Proposed Legislation in MA Would Impact Shelters, Rescues and Fosters

Massachusetts is considering a set of state regulations that would subject foster homes to inspection by the Department of Agriculture, require rescue groups to register with the state every 12 months and establish minimum standards of care for shelters, rescues and foster homes.  These standards of care include:

  • Animals must be removed from cages during disinfection which is required “periodically and always before introducing a new animal.”
  • Animals must be kept clean and dry.
  • Veterinary care must be provided in a timely manner.
  • Animals must be allowed exercise outside their cages “regularly” and “be housed in compatible groups without overcrowding”.
  • Facility must maintain a temperature between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, including offsite adoption events.

Some additional notes from the proposed regulations:

  • Wire cage flooring is acceptable provided it meets some vague criteria.
  • Euthanasia must be performed by a veterinarian or a trained individual under the direction of a vet in accordance with AVMA guidelines.
  • “No Organization may offer for sale, advertise, or transfer” any animal who tests positive for heartworm or shows signs of other internal or external parasites.
  • Groups wanting to import dogs and cats must register every 12 months with the state.  Imported dogs and cats must have an Official Certificate of Veterinary Inspection issued by a vet in the animal’s state of origin and must have been recently vaccinated.  Imported pets, other than owner surrenders from the New England states and New York, must be taken upon arrival to an isolation facility for 48 hours.  After the mandatory isolation period, the pet must be taken to a vet and receive a health certificate in order to be released from isolation.

Some MA animal welfare groups are unhappy with the proposed regulations.  If you live in MA, you have very little time left to make your voice heard:

The Department of Agriculture says it wants to hear your opinion on the proposed rules. You have until October 8th to give the state your feedback.

[...]

If you’d like to send the Department of Agriculture your comments regarding the proposed regulations, please email Michael Cahill at: Michael.cahill@state.ma.us

(Thanks Clarice for the link.)

TX ACO Gasses Pets to Death, Cries When Activists Demand Change

The Mathis Animal Shelter in TX appears to be a catch and kill facility that is not open to the public for adoptions.  The police department oversees operations at the pound and Chief Byron Smith told an area TV news station that the kill rate is 99%.  The solitary ACO for Mathis, Jesse Lerma, has been accused of wrongdoing by animal advocates:

A handful of animal rights activists claim Lerma uses gas chambers to euthanize dogs, hand selects the dogs he wants euthanized based on personal vendettas, kills dogs that have already been paid for or adopted out, euthanizes dogs before the four day hold period, and may be selling dogs to pocket the money.

On January 1, it will be illegal to gas animals to death in Texas.  The police chief doesn’t give me the impression he’s interested in making any changes before that date.  The ACO’s response to the reporter’s questions doesn’t exactly reassure me either:

When our Elizabeth Hughes stopped by the Mathis Police Department for some answers, Officer Jesse Lerma fired back at his accusers. “They are trying to take over my shelter. If they want me to resign.. I will do that,” said Lerma.

[...]

Jesse Lerma also told us he wants to quit and left the building in tears.

I do not speak for the local advocates but personally yes, I’d like this ACO to resign.  Even if the allegations about retaliation killings, pocketing cash and killing before the hold period expires are never proven, the fact that he’s gassing 99% of the pets in his care is more than enough reason to my mind.  Get someone new in there, someone who loves dogs and cats and will get 99% of them out of the shelter alive.  I hope the local advocates keep pushing for reform.

(Thanks Clarice.)

History Rewrite: Miami-Dade No Kill Funding Referendum No Longer Will of the People

In Miami-Dade Co, a shelter funding referendum was passed overwhelmingly by citizens last November. The initiative would have provided nearly $20 million in annual taxpayer funding for programs aimed at reducing shelter intake, such as low and no cost neuter, as well as programs aimed at increasing live release such as an expanded foster program.

The vote was a non-binding referendum and therefore up to politicians to put it into effect.  Despite previous promises that they would honor the will of the people, the county commissioners and mayor have shredded the plan.  The Miami-Dade pound will now get zero dollars of the revenue brought in by a tax increase which people said they were willing to pay to help save shelter pets.  As a consolation prize, the mayor scrounged up 4 million “extra” dollars – not from any tax increase – to give to the pound.

[Mayor Carolos] Gimenez said that “common sense’’ dictates that more people oppose a tax increase than those who actually voted for it, and that he was listening to the will of the people in rejecting the Pets’ Trust proposal.

