- Associated Press - Saturday, December 20, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina’s ban on the use of gas to euthanize animals becomes official early next year, although it appears most shelters have given up the practice, officials say.

Patricia Norris, director of animal welfare in the state Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, sent a memo in early December advising shelters that they must stop using gas chambers for euthanasia as of Feb. 15, 2015. Most, if not all, shelters have moved entirely to lethal injection, Norris said.

The changes began in 2013 when the American Veterinary Medical Association removed its approval of carbon monoxide for routine euthanasia of dogs and cats, Norris said. The state follows the lead of three animal welfare groups, and the AVMA was the last to remove its approval, she said.

The discontinuation of gas chambers couldn’t happen immediately because shelter needed training on injecting animals and shelters needed to get the drugs and licensing needed, she said.

“County by county, the few that were remaining, they made the transition themselves,” Norris said. “We just wanted to make sure everybody was on the same page.”

Just a few years ago, more than 20 shelters in the state used gas chambers, said Kim Alboum, North Carolina state director for the Humane Society of the United States.

“Regardless of where you stand on whether lethal injection is more humane, it (gassing animals) does put a stigma on North Carolina,” Alboum said. “In 2014, the thought of a family pet being gassed in North Carolina is not something the community wants to think about.”

North Carolina shelters still euthanize more than half the dogs and cats brought to them. In 2013, shelters took in 284,259 dogs and cats, of which 56 percent were euthanized, Norris said. Still, that’s an improvement from 2012, when shelters took in 330,015 dogs and cats and euthanized 61 percent.

The Agriculture Department numbers include any shelter that gets government funding or participates in the department’s spay-neuter program, which is most of them, she said.

Getting rid of gas chambers will encourage more people to adopt their pets from shelters, Alboum said. “The pound is a thing of the past and what we’re seeing now are community shelters where the community can go and adopt animals and not be afraid to visit,” she said. “When there are cages next to a gas chamber in an animal shelter, who wants to go and see that? You’d rather just turn away and not know it exists.”

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Martha Waggoner can be reached at https://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc

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