Akita Rescue Society of America


Let's Be Honest!

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Let's be Honest!
If you ever had a dog "put to sleep," because of age, illness or even behavior, chances are the procedure was conducted by your veterinarian, someone known to the dog. In the presence of a family member or a compassionate health tech the dog went to sleep, then died a quiet death with dignity, as it should be. The atmosphere was not fraught with apprehension, fear or strange odors. The presence of someone known to the dog encouraged trust and a sense of security; it made a difference between a humane death and one not quite humane.

In the stressful environment of animal shelters, it is not the lethal injection the dogs fight but the body language of people who have been forced to kill too many times. In the presence of detached strangers, surrounded by the odors of disinfectant and death, listening to the sounds of dying animals, your dog will be put to death. Its body will be tossed into a barrel of dead animals then held in a freezer until the disposal truck arrives to load the bodies. Your dog's new home will be at the rendering plant. However, death by lethal injection is still the most benevolent means of killing unwanted, abandoned animals. When a Chamber is used (many shelters and humane societies continue to use the killing machine to lessen emotional stress on human workers), your dog is killed by inhaling a lethal gas. The gas must reach a certain concentration in the lungs before it can be effective which takes time. Anxiety and fear are triggered by:

The strong odors that linger in uncleaned Chambers.

The inhalant can be irritating.

The flow of gas entering the Chamber makes considerable noise, causing fear and distress.

The type and amount of inhalant may prolong death.

The repair and condition of the Chamber and the number of dogs killed together are all responsible for the degree of agitation the dog suffers before losing consciousness.

Puppies and neonatal animals are resistant to all inhalants and take a long time to die in chambers. Puppies of one week of age have survived in Chambers for as long as 14 minutes.

The chamber is a very impersonal metal box with different forms of gas available to be pumped inside as killing agents. According to a January, 1995 report from the AVMA Panel on Euthanasia, all of the following gases are in use and are legal:

Carbon Dioxide: Odorless and heavier than air, it takes 1-2 minutes for a dog to reach a state of unconsciousness. The advantages are its cheap, nonflammable and kills. The disadvantage of using this gas is because it is heavier than air, if the Chamber is not properly filled, tall and/or climbing dogs can avoid the gas and survive. "This appears to be very stressful to the animals." They must be killed all over again but second time around they know what is coming.

Nitrogen (N2), Argon (Ar): These gases are odorless, nonflammable and are effective in killing. In studies using N2 at a 98.5% concentration, dogs became unconscious within 76 seconds. However, all dogs hyperventilated until they reached unconsciousness. While in an unconscious state, the dogs vocalized, gasped, convulsed and had muscular tremors. They were left in the Chamber for 5 minutes and all dogs died. Advantages: Both gases are easily available. Disadvantages: It is distressful in some species.

Carbon Monoxide: Colorless, odorless, it combines with hemoglobin and prevents the red cells from taking on oxygen, causing death by suffocation. Since we cannot ask the dogs what they felt when inhaling this gas, the report lists the human symptoms: headache, dizziness, weakness in the early stages. As the oxygen is decreased in the red cells, the human felt, ringing of the ears, loss of vision, nausea, progressive depression, confusion and collapse. Convulsions and muscular spasms accompany unconsciousness. In killing animals with carbon monoxide, the AVMA suggests a well lit Chamber with viewports to watch to be certain the animals are dying.

Another means of killing dogs in some areas is electrocution with alternating current. The electrocution causes cardiac fibrillation which induces death after 10-30 seconds. It is recommended the animal be unconscious before electrocution because of "violent extension and stiffening of the limbs, head and neck." However, the two-step process of producing a state of unconsciousness before electrocution takes more time and money. Straight electrocution is preferred.

Some small communities continue to sanction the use of shooting of dogs as a means of disposing of unwanted pets.  We can only pray these animals are killed by someone with good shooting skills. 

Ahhh, but you believe your dog will be adopted from that shelter--you are taking an awful chance by assuming a home waits for your dog. YOU were that home. You made a commitment to that dog, or so the dog thought when you took the best years of its life. Now, what are you giving in return?


1994 Barbara Bouyet