However, no one spoke against the tax increase during some five hours of public comment on Tuesday, and hundreds of emails to his and other government offices — a nearly three-inch stack, when printed out — tell a different story.

[...]

Among those who addressed the commission in person: Zoo Miami spokesman Ron Magill, his voice shaking with anger.

He said that as one of those who volunteered to raise their own taxes, he was “insulted’’ that anyone suggest he didn’t know what he was voting for, an argument that several commissioners made.

“I was keenly aware of what I was voting for,’’ Magill said. “Any one of you would love to receive [those votes], yet here we are still here today trying to convince you…It costs five times as much to euthanize an animal as to sterilize it.’’

The will of the people is overwhelming support for a tax increase to fund no kill programs at the shelter.  But the mayor doesn’t find it politically expedient to save shelter pets and so has determined that it’s only logical to believe that the will of the people is not represented by how they voted but rather by something he fabricated to fit his political career plans.  And he’s all for abiding by the will of the people.  The made up one.  Not the one in Uppity Reality Land.

The bottom line:

The mayor said [...] he was elected on a platform to shrink government.

Translation:  Doing the people’s bidding does not necessarily equate with votes.  And it’s all about the votes.  Shelter pets be damned.  More.

(Thanks Clarice for the link.)

Miami-Dade Commission Passes No Kill Measure

The Miami-Dade Co Commission voted unanimously yesterday to pass a no kill measure which was very popular with voters last year.  But it doesn’t mean an immediate end to the killing of healthy/treatable shelter pets.  Rather, it’s another yard gained in moving the ball down the field:

Commissioner Jose “Pepe’’ Diaz, the measure’s sponsor, said he would follow up with legislation authorizing Mayor Carlos Gimenez to budget the money that a $10-per-$100,000 property tax increase will generate for animal welfare, perhaps as much as $20 million annually.

And it’s not actually a full yard gained:

But missing from the final plan was a provision that animal activists considered crucial: dedicated, high-volume spay/neuter clinics in low-income parts of town with few veterinary hospitals.

The clinics fell on the chopping block when the South Florida Veterinary Medical Association voiced opposition, claiming its existing members could perform the additional 1500 spay-neuters needed on a weekly basis.  I’m sure they can.  But will anyone in the target markets be able to afford it?

The Miami Herald also reports that the Miami-Dade shelter has killed 30% of the pets in its care so far this year, as opposed to 40% in 2012.  Less killing is better than more killing – but it’s not good enough, and I am not sure when Miami-Dade intends to finally stop the killing.

I will be interested to see how the no kill measure progresses.  It’s unclear to me when county residents can reasonably expect to see any meaningful results – or even if such an expectation is realistic, thanks to the South Florida Veterinary Medical Association killing a key part of the plan.  It’s a shame the county commissioners lacked the commitment to follow through on their promise to let the voters guide the commission’s decision or the courage to stand up to the vets association.  The measure ultimately passed by the commission yesterday is not the one residents voted for and not what animal advocates said they needed in order to make no kill a reality.

 

Alabama Animal PAC Pushing Bill Which Will Save Zero Shelter Pets

My view that animal shelters can and should stop killing pets immediately is regarded by some as extreme.  There are many people who believe some period of time is required (months or years) in order to fully implement all the needed programs, personnel  and funding which will secure no kill for the long term.  During this transition period, pet killing continues, with a goal of steady reduction, and is regarded as a necessary evil.  I refer to this as transition killing.  And I wholly reject it.

There is an even more watered-down philosophy embraced by many animal activists which says that, “No kill can not be achieved until [insert your killing apologist claim-du-jour here].  Some of the many claims offered to extend the killing indefinitely are:

  • No kill can not be achieved until everyone spays and neuters their pets.
  • No kill can not be achieved until puppy mills are shut down.
  • No kill can not be achieved until we accept that we are all on the same team.

This tactic is nothing more than a carrot on a stick and it results in even more permanent damage than transition killing because there is no end in sight.  The date when any of these stated goals will be accomplished is never.  So when an animal activist embraces one of these indefinite delay tactics, what they are really saying is what they really believe, and what they hope to convince you to believe too:  No kill can not be achieved ever.  Again, I reject this philosophy entirely.

