce of a bill even while recognizing its shortcomings and the battles to come. We can bring an end to gas chamber euthanasia, no thanks to the brave men and women in Harrisburg. We can call their shameful bluff.
Governor Corbett and the Democratic and Republican leadership in Harrisburg: We see your bet. And we go all in. Now let’s see your cards.