Every year, 3 to 4 million cats and dogs are euthanized in shelters across America - and though each deserves to meet his end with dignity, sadly that is not always the case. All too often, the heartbreaking tragedy of those lives cut short is made all the worse by the manner in which they spend their final moments.
In many animal shelters in the United States, it is common practice to load unwanted pets into dark, claustrophobic metal chambers to be poisoned to death by gas.
"For several minutes they may exist in this state of terror, clawing and calling for a way out," according to a description of the practice in Animal Sheltering Magazine. "They may struggle for air or begin convulsing before finally losing consciousness."
Animal welfare groups have long campaigned against this method of killing, calling it cruel and inhumane, and slowly but surely, more states are opting to ban the practice.
Last week, North Carolina's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced that gas chambers will soon no longer be used as a routine method of euthanizing dogs and cats. Beginning next year, those animals will instead receive an injection at the hands of veterinary staff. Though the outcome is the same, the moments preceding death will be changed dramatically for all involved.
"Most shelter workers wish to hold and comfort a frightened animal in [his] final moments of life," writes the American Humane Association. "That act may be the only kindness the animal has ever known."
The Animal Legal Defense Fund, who filed a petition for North Carolina to close its gas chambers, calls the move a victory for animals.
"With this change, the state Board of Agriculture has come in line with the medical science and with humane laws," says the group's executive director, Stephen Wells, in a press release. "The board must now work to ensure all North Carolina shelters follow this rule."
To date, 25 states continue to allow gas chambers for the euthanasia of animals, and animal welfare groups have vowed to continue pushing for bans until they're abolished nationwide. Learn how you can help save a shelter animal's life through adoption by visiting your local Humane Society.