In Alabama, a political action committee called Alabama Voters for Responsible Animal Legislation (AVRAL) is lobbying for a mandatory reporting bill (HB 238) which would require shelters to submit annual intake and outcome numbers to the state. Failure to report is a Class A misdemeanor under the bill.  There has been significant objection to the bill from shelter pet advocates for several reasons, which I will cover in due course.  But suffice to say that the premise put forth by AVRAL seems to be yet another carrot on a stick:  No kill can not be achieved until we know exactly how many animals are in the system in the state.  From a recent mass e-mail sent out by the group:

In an effort to determine how many homeless animals need assistance in our state, [AVRAL] wrote the shelter and rescue reporting act, which simply asks for a tally of how many animals enter shelters/rescues annually, whether they are strays/owner surrenders, are adopted, euthanized, etc. The purpose is to define the scope and nature of the homeless animal problem in Alabama, it is a starting point from which we hope to assist shelters and rescues with their efforts. As I made clear, shelters/rescues didn’t create the problem, they are the ones left to clean it up. I urged everyone not to demonize shelters in particular: they are easy targets, but people tend to forget they didn’t put the animals there.

We knew shelters might resist releasing their numbers. What we did not realize was that certain groups—animal welfare groups included—would spread such overt lies and misinformation about our bill that we are left dumbfounded.

Although my gut reaction is to tell AVRAL to take its blame-the-public BS and shove it, I have to ask the logical questions which come to mind:

  • Who is going to pay to enforce compliance with this mandatory reporting which will make criminals out of any non-profit or municipal facility which fails to submit numbers?
  • Even if the funding for enforcement is obtained, there are still likely to be some non-compliant shelters so the true state totals may never be known – do we have to put off no kill even longer because of this?
  • For the sake of argument, let’s say every shelter in the state reports how many animals they are killing.  So what?  We already know shelter pets are being needlessly killed in AL, why do we need to pinpoint an exact number?  How will having that number change the need for an immediate end to the killing of shelter pets?
  • Why is AVRAL pushing a bill which does nothing to help save the lives of pets in shelters?
Dog #406248 at the Huntsville pound in AL, as pictured on PetHarbor.

Dog #406248 at the Huntsville pound in AL, as pictured on PetHarbor.

The Companion Animal Protection Act (CAPA) has a reporting requirement for shelters but it primarily outlines specifically how shelters must make lifesaving their primary function.  Minimum standards of care and access to the pets by groups willing to save them are key elements of CAPA.  If AVRAL wants to spend resources on pushing a bill, why is it ignoring CAPA in favor of HB 238 when its bill will not save the life of a single shelter animal?  Even if AVRAL doesn’t believe AL is prepared to enact the full CAPA, there is a modified version available, if what the group truly seeks is “a starting point from which we hope to assist shelters and rescues with their efforts”. CAPA clearly defines those efforts as saving the lives of shelter pets.  This is in stark contrast to AVRAL, which appears to define the mission of animals shelters as cleaning up after the so-called irresponsible public.

From the AVRAL mass e-mail:

HB 238 is a first step toward understanding exactly what we are dealing with, what we are paying for, when it comes to the tragic problem of companion animal homelessness. It is one of the most “common sense” bills ever introduced in the legislature.

I am not a PAC but common sense tells me that animal shelters should shelter animals, that instead of shelter directors doing their jobs they are killing the animals in their care, and that I don’t need to know the exact number of dead pets in order to demand an immediate end to the killing.  One is too many.  And since I know there is at least one, that’s all the information I need.  Common sense tells me that if I continually chase the “No kill can not be achieved until…” carrot, I will keel over before the lives of shelter pets are protected.  CAPA, or a modified version, would include the annual reports AVRAL desires but primarily would ensure that animal shelters do their jobs.  CAPA takes away shelter directors’ discretion to kill animals.  Common sense tells me that is a bill I would support.

Why are shelter directors killing pets whom rescue groups are willing to save? Because they can.

Many pet lovers are shocked to learn that most municipal facilities that call themselves animal shelters do not actually shelter animals. In fact, these so-called shelters kill pets rescuers are willing to save, because they can. More still are astonished when they learn that some of the private non-profits calling themselves humane societies or societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals are guilty of the same crimes against pets as the municipal facilities that kill pets who are wanted.

In the case of public facilities, pet advocates can and should petition their government for a redress of grievances. But historically this has been a mixed bag of results with far too many elected officials blatantly thumbing their noses at taxpayers who call upon them to force animal shelter staff to do their jobs. Our public servants delete animal advocacy comments from their Facebook pages, ignore e-mails and petitions, and refuse to meet with advocates in person. When they do address the issue publicly, it’s usