Memory Lane

April 27th, 2012 | Posted by Karel Minor in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Yesterday I had a nice meeting with someone I had not seen in a while.  To be honest, we didn’t part of the chummiest of terms.  This person was around when I first came to HSBC nearly eight (really, eight?!) years ago and we went our separate ways in part over some of the major changes here which I brought about.  And maybe a little because I was slightly less lovable eight years ago than I am now.  Now I just giggle like the Snuggle Bear when you poke my belly.

This person reminded me of a question which had been asked at one of my job interviews.  I was asked, “If you become executive director, are you going to make a lot of changes?”  My answer was, “Yes.”  Actually, I think I said I expected that if I was still here in a few years- and before I even had the job I figured my tenure would either be six months or six years and I wouldn’t have given good odds on six years- the Humane Society of Berks County would be unrecognizable.

You can say a lot of things about me but you can’t say I didn’t tell the God’s honest truth.  Eight years later we are nearly unrecognizable from the organization I joined.  From the foundation created by Lindy Scholar and her board, we have actually made the leaps which the people who hired me said they wanted to make.  We have created services and programs which help more animals than ever.  We are a recognized leader in program and service innovation.  We have miraculously dragged ourselves out of the ever looming hole of fiscal collapse and bankruptcy.  We are a model of what animal welfare and animal sheltering should be, not just in 2012, but a model for the decades to come.

Of course, making wishes sometimes gets you results you didn’t foresee.  There’s a reason that the lesson of the genie in the bottle story is to throw it back in the water.  There were more than a few who didn’t like the transformation that began to occur eight years ago, despite wishing for it.  In some ways we gave birth to a whole new organization and, being father of three daughters, I know how hard a process that can be, even when you aren’t the person doing the hard labor.  Like kids, you don’t know what you’re going to get when you recreate an organization.

After eight years we have become what we sought to be: bigger, better, and stronger.  Like the person I met with yesterday in an attempt to mend fences (or at least straighten a couple fence posts), I hope those who didn’t like the direction their genie’s wish took them will at least be able to see that we are now, in fact, bigger, better, and stronger.  With any luck, in a very short while we will be even biggerer, betterer, and strongerer.  And even less recognizable.  Keep tuned to this Bat Station for more on that soon.

Fred Eaglesmith says that a man doesn’t grow up ‘till he’s forty odd years old.  I don’t know if it’s that or if we have simply gotten as far at HSBC as fighting will take us (or was required).  Either way, I’m taking some pleasure in the fence mending I’ve been able to do with others who are of a like mind to do so, especially since its good for our work at HSBC.  I hope they’ll be joined by a few others who might have parted ways with slightly bigger grudges.

C’mon, back, y’all.  You know you want to poke my tummy and hear me giggle.


(Guest blog by Jenny Stephens, North Penn Puppy Mill Watch)

At long last, the Pennsylvania Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement’s Advisory Board will meet on April 25, 2012 from 1 to 4PM in room 309 at the PA Department of Agriculture building located at 2301 Cameron Street in Harrisburg, PA.

More than a year has passed since the Board last convened; a breach of the Bureau’s own regulations that requires “regular” meetings.  In 2009 – and in years previous – the Board met four times a year; in 2010, there were two Board meetings however in 2011 not one meeting was held.

In stark contrast, both a lot and nothing have transpired since the last meeting in 2010 and, applicable to both, nothing positive for the dogs has been accomplished.  The Bureau is on the verge of bankruptcy; the new Dog Law enacted in 2008 is not being enforced; commercial breeding kennels are not being inspected and some have not been visited in over a year; an assortment of open positions exists within the Bureau… a Bureau that’s not even called a “bureau” anymore but is now referred to as an “office” and the list goes on.

