Bill targets animal gas chambers

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RICHMOND Harsher penalties for animal-fighting rings and their spectators have been introduced to the 2008 General Assembly session, but there’s also another animal-rights bill on the agenda championed by many of the commonwealths animal lovers.

House Bill 5 bans the practice of using gas chambers to euthanize animals, and proponents say the bills stand a good chance of passing.

“It’s a slam dunk for passage this year,” said Donald Marro, a member of Virginia Voters for Animal Welfare.

Gas chambers are used as a form of euthanasia. Animals, usually several at a time, can be placed in a chamber that then is filled with a gas, such as carbon monoxide.

In theory, the gas painlessly kills the animals inside. Generally, the process has been used by shelters that do not have the staff to utilize quicker means of euthanasia, such as injection, or to handle animals that are not used to human touch or handling.

However, some critics say chamber methods of euthanasia present potential problems for animals and humans.

“The chamber is really terrible from an oversight perspective because people can put in too many animals or animals with much larger animals, said Dr. Kelli Ferris, an assistant professor at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine. And their last moments can be terrifying and inhumane.”

Ferris also said there’s a chance a chamber malfunction might pose a hazard to veterinary technicians.

Marro’s organization has been pushing for laws since 2003 that would ban the practice in Virginia.

When the VVAW began organizing against gas chambers, shelters in 23 Virginia localities still used the practice. Marro says the procedure has been phasing out during the past few years.

“I think that its come from the spotlight we’ve been putting on animal welfare,” Marro said.

Marro also said he does not identify the recent dog-fighting case involving football star Michael Vick as the main reason the bill is expected to pass this year.

“There’s a whole set of reasons the sun rises, and that’s just one of them,” Marro said.

One of the reasons Marro thinks the bill has a good chance of passing this year is that Delegate Robert Orrock, R-Thornburg, who lobbied in past sessions against similar bills, is now the chief patron of the legislation.

Orrock said in past years the biggest issue preventing the bill’s passage was an unfunded mandate.

Though private citizens offered to donate to areas that ceased the gas-chamber practice upon bill passage, Orrock said he previously didnt think the funding was enough to bring local governments into compliance.

“Local governments have converted and we’ll pass a law so they can’t go back,” Orrock said.

Delegate James Scott, D-Merrifield, who introduced similar bills the past three years, says he’s optimistic about passage this year.

“I’m glad that after this three-year struggle the practice will be banned and gone forever from Virginia,” Scott said.

In an effort to curb “puppy mill” operations, Orrock also is sponsoring a bill that defines commercial dog breeding operations, their responsibilities and penalties for breeders who do not meet those responsibilities.

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