Despite a last minute poison pill added to HB 2630, the Gas Chamber Ban, which seemed intended to either kill the bill or punish good animal shelters, the bill was passed in the Senate, concurred in the House, and is on its way to Governor Corbett, who has indicated he will sign it. We are all still reading the 23 ¾ hour language changes but one thing appears certain: Gas chambers for pets are soon to be a thing of the dark past in Pennsylvania. Well, mostly. There were exemptions for vet schools and a few other places.
There were reportedly only four remaining in the state anyway, but these must be disabled under the new, soon to be law. The animal welfare community is very happy about that, as are we happy with the new direct licensing provision which will allow shelters to obtain a license directly from the state to purchase the humane drugs required for proper euthanasia by injection techniques.
Not so happy are shelters which now face a new unfunded mandate for training. Although all but four shelters in the state followed the old rules, which required that a veterinarian provide a license for the facility and supervise the euthanasia program, the new law will require that every shelter train every euthanasia tech under undetermined regulations to be promulgated by the State Vet Board- which was inserted at the last minute in place of the State Pharmacy Board- at the shelter’s own cost. A whopping 14 hours training.
That’s right, every shelter, not just the ones seeking a special license. So shelters like Humane Society of Berks County, which employ multiple staff vets who supervise the euthanasia program directly, and which provide a training program that takes six weeks, will now have to pay to get staff trained for a mere 14 hours, in addition. And we don’t even know what rules the State Vet Board- no conflict of interest there, do you imagine- will put on shelters like ours.
Anyone who thinks there is no conflict should just look to recent events in Alabama, where the State Vet Board, in a clear attempt to crush competition from non-profit vet practices, such as the one at HSBC and an increasing number of other shelters in PA, tried to ban any vet from working for a non-profit. It would seem drugs would be controlled by the pharmacists, yet somehow at the last minute the very vets who have complained about competition from shelters are put directly in charge of a major regulation impacting shelters at the very time that shelters are opening public practices. A mere coincidence, I am sure.
Do you know who else is probably very worried right now about this bill? The State Office of Dog Law Enforcement. If euthanasia training becomes expensive and harder to provide, euthanasia is going to be scrutinized much more closely by organizations which will need to ensure that they comply with the law, lest they be shut down by the Department of Agriculture or the State Vet Board. The simplest way to decrease euthanasia at shelters is to start dropping animal control contracts with municipalities and the State since strays account for the vast majority of euthanasia at increasingly crowded animal control shelters. What will the wardens do then? Better sign up for that State Vet Board training program fast, because shelters have been doing the State’s dirty work, already at a loss, for years. I have a sneaking suspicion that the number of shelters opting out of dog catching and killing contracts is about to sky rocket. I predict Pennsylvania is on its way to a wave of No Kill shelters. But you know those animals are going to get killed somewhere and it’s soon going to be Dog Law’s new Director’s job to figure out where. Maybe the vets of the PVMA will volunteer.
Finally, there is lots of praise going around Harrisburg for those who got this bill passed. I am certainly glad it passed. But it should have passed long ago and it certainly should have passed without the Vet Board and Department of Ag shenanigans. Congratulating the House, Senate and Governor for passing this law is like thanking someone for not kicking you each time they walk past you anymore. And with the unfunded mandates- and isn’t Governor Corbett and his party leadership supposed to hate unfunded government mandates?- they’ve stopped kicking us but poured their cold coffee on our leg when they walked by this time. That’s not bravery or leadership, it’s doing the very least they should do.
A victory to end the suffering of animals in gas chambers, to be sure. But another blow to Pennsylvania’s shelters, which pay millions in payroll taxes and employ thousands across the state and were hit like everyone else during the recession. I guess we needed another reminder of who holds the reins of power when it comes to lobbying in Harrisburg. It damn sure ain’t us.