In case you’re wondering, the Dog Law Advisory Board consists of 25 members:

(1) The secretary or his designee, who shall act as chairman.
(2) A representative of animal research establishments.
(3) A representative of a statewide veterinary medical association.
(4) Two representatives of animal welfare organizations*
(5) Three representatives of farm organizations, with one from each statewide general farm organization
(6) A representative of dog clubs.
(7) A representative of commercial kennels.
(8) A representative of pet store kennels.
(9) A representative of sportsmen.
(10) A representative of a national purebred canine pedigree registry.
(11) A representative of lamb and wool growers.
(12) A county treasurer.
(13) A representative of hunting-sporting dog organizations.
(14) A representative of the police.
(15) A representative of boarding kennels.
(16) Seven members representing the general public who are recommended by the Governor

*In this instance, “animal welfare organizations” refers to open access shelters – shelters that employ a humane society police officer and accepts all surrendered animals as well as animals running at large versus private rescues.

As you can plainly see, the deck is stacked against those who advocate for canines.  With only two members out of 25 representing the advocacy community, it’s not hard to understand why little headway is ever made to address issues that would benefit the puppy mill dogs, the homeless dogs, the neglected, abused, tethered and stray dogs.  In fact, when you look at the other seats on the Board, it’s obvious they are pro-breeding in an era when Pennsylvania is facing a dog overpopulation predicament.

Sadly, PA advocates recently lost its strongest voice on the DLAB:  Nancy Gardner, President of the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter in Chambersburg, PA.   Ms. Gardner was advised, via correspondence, that her term on the Board had ended and was thanked for her services; sadly, she was never asked if she wished to retain her seat or bring her years of expertise to a largely new Board formed under the Corbett administration.  Nancy’s absence from the Board represents a tremendous loss to advocates and she will be sorely missed.

In fact, many replacements have supposedly been made and several of these individuals – while having experience in their particular field – have little to no experience with Pennsylvania’s Dog Law or the statewide problems that plague the canine advocacy community..

If you’ve never attended a Dog Law Advisory Board meeting, and they are open to the public, it tends to be… and please pardon the pun, a dog and pony show.  Members of the public may observe and, if time allows, short commentary is permitted but only after the Board has concluded its business.

Wednesday’s meeting should prove quite interesting as new members to the Board will be introduced and tremendous discussion pursuant to the Bureau’s current financial state is anticipated.

Another FYI in case you weren’t aware, the Bureau is funded by three streams of revenue:  the licensing of dogs by private dogs owners, the sale of kennel licenses, and the receipt of up to $69,000 pursuant to the issuance of fines for infractions of the Dog Law.

According to Bureau of Dog Law’s Michael Pechart, close to $500,000 in fines was generated in 2009 however only $69,000 ended up in the Dog Law Restricted Account with the balance going to the Commonwealth.  The $69,000 figure is the maximum the Bureau is permitted to retain.  Additionally, the account’s not really “restricted,” is it, considering the Commonwealth helped itself to several million during the Rendell administration to “balance the budget” and those funds were never replaced… funds that were supposed to be used to enforce the law and protect dogs.

With many ideas sure to be brought to the table to increase revenue at Wednesday’s meeting, hopefully discussion will include the introduction of legislation to address why the Bureau is not permitted to retain the funds it generates by enforcing the law and collecting fines from those who break it.

Unfortunately, it’s predicted that plans to boost revenue will fall squarely on the public via increased license fees.  For decades private dog owners have funded Dog Law and instead of utilizing these funds appropriately, the money, for all intents and purposes, has been misappropriated and stolen.  To ask the public to come to the rescue of this Bureau and remain the primary source of revenue when the Bureau isn’t doing its job is simply ridiculous.  If individual dog license prices are to be increased, so too should kennel license fees, especially when you consider the many problems created by those who exploit dogs for profit.

Pennsylvania regulations mandate the existence of the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement and, despite many recent changes that fall far short of complying with actual regulations, it would appear that the sky’s the limit insofar as how far and long the Corbett administration will allow this agency to make up the rules as it goes along.

Without a fully functioning Bureau of Dog Law, Pennsylvania faces a serious canine crisis and cracks in the foundation are already apparent.  State representatives and senators need to understand and contemplate the impact the demise of Dog Law will have upon their constituents and local regions and move toward enacting a more equitable distribution of the funds generated by the collection of fines by those who disregard the law.

As advocates, prepare to brace yourselves.  The storm clouds on the horizon are quickly approaching and it’s likely to be raining cats and dogs in the very near future.


