LANSING (AP) - The state Senate on Thursday voted to ban the use of poisonous gas to euthanize dogs and cats at animal shelters in an attempt to rid Michigan of four remaining gas chambers called barbaric by animal rights supporters.
The legislation, which passed 37-0 and now goes to the House, requires the use of lethal injections at animal shelters when dogs and cats are killed.
Though injection is the preferred method of the American Veterinary Medical Association, gas is used by shelters in four smaller counties in the southwest corner of the state: Berrien, Branch, Cass and Van Buren.
Eight of Michigan's 83 counties were using gas chambers as recently as 2011, according to an analysis of the bill by the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency.
"I wish no dog ever had to be put down, but if it has to happen we must ensure that it is done as humanely as possible," said Sen. Rick Jones, a Grand Ledge Republican and the bill's sponsor. "I know that shots are quick, painless and are the most humane way to put down an animal."
Similar legislation stalled in 2010 and 2012, but Jones said he has addressed concerns from groups representing farmers and veterinarians.
In June, the Michigan Veterinary Medical Association's board took the stance that using gas to euthanize shelter dogs and cats is not acceptable. The Michigan Farm Bureau is now neutral on the bill because it would apply only to dogs and cats in shelters, said government relations manager Tonia Ritter.
The bureau was previously concerned that legislation could have conflicted with euthanasia guidelines that had the blessing of veterinary groups, she said.
Opponents of gas chambers say they pose a risk to humans and animals because they can leak, they tax workers emotionally, and they lead to longer and more agonizing deaths. The process takes roughly 20 minutes as opposed to seconds for injection, according to critics.
Defenders contend the bill would intrude on local authorities' decision making and is based on the flawed premise that injection is always more compassionate and effective than a gas chamber.
"Generally speaking, it's done mostly for aggressive dogs," said Ernie Baker, a Branch County animal control officer who runs the county shelter.
Some strays can be extremely difficult and dangerous to handle, he said, so it is easier to walk them into the chamber instead of struggling to inject them with sodium pentobarbital.
He said animals go unconscious and die within 15 to 20 seconds in the chamber. Much of the 20-minute cycle is for toxic gases to be vented from the chamber, Baker said.
He called the measure a "feel-good" bill and said regardless of what lawmakers do, the county's gas chamber will go away because it is old and expensive to replace.