Animal Rights
Animal Rights

Beagle Survives Gas Chamber, Former Owner Vindicated?

| by Phyllis M Daugherty

An entrancing, lovable Beagle-mix with a real will to live or an unusual tolerance for carbon monoxide survived a 17-minute cycle in a gas chamber in an Alabama animal shelter on October 3 and will soon be in a new home. 

But “Daniel”—as he was nobly named by shelter employees who likened his victory to survival in a lion’s den—is a young adult dog; and somewhere out there is the person or persons who had him since he was a puppy. Someone made a lifetime commitment to Daniel and then let him down.

What did Daniel do that was so wrong it caused him to be thrown away with no regard for what would happen to him?  On videos taken in the home of the rescuer who is now fostering him, Daniel seems very well behaved.  He certainly is affectionate—instantly pressing close to co-host Lara Spencer on ABC’s Good Morning, America as she stroked his head during the Saturday morning show.  It is obvious Daniel enjoys other dogs as he cavorted joyfully on the film with two other rescue dogs in his temporary home. 

So, why and how did Daniel get into an animal shelter? Was it because he was no longer a cute little pup?  Did his masters move away—leaving him behind, dump him in the street to avoid caring for him, or cowardly place him in the Florence, Alabama, shelter’s night box in the dark?  That’s where he was found.  But it is also possible that a kindly Good Samaritan found him, thin and wandering, and put him in the shelter box afterhours.

Certainly by now Daniel’s former humans have read or seen that he has become a “celebrity.” They also undoubtedly know that hundreds of people are placing applications to give Daniel a “forever” home.  Does that relieve the dereliction of their moral obligation to at least have taken Daniel into the shelter in person and provide information that might have helped him get adopted?

Is it OK that Animal Control Director Vincent Grasso--who spoke with great compassion about Daniel--and his employees were forced to make the sad decision that Daniel’s life would end at the shelter because no one was interested in adopting him before he became front-page news?

Daniel’s survival on October 3 has been called a “miracle,” but it can probably be explained by a number of practical scenarios that occurred after the door closed on the sealed chamber where the other dogs with him took their last breath.

It may be just as simple as the possibility offered by Phil Stevenson, spokesman for the city of Florence, “. that his breathing was shallow because he had a cold…” 

Dr. Elizabeth Boggier of Mountain View Veterinary Hospital in Rockaway, NJ, says, “Gasses have different weights, and perhaps this pet found an air pocket that was able to keep him comfortable and alive until they were able to open up the door.”

Julie Morris of the ASPCA, explains it also depends upon the concentration of the carbon monoxide and the health of the animal. Young, healthy dogs have the best chance for survival, she told the Associated Press.”

 Morris also described that, because carbon monoxide is heavier than air; it sinks to a lower level in the chamber.  A taller dog or one that climbed up on the pile of dead or dying dogs [Daniel is pretty “leggy”” and agile] would have a better chance of surviving, she said.

Stevenson reflected, “…maybe God just had a better plan for this one.”

Whatever the reason he was spared, Daniel is definitely among the chosen few. Shelter Director Grasso said he had only seen this happen twice in his eight years at the shelter and Stevenson recounted three times in 12 years.  

Obviously Florence is a city that believes there are sometimes reasons mere mortals don’t understand, and they have a policy of allowing dogs in these instances a second chance to find a home. They took Daniel for a veterinary examination and found there were no negative effects from his close brush with death.

Thanks to Lisa Schiller, founder and president of Eleventh-Hour Rescue in Rockaway, NJ, Daniel will get his second chance.  But Lisa is wisely looking for the right home to suit Daniel’s emotional and physical needs—such as, other dogs in the household because loves to play; and he also needs someone suited to his high energy level.

She is aware that many of the hundreds who have applied to adopt Daniel are caught up in the media attention and acting on impulse and emotion—one giveaway is that 50 percent are not interested in any other available dog. She wants to be sure she finds Daniel an owner this time who will keep him for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and health until death—a natural death, not being dumped in the shelter or on the side of the road, parts them.

As inspiring and heartwarming as it is to imagine this bright-eyed charmer wagging his tail and walking out when the gas-chamber door opened, we must not allow Daniel’s escape from death to be romanticized to the point of masking the tragic ending for millions of abandoned, unwanted pets all over the country each year who don’t walk out because our shelters are constantly overcrowded by excessive breeding and the results of irresponsible attitudes toward pet ownership.

Just because a puppy, kitten, dog or cat is adopted and is a great pet does not mean it is getting a lifetime home. Daniel is a perfect example of this.  

While we certainly want to celebrate Daniel’s life, is the media doing an injustice to the seriousness of this issue by glamorizing the “miracle” dog and not also exposing and discussing in depth why this tragedy exists?

 Are we giving the impression to those who need to accept greater responsibility for their pets—including Daniel’s former owners--that, because Daniel escaped death and he is getting a second chance, it is suddenly “all good”?