We’ve had a week or two of simmering down from the hyperbolic extremes of learning that SB 1329, the gas chamber ban bill, passed unanimously in the Senate only to find that, after years of hard work and horse trading by everyone with even a peripheral interest in the matter to construct a strong, useful bill, virtually everything was stripped from it.

On seeing the, and with apologies to Andy, as much as I’d like to say “streamlined” the only appropriate word is, gutting of the bill, my reaction was like most who had been working to get it passed, and with double apologies for using a vulgar text-world colloquialism, “WTF?!”  Rants were had all around.  In the end, we have what we have, and it is a rarity in some ways.  We have the purest of bills which does precisely one thing and one thing only: it bans the use of gas chambers for euthanasia in shelters, animal control facilities and vet offices in Pennsylvania.

We can bemoan it some more- and believe me, I did my share of moaning- or we can make the most of a bad situation.  And while we’re at it, we can put to the test the supposed “small government” convictions which have reportedly brought us to this version of the bill.

Surprise, surprise, surprise!

The situation would seem pretty cut and dry.  Reportedly, the Governor’s office will not sign anything which requires additional fees or regulation, even when the industry being regulated is literally begging for it like the animal welfare community is.  That explains the stripping of all the well-crafted measures to allow for direct licensing of animal shelters so that shelters can directly purchase the correct euthanasia drugs, without needing to bow and scrape to a local vet if they don’t have one on staff, just like 17 other states allow.

I’m yet to see anyone go on the record supporting gas chambers.  That would explain the unanimous Senate passage of the “streamlined” bill.  Who in their right political mind wants to vote for gas chambers?   By voting it out of their chamber, the Senators have handed the hot potato to their House peers.

This is where it gets interesting.  We now have a bill which has nothing in it which the Governor or anyone else, except maybe the gas chamber manufacturing lobby, can object to.  No new fees.  No new regulations.  No DEA issues (even if the ones raised were utterly bogus).  Farmers can still do whatever they want.  The NRA can crow that they have protected the time honored tradition of being able to shoot your own dog (somebody cue the end of Old Yeller and raise the flag).  The only thing in this bill is a ban on gas chambers to euthanize pets in the remaining three or four places which use them in the entire state.  Who could possibly object to this?

For starters, I think a few people assumed people like me in the animal welfare community would.  As Gomer Pyle would say, “Surprise, surprise, surprise!”  You will find no opposition from us.  For years there was concern by the sheltering community that a lack of access to the right euthanasia drugs might result in shelters with gas chambers simply closing their doors following a ban, causing a worse situation for animals.  Guess what? While we’d like to see a direct licensing option, the vast majority, if not all, in our community have been saying what I’ve been saying: We would like direct licensing but we demand a ban no matter what and no strings attached if it’s the best we can get.  No one can make the claim that we are stopping them from voting for a ban and getting it signed into law.  It is simply not true.

Better yet, there are several of us on the record saying we will personally and organizationally provide the resources and oversight to any shelter using a gas chamber and which has no alternative to allow them to switch to the right euthanasia techniques.  It will cost us money as a charity- and that’s the dirty little secret of all these cuts and “no new fees or taxes” rules, they just shift the cost to local government and charities- but we’ll get the money to do it.  Better yet, there are a few very clever ideas out there, and I know Senator Dinniman has them, which would not only address these concerns without spending a dime of public money, but might even be to the government’s benefit.

There is nothing in this bill which will violate agriculture rights or gun rights or any Grover Norquist anti-tax pledges. There is no reason not to pass this bill in the House.  None.  Unless the leadership in the House supports gas chambers.  If it passes in the House there is no reason for the Governor not to sign it.  Unless he supports gas chambers.

A couple weeks ago I questioned the courage of our elected officials in my anger and frustration.  Perhaps that was harsh.  They can demonstrate that courage right now by scheduling a vote in the House, passing the bill, and getting it signed into law.  They can show that they don’t stand behind an artifice of high minded governmental ethics which serves only to allow more pets to die in gas chambers.

