By Jim Mackinnon
Beacon Journal business writer
MEDINA: Norma Houk, 84 years old and all of 85 pounds, picked up the sledge hammer as best she could and whacked a gas chamber that, for years, was used to kill innumerable cats and dogs in Medina County.
“It was wonderful,” Houk said Saturday afternoon outside the Medina County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. She was among about 30 people, some wearing “Ban The Gas Box Ohio” T-shirts, who hammered the gas chamber as part of a fundraiser for the SPCA.
Houk thought back to 1968, when she and her husband, David, had just moved to Seville and their beloved show dog German Shepherd, Count, went missing.
For almost a full year she went to the animal shelter on what she called “killing day” – every Wednesday – to make sure Count wasn’t among the ones being put to death.
Each time, the animal control officer would back up a truck and run the exhaust hose into concrete chambers holding animals to let the fumes do their work, she remembered.
“And I’d hear those animals. I can still hear them. I still cry for them,” Houk said.
Saturday’s demolition party raised hundreds of dollars, on top of an anonymous $10,000 donation, said Stephanie Moore, executive director of the Medina County SPCA.
The 20-year-old gas chamber, which used carbon monoxide gas to kill animals, could hold as many as 30 cats, Moore estimated. The county commissioners sold the gas chamber to the SPCA for the fundraiser. The now-hammered device will be taken away as scrap.
“It puts an end to a very barbaric way to euthanize animals” Moore said. The more humane way now is to inject animals with sodium pentabarbital, she said.
Just five other Ohio counties still use these kind of gas chambers, Moore said.
“We can’t save them all,” Moore said. But if an animal must be killed, it needs to be done with humanity and dignity, she said.
As for the Houks, they were eventually reunited with Count.
A sheriff found the animal, badly abused and shot, and took Count to a veterinarian. They had the dog returned to them, Mrs. Houk said. They believe he had been stolen, she said.
“He only lived for two months after that. But we had him back,” she recalled. “We didn’t give up.”
And so she and her husband came out to the SPCA fundraiser to take a shot at the gas chamber.
“I just had to make up for all those animals they killed,” Mrs. Houk said.
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or email@example.com