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Thinking outside the box

Michigan advocate leads the fight to ban gas chambers

From Animal Sheltering magazine March/April 2015

Holly Thoms (shown here with her rescued dog Kayla) is the founder of Voiceless-MI, which funds low-cost spay/neuter and promotes animal-friendly legislation in Michigan.

When Holly Thoms saw that her local animal shelter was going to start euthanizing dogs because it didn’t have the staffing to care for them, she leaped into action. “I grabbed one of my friends and went down there and said, ‘We’re gonna clean up poop, you know—try and help out.’”

That was more than 15 years ago, but Thoms’ passion for helping animals hasn’t flagged.

Since that first volunteer commitment in the late 1990s, Thoms has broadened her focus beyond shelter walls to legislative issues. It started when she learned that the shelter where she volunteered was selling animals to a Class B dealer—someone who acquires pets from random sources and then sells them for use in research. Thoms, who lives near Lansing, joined fellow animal advocates, including HSUS Michigan senior state director Jill Fritz, and took the issue to the County Council.

“We had a big fight that lasted quite a few years,” says Thoms. During one session, her group rallied enough supporters to keep the council up until midnight. Finally, they were victorious, with the council voting in 2003 to prohibit the county animal control department from selling to Class B dealers.

It was Thoms’ first foray into animal activism, but it was far from her last. In 2009, she founded Voiceless-MI, an organization that operates a foster care program for homeless pets, funds low-cost spay/neuter services and fights for animal-friendly state legislation. In 2014, Voiceless-MI helped spay/neuter 1,107 animals, working to keep “The Mitten State” from becoming the kitten state. Using some of the community engagement strategies from the HSUS Pets for Life program, Voiceless-MI also provides services that help low-income Michiganders keep their pets healthy and out of shelters.

Thoms also created the Michiganders for Shelter Pets website as a central resource on issues affecting Michigan’s unowned pets. There, animal lovers can learn about current issues and how they can help.

Most recently, Thoms has lobbied to remove gas chambers from the four counties in the state where shelters still have them. Fewer than a dozen states are known to have active chambers—a method of euthanasia that The HSUS considers inhumane because it can’t produce a pain- and stress-free death in a shelter setting.

Thoms, Fritz and other advocates have been backing legislation known as Grant’s Bill, which would remove the state’s remaining gas chambers and require euthanasia by injection. Though it received unanimous support from the state Senate in 2013, the bill stalled in the House. Thoms is now working to get it passed in the 2015-2016 legislative session.

“Holly has incredible determination and perseverance,” says Fritz. “No matter how many frustrating roadblocks we come up against, she just keeps fighting.”

Learn more about HSUS efforts to combat gas chambers and more about Voiceless-MI.

About the Author

Kelly Huegel is a former staff writer for the Humane Society of the United States.