Leaders of the House and Governor Corbett, Senator Dinniman did his part, along with the rest of the Senate who voted for this bill unanimously.  Schedule SB 1329 for a vote in the House now.  Pass SB 1329 now.  Sign SB 1329 into law now.

Please do it now.


Want your State Representative to vote for SB 3129 now?  Tell them so.  Click here to find your Representative’s contact information.


You may think the important election in Pennsylvania is the general election in November. You would be wrong. Thanks to the endless cycle of partisan carving up of districts, the vast majority of elections are decided in primary elections, not in the general election.

While you hear a lot about challenges to the electoral maps between the parties, don’t think these fights are about making races fairer or more competitive. The intent of redistricting is to first ensure the biggest margin for the majority party- and both parties do this when they get the chance. The second intent, and the way in which the party in power gets the votes it needs from the minority party to pass these new districts, is to preserve the existing seats of current legislators.

If you looked at the recent court overturned redistricting effort, you’ll note that while it would have improved the chances for Republicans across the board (they are, after all the majority so it is their turn to rig the game), they very carefully strengthened the election chances of several Democrats by consolidating Democratic strongholds in certain areas. Why would the party in power do this? Because it plays to the desire to maintain incumbency. If they do it in a place the Democrat would likely have won anyway, they lose nothing.

But they gain a vote in support of the redistricting plan. Want to make a wild guess which minority party legislators voted in support of the majority party’s redistricting plan? Just look at which minority legislators would find themselves with an easier election under the new plan. I think you’ll find a higher than normal vote in support for the other party. There may be two parties in Harrisburg but there is one big club: the incumbents. And they all want to make sure they get to stay in the clubhouse.

That is why, even in “landslide” turnover years, the incumbent election rates tend to be well over 80% in the past few decades. Once you’re in, you’re in. Once a district is controlled by a party, it tends to stay controlled by that party. So if you want to know who is going to win the election in your district, chances are it is the candidate already in office or at least of the party which most recently held the office.

That means that if you want to make a change in Harrisburg or Washington, you need to make it in the Primary Election. It is statistically the most likely time you will have any chance of actually impacting who will be elected (assuming you are also registered in the party which holds the election advantage in that district).

And that means if you care about animal welfare, you need to cast your vote very deliberately for the candidate of your choice on April 24th.

As a 501c3 non-profit organization, HSBC cannot (and doesn’t want to) endorse or oppose any candidate. There are other organizations which can do that and we encourage you to speak to candidates about the issues, research many sources, and make up your own mind (one source, another source, find your own source). What we can do and like to do is advocate for positions and legislation which will benefit the animals and people in Pennsylvania. We can also let you know when a legislator has made a good, bad, or ugly decision when it comes to animal welfare policy. All too frequently we are stuck with sharing the bad and the ugly because we do not have enough elected officials who either see the value of strong animal welfare laws or have too many who don’t have the courage to stand up against powerful anti-animal welfare lobbies. Some simply pander to us and won’t follow through after being elected.

On April 24th you can help change that. You can help get a sensible anti-tethering bill passed. You can help get the pigeon shoots banned. You can help restore funding to the Office of Dog Law Enforcement. You can help ensure that Dog Law enforces the few laws which were passed recently to make life better for animals. You can help ensure that a gas chamber ban passes without the cynical cuts included in the bill now.

You can do these things by ensuring that whatever candidate you vote for in either or any party in this primary election is a strong animal welfare candidate. You can help to ensure that in the general election, no matter which party will win the district thanks to the electoral rigging, both candidates are strong animal welfare candidates. That way the animals win no matter who wins.

Finally, once you have helped elect a candidate, hold him or her accountable. If a candidate says he will do things and he doesn’t, demand answers and if you don’t get them, remember the betrayal of your trust in the next primary election in two or four years.

On April 25th we’ll know what animals can expect in Harrisburg because the general election winners will already have been chosen. You must make sure that it’s a win for animals.


