Will the Berrien County Commissioners Finally Stop Gassing Dogs and Cats to Death? Debate Set for Thursday.

photo credit: animallawcoalition.com

photo credit: animallawcoalition.com

UPDATE: Berrien County Commissioners vote unanimously on August 27th to discontinue using the gas chamber to kill their shelter pets. They will stop using the gas chamber within 90 days. Read more about it here.


The Berrien County Board of Commissioners is meeting on Thursday, August 27th, to discuss keeping the carbon monoxide gas chamber at the animal shelter and its continued use in a new facility. Although the debate on animal euthanasia is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. those who wish to make a public comment about the issue need to be there at 8:30 a.m. when the Board meeting begins. The public will be allowed two minutes for each person to make a comment just after roll call and minutes approval. The meeting, which will be held at the Berrien County Administration Center, 701 Main St. in St. Joseph, will include a presentation given to the BOC. While there may be discussion amongst the Board of Commissioners, it is not anticipated that any formal action will be taken during this meeting.

Animal Control Director Val Grimes, who will attend Thursday’s meeting, has endorsed the gas chamber, arguing that it’s safer for staff and less painful for animals. Although other news articles have said that at least six commissioners have stated their willingness to get rid of the gas chamber, none of these commissioners have been named and none of them responded with their position to go on record when emailed by Pet Friends Magazine.

Consider a dog named Sam who sits in a cage in a Berrien County Animal Shelter and sadly waits for its owner to come find him. He wonders, “where are mom and dad?” He had gotten loose from his tie out in the yard and decided to explore. He kept exploring for almost a month. He even ended up in another county after running a lot and hitching a ride with a few passing cars. Then someone found him and brought him to the Berrien County Animal Shelter. His mom and dad didn’t know where he is – they aren’t even searching for him in the right county.

The animal shelter is loud with lots of other dogs and Sam is scared. The floor is hard. He is used to his bed at home, his couch and the treats he always gets at noon when his mom comes home from work to have lunch. It’s 1 pm now and no one brings him a treat.  Don’t they know it’s past lunch time? He lifts his head and wags his tail when someone in the building finally walks by and says, “good doggie.” But they don’t call him Sam. No one knows his name.

It’s been four days. Sam doesn’t know that Michigan animal shelters are required to hold onto stray cats and dogs for four days before they are allowed to kill them or adopt them out. Sam hears one of the people in the building say, “four days” and they point to him and say, “his time is up soon.” Does that mean that Sam will be back home soon? He wags his tail in excitement. That would be the best news! Sam is starting to think that his exploration trip was probably not as good of an idea as it seemed at the time. A few hours later, someone comes down the hallway and opens his cage. Sam wags his tail again and tries to jump on the person to say thank you. The person walks Sam into a dark room and switches on a light.

All of a sudden, Sam is put in some kind of hard, cold “box.” Sam is frightened and turns around quickly to escape. Too late. The door is shut. Sam cries out and jumps on the side of the box. NO! Sam doesn’t think his mom and dad will ever find him if they leave him in a box! And where is his food and water? Why does it smell so scary? Sam doesn’t understand that other cats and dogs have urinated and vomited and died in that box before him – but he knows enough to be very scared. He knows something bad must have happened before he got there. He continues to bark and cry as loud as he can inside of what could be described as the “Berrien County Pet Killing Gas Chamber.” Sam is scared, alone and confused.

Even in some of the worst county animal shelters in Michigan, where kill rates are well over 50%, the animals there are allowed a safe and dignified death by an intravenous sedation and intravenous euthanasia. Sam doesn’t understand his bad luck – that he landed in one of two counties in Michigan who still use gas chambers to kill animal shelter pets. The other one is Cass County.

There is a hissing sound as the gas goes into the chamber. Sam gets dizzy and is even more afraid. He turns around in circles over and over again and calls out for his family. He calls out for anyone in the building to hear him. Surely someone will find out he’s in trouble and help him because his mom and dad have always helped him when something was wrong. It takes about 10 minutes and Sam is unconscious. He’s an older dog and very stressed so it took a little longer for him to pass out on the floor. About 15 minutes later he finally dies from a lack of oxygen. We can’t possibly know how much trauma and stress there was in those final minutes – how much horror.

Sam is removed and put in a trash bag. The next animal is brought into the Berrien County Pet Killing Gas Chamber. And the next and the next. Over time, how many have suffered a scared and lonely death in the gas chamber? 420 cats were killed in Berrien County in 2014 and 349 cats. Additionally, Berrien County also offers to euthanize pets for the community and their Shelter Report submitted to the Michigan Department of Agriculture shows that they killed 986 owned cats and owned 327 dogs who were turned over to be killed by the county. Were the owners made aware of the inhumane gas chamber method that would be used in their pet’s death?? Were they given a choice??

While Sam is not a real, documented pet who came into the Berrien County Animal Shelter, he is certainly a representation of the many who have gone through the doors – and have been inhumanely killed in their gas chamber. Every pet has a story and came from a home, ultimately ending up at the shelter because of bad decisions or regrettable circumstances of their owner. Sometimes the severity of the situation can be overlooked by merely looking at the statistics instead of thinking of each animal as a pet who not very long ago might have been comfortably sitting in a living room, snuggling with a little boy or teenage girl, an elderly woman who passed away or a Army soldier was was called to defend the country and had to reluctantly give up their pet. These pets don’t deserve to die in a gas chamber.

Just about every leading animal welfare organization condemns the killing of shelter pets in a gas chamber.

The Association of Shelter Veterinarians (ASV) explains that “any gas that is inhaled must reach a certain concentration in the lungs before it becomes effective. The time it takes to reach that concentration isn’t precisely known and varies among pets, which can cause a number of problems.”

Other organizations against gassing shelter pets include The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), The National Animal Control Association, The Humane Society of United States and the American Humane Association among others.

If you can’t attend Thursday’s meeting, you can email the Board of Commissioners at the email addresses below:

District 1 – William Smith 

District 2 – John Hinkleman, Chair 

District 3 – Marletta Seats

District 4 – Mamie Yarbrough

District 5 – Bill Chickering

District 6 – Jeanette Leahey

District 7 – Deb Panozzo

District 8 – Teri Sue Freehling

District 9 – Andrew Vavra

District 10 – Mac Elliott

District 11 – Jim Curran

District 12 – John Klimek

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