A stroke of Gov. Robert Bentley’s pen will turn Beckham’s Bill into Beckham’s Law Tuesday.
The bill forbids animal shelters in Alabama from using gas chambers to euthanize dogs and cats. Any shelter operating a gas chamber must dismantle and remove it within 30 days after Jan. 1, 2012, according to the law.
Shelters will have to use the injection method, which is considered to be more humane, although the law allows use of inhalants for small animals other than cats and dogs.
When it goes into effect next year, Alabama will join the ranks of the relatively progressive in terms of animal welfare, and leaves the state poised to climb higher in those ranks because of the way Beckham’s Law — named for a puppy rescued from a gas chamber — cruised through the Legislature.
A grassroots movement championed by a fledgling lobbying organization, Alabama Voters for Responsible Animal Legislation, or AVRAL, raised concerns over whether gassing animals is humane.
The movement is “a wake-up call” to the rest of the country that people in the South are concerned about animal welfare, said Mindy Gilbert, Alabama director for the Humane Society of the United States.
“There is a social network of folks who really care about animals and are taking steps to bring it before policy makers at the state level,” she said. “And it’s working.”
Alabamians have seen the plight of animals in their state for years manifested in roadkill and stray animals on roadsides, said Rhonda Parker, state chair for AVRAL. When the political action committee was formed in February 2010 by Jo Chamblee, it gave animal lovers who felt helpless and overwhelmed somewhere to channel their energy, Parker said.
A little more than a year later, the group has grown from a couple dozen members to approximately 5,000 members across the state, she said.
“They not only joined when they found out there was a way to make Alabama a better place for animals, but when they joined they joined with enthusiasm,” Parker said. “I’m sure legislators might say they’re a little over-motivated.”
Members of the group peppered their legislators with emails asking the lawmakers to support the animal welfare measure. Despite their persistence, the group’s members were regarded as “diligent and polite and appreciative” by legislators, said Rep. Steve McMillan, R-Bay Minette, the bill’s House sponsor. Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, sponsored the Senate version.
The legislators in turn were responsive to their constituents’ desires, as the bill had 49 co-sponsors and passed both houses without opposition. Their support was evident as McMillan approached the microphone to introduce Beckham’s Bill to the House.
“Before I could even explain the bill … everybody started yelling, ‘Vote! Vote! Vote!’,” he said.
All that remains is setting up the ceremonial bill-signing, which is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday.
It’s unlikely that Beckham will be at Gov. Bentley’s side, Parker said. The brindle dog lives with a family in Maine now and probably won’t be able to make it down on such short notice.
The governor was receptive to the idea of having a dog present, though, when McMillan asked him about it. But it has to be cleared with the staff.
Except for special-needs animals, dogs aren’t allowed in the state Capitol, said Wayne Hoyt, head of facilities. Dogs have been in the building before, and if there’s reason for it, Hoyt can likely get it approved.
Animals are known to occasionally “relieve themselves” indoors, and Hoyt said he was concerned about the special guest doing so on one of the capitol’s expensive Axminster carpets.
“It’s not the hardwood (or) marble, it’s the historical carpet,” he said. “It’s going to be very difficult to get that cleaned.”
Star staff writer Jason Bacaj: 256-235-3546.