Miller’s Analogies

April 11th, 2012 | Posted by Karel Minor in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

If you made it through high school, there’s a good chance you took a Miller’s Analogies test. It required you to select from a list of pairs of words which bear the best relation to another pair of words. A is to B as X is to _____. For example:

A. wicked : insinuate
B. strict : pamper
C. willful : heed
D. clever : eradicate
E. lazy : shirk

The answer is E. This is not a test of antonym or synonym recognition. It requires thought, not a mental list of definitions, because it requires an analysis of context, meaning and relationship.
This test came to mind today because I noted that two words which on some levels can be analogous have started to become synonymous and that led me to reflect on ways in which that has occurred in my professional world of animal welfare. The two words were “humanism” and “atheism”. Humanism and atheism are not synonymous one their face, yet they are increasingly so in their expression and perception, even to the point of being able to find contextually vastly different definitions.

Humanism’s most ubiquitous definition is that it is a system or mode of thought or action in which human interests, values, and dignity are taken to be of primary importance and is unrelated and independent of religion or deity. We should do right (or wrong or anything) because of our own choices, thoughts, or ethics, not because of the intervention or edicts of religion or a deity. This is an affirmative belief system which can exist regardless of any other belief system.

However, various other definitions offer a subtle but profound skewing of this and refer to humanism as a denial of the divine. That is, of course, the exact definition of atheism and it is a negative belief system which calls for the negation of any belief in the divine. Atheists seek to deny the undeniable just as deists seeks to affirm the unaffirmable.

This conflating of the two definitions is seen in the advertising campaigns of the American Humanist Association’s advertising campaigns which employ slogans such as “Why believe in God? Just be good for goodness’ sake.” But dragging that conflict into an arena which does not require it is a highjacking the analogous in an effort to create the synonymous.

This is exactly where things started to seem very familiar in an animal context. They do not say, “You don’t have to believe in God to be good,” or “My good is just as good as your good.” They are advocating that the belief in God is in itself a problem, as if the good end has been tainted by the means by which it was attained, even if the attained good ends are identical. This is the perversity of requiring synonymity to define intent. I have on more than one occasion attended fundraising workshops and classes and heard a variation of this question: Does it matter if a donor makes a gift for a tax write off or a because of a deep, true belief in our mission? The answer, if the sole end is the good the donation will do, is that it does not matter at all.

Nevertheless, I can always count on at least one person who will make an agitated case that it does matter and that the pure hearted donation is somehow inherently superior. It even generally possible to steer that person into a corner at which they will actually say a strictly profit motivated donation should be refused. Granted, these are not always deep thinkers. But there is a tendency to suspect motives other than the ones we believe should be driving a decision, even if the result is the same.

I believe this is the reason that so many people very nearly plead with me to say HSBC is “No Kill”. I certainly could- God knows places with much worse save rates than our routinely do. We regularly hit the very qualified target of 90% save rates from month to month. Functionally, we have attained the end sought by “No Kill” acolytes. These same masters of lemma will applaud the “No Kill” intent of agencies which are patently failing at the reaching the end, but which are failing to get there via a preferred theological avenue. Our organization on the other hand tends to be viewed with suspicion for not laying claim to both the end and the means.

Why don’t we? We don’t because in this case we are, if you’ll forgive the cobbling of concepts, “Animal Welfare Humanists”. We are arriving at the desired end not through a religious zeal to get here or by commandment of a prophet, we have made conscious choices based on our values and ethics which can exist outside the narrow constraints of the “No Kill” meme.

As importantly, we know that our success rides on the back of the struggles of others and of others’ choices. We have decreased euthanasia of feral cats by essentially refusing to accept them knowing that we will euthanize them and instead refer the public to feral cat advocacy groups. This limits the options available to the public. It’s good for the cats, but there is more to it than simply saying, “We succeed in not killing feral cats”. Our ability to hold animals for extended periods of time without facing a space crisis is the result of us dropping our dog catching and municipal euthanasia contracts and other groups having made the decision to take them on, along with thousands of animals which used to come to us.

The end result is that we hover right around “No Kill” rates despite not being strictly limited admission. While we can claim more than a little credit for having made strong decisions which are ethically defensible, we must also recognize that some of our good fortune is as much our doing as my fortune to be born white in modern America rather than Cambodian under the Khmer Rouge was due to some cleverness of my own and not sheer luck. Yes, we’ve made the most of the situation and made more of it than most but we started with a leg up. To pretend otherwise is like Donald Trump leaving out the part about being born to a real estate tycoon worth $200,000,000. It’s the little omissions which allow the camel through the eye of the needle with greater ease than us.

We got where we are though a lot of hard work, serious thought, and a little luck. Not because we are “chosen” or followed the hallowed path. And that is where this whole thing ties itself up in a neat little bow. Atheistic Humanism would devalue goodness derived from belief in deity. “No Kill” purists often devalue goodness attained via an animal welfare world view other than their own. The end may be identical and the means similar or analogous- especially to an outsider- but each side places a lower value on the identical results of the other.

“Yes, you may have tended to the sick because you thought it was the right thing to do, but I did it because my Holy book told me so, so I’m going to Heaven and you’re not.” Or, conversely, “I tended the sick of my own free will and you did it because you were compelled by your fake deity, making you a puppet to your faith.” Is it the problem of being compelled which causes the denialism of some?

There is a classic science fiction story, The Giving Plague, about a virus which makes everyone altruistic and the protagonist is a horrible human being who chooses to sacrifice himself to save others, despite being free of the virus, simply to prove he acts of his own free will and has not been compelled by an outside influence. In the end, it only mattered to him.

There is a middle way, they way of saying we don’t care why you do what you do, as long as it’s the right thing. Make a donation for the love of animals, for a tax break, or to curry a date with cute, single Development Director. It might matter to your everlasting soul, if there is one, but the good deed is the same. Hell, we’ll even help you to find whatever reason you need to do that good deed. We’re like philosophical honey badgers: we don’t care.

By the same token, “No Kill” fundamentalist claims which can be explicitly proven to be false, devious, or puerile should be presented as faith, not fact. We know that faith allows for belief in the unbelievable and even the utterly ridiculous. I will allow any Bible literalist to pick and choose which passages they want to accept literally while ignoring the admonitions against eating pork or shellfish or the designation of a man who offers up his daughters for mob rape being deemed “righteous”. Hey, it’s your belief system, think what you want. But don’t expect me to think it too because your book or belief in animals’ rights leads you to embrace not only the unaffirmable but the patently false.

Again, the why doesn’t matter at all. Who really has skin in a game of telling anyone that he can’t do good as well as she can because the good wasn’t done with a pure heart, or was done believing something stupid, or because we used different language or are a different color or a different political party? There are plenty of ways to devalue the good done by others. They are all beside the point. We need to do good because good needs to be done. Ends is to Why as Good is to Who the Hell Cares?

I’m not sure that analogy actually works but please take my intended meaning on faith.


The next time you balk at hearing a politician say that he or she voted for a crappy bit of legislation because it was better than nothing, remember the Gas Chamber ban and have a little sympathy.

Swallowing the gutted SB 1329 may be about as palatable as those semi-incubated duck eggs they make people eat for TV ratings but it is better than nothing.  Our legislators had a chance to pass a bill which would elevate the welfare of animals in Pennsylvania.  Instead, thanks reportedly to a Governor who thinks the only good government is a dead government, we have to make a decision.  Is it better to have shelters face turning animals away to face a potentially worse death on the street or to continue to allow gas chambers?

The answer is, of course, obvious.  We must ban gas chambers.  Now is the time since we have a bunch of freaked out legislators who are uncertain of the political winds and who all need a win which will let them crow about helping pets and get their picture taken with dogs.  Like the Puppy Mill bill, it has a chance to pass overwhelmingly because few, if any, will want to be on the wrong side of this landslide.  Since it is a law which will cost the government nothing and once again places all the cost and burden on charities, the Governor should sign it with glee.

The various factions will probably even get their way and avoid any explicit language stating that this law applies to commercial kennels.  They say that wording in other laws makes it “unnecessary”.  Of course, that never stops them from demanding such wording if they think it will pose a risk to hunting, guns, or food production, even when the same wording should make it unnecessary then, too.  If the clarification is such a non-issue, why the opposition to it?  I guess what is good for shooting the goose isn’t good for saving the gander.  We’ll wait and see how long it takes Joe Puppy Farmer to gas or shoot a dog and point to this in his defense.

However, passing it doesn’t mean we need to be happy about how we got here or the fact that we elect politicians to do hard work and make hard decisions, not kick the can down the road for the next class to pay for or the one after that.  Like most “no cost” options, the cost will simply get passed along to county and local government and to us.  Harrisburg has been making plenty of cuts lately.  Have your taxes gone down?

It’s always been easy for the Humane Society of Berks County to support this ban, even in its current bad form.  We have veterinarians, we have access to the right drugs, and we don’t have animal control contracts so we aren’t drowning in animals that will face euthanasia simply because there is no more room at the inn.  But we also have empathy and we know that we can’t just support things that are easy or good for us without making sure we help those who are not as fortunate.

Harrisburg had the chance to do that and they failed.  So, go ahead, pass SB 1329 and pass it swiftly.  But don’t expect a pat on the back for doing the very least you could have done for animals instead of the most.

No, legislators, we won’t balk when you say it’s the best you could get. We know what a limited commodity courage is these days. You have our deepest sympathies for your loss.


I call Harrisburg’s bluff.

I’ve seen enough of politics to know that demonstrations of legislative bravery on the part of politicians are more likely a sign that there was no real danger in the first place. Like a courageous vote in support of “freedom” or loving our grandmas. When we see unanimity, it’s all too often a sign of bipartisan collusion to support something which has 100% public approval or has 100% no chance of actually passing for one reason or another.

So when the Gas Chamber Bill, SB 1329, was bravely passed by a unanimous Senate vote this week, I had a sense something wasn’t right. When I read the gutted bill, I knew something stunk to high heaven. The bill which passed was a shell of the bill which had been introduced. And its utter lack of content explained exactly how it passed with no opposition.

The original SB 1329 did not just ban gas chamber euthanasia. It did the heavy lifting of addressing the reasons that there are still any animal shelters and animal control facilities using this antiquated and inhumane method.

The Brave Face of Small Government in the Face of Animal Cruelty

Gas chambers are rarely used in shelters by choice. They are used because some shelters don’t have access to the veterinary license required to obtain the industry standard drugs used to perform humane lethal injection. Not every shelter is fortunate enough to have a vet on staff. Many are in rural communities where local vets are few and far between, and not always willing to simply “give” a shelter access to their license for a variety of reasons, such as liability concerns. These shelters feel that using gas chambers, which are unbelievably not, I repeat, are not, considered inhumane by the American Veterinary Medical Society, are better than no option at all.

While I personally feel that if you can’t use the best industry practice, humane lethal injection, for euthanasia you should close your doors, I also know that very good and humane animal welfare professionals have a moral conviction that a less desirable method of euthanasia is preferable to starving, freezing, being shot, or being hit by cars. I also know that most would absolutely prefer to make use of the best, most modern means of euthanasia and decommission those antiquated death chambers.

The original SB 1329, which had gone through years of horse trading between the veterinary lobby, the agriculture lobby, the animal sheltering lobby, the anti-gas chamber advocates, finally cobbled together the elements of an effective and smart bill. It banned the use of gas chamber euthanasia in most cases. Animal shelters, animal control facilities and private vet practices would be banned from using them. However, a system of direct drug licensing, used in 17 other states, for shelters and animal control facilities would be created. The state pharmacy board would create guidelines for drugs and their purchase, along with training requirements for non-veterinarian euthanasia technicians, to allow those few currently non-licensed facilities to purchase and safely use the appropriate drugs and techniques to euthanize animals.

It appeared that everyone could be on the same page. All the parties even offered up some wiggle room here and there to ensure that a good bill didn’t fail because it wasn’t perfect to all. This was the chance for bravery and unanimity.

As is so often the case, 1329 faced a death of a thousand amendments. Maybe private vets should be exempted (although not a single vet was asking for that to my knowledge). Maybe “aggressive” animals should be exempt (as if it’s easier to get Cujo into a little metal box than walk up behind him and stick in him the butt with a tranquilizer). Maybe this, maybe that. But it seemed like maybe these unneeded amendments might be handled and the good version voted on. Well, they were dealt with all right. They weren’t included at all.

And neither was anything else.

The final version, voted 48-0, banned gas chambers. But it left out the direct licensing provision. It included an exemption making it clear that anyone, you, me, Joe Puppy Mill, could shoot their animals. It exempts “normal agricultural activities” from the ban. This creates an interesting legal dilemma. Since the Puppy Mill Law requires breeders to use a vet to euthanize dogs but this bill says anyone may shoot their animal, which law would trump? Since it exempts agriculture, and puppy farms are considered to be agriculture in Pennsylvania, does this mean they can also now start using gas chambers if they all decide its “normal”?

This ambiguity makes it clear what is really be going on here and why this is a huge bluff being directed at those of us in animal welfare. The original bill posed a major philosophical problem for the Governor and the conservatives in Harrisburg. It actually created a new government bureaucracy to be in charge of direct licensing. It would require more oversight and enforcement by the Bureau- sorry- Office of Dog Law Enforcement. This runs counter to Corbett’s seeming effort to shrink the government through a death of a thousand incompetenties and to protect our citizens from government by stripping us of all our protections from everything else. Just look at the utterly unqualified people being selected for key positions. Look at the game of chicken being played with the budget of Dog Law and other agencies. Look at how even when he does appoint competent people to state positions, he ensures their ineffectiveness by not actually holding meetings and letting them do their appointed job. Look at how he refuses to enforce regulations on the books which would protect people and animals.

Why endanger that effort with a bill which creates a bureaucracy just to prevent a little cruelty? There was a better option in this game of poker. Bluff.

Strip is all away. Keep the vets happy. Keep the farmers happy. Keep the conservatives happy by not growing the government. Keep the liberals happy by allowing them to vote on a puppy hugging, feel good, so-stripped-as-to-be-meaningless gas chamber ban. Who cares what the animal shelters think? Corbett’s already screwed them over (after Rendell robbed the Dog Law budget) by cutting the tiny amount of funding provided to shelters by the state to do the state’s own job of dog control. Better yet, count on us to demand the bill be scuttled because it’s such a bad one and then they can all shrug and say, “We tried, but they shot it down.” SB 1329 simply became a way for everyone in Harrisburg to express their effectiveness at getting something, blocking something- whatever the personal political agenda may call for- and wrap it up with a bow in a bill which wouldn’t be signed even if it did pass both chambers.  Such bravery. Such unanimity. Such crap.

I say we call their bluff. Let’s demand passage now. Let’s force them to pass it and give them none of the credit for being courageous or bi-partisan. Give us our ban; we’ll give you no new “burdensome regulations” in exchange. We will know what they did. We’ll know how they put their tails between their legs and lived up to every negative impression the public has about our elected government. That is can’t be effective, that it plays games with our lives and livelihoods. That it puts dogma and ideology ahead of safety and need. Pass SB 1329 in the House. Get it signed by the Governor.

You may ask, “What about the problems with it? What will the shelters do?” The answer is simple. Let’s give shelters what they need to do it right. You and me. I will commit right now to joining with other qualified animal welfare professionals to create a non-profit management services organization (MSO), to be up and running by the effective date of the law, which will provide euthanasia by injection training by veterinarians and experts in the field. This MSO will provide access to DEA site licenses, oversight and insurance. This MSO will provide management assistance and audit support to ensure both the proper use of the drugs and techniques and compliance with all state and federal law, and will do it affordably for any who ask. The sheltering community in Pennsylvania has the capacity to do this. People like you have the financial capacity to make it a reality.  And it’s people like you who can help make sure the appropriate legal challenges are mounted when the next puppy farmer shoots all his dogs and points to this intentionally contradictory law as a justification.

We can embrace this ridiculous farce of a bill even while recognizing its shortcomings and the battles to come. We can bring an end to gas chamber euthanasia, no thanks to the brave men and women in Harrisburg. We can call their shameful bluff.

Governor Corbett and the Democratic and Republican leadership in Harrisburg: We see your bet. And we go all in. Now let’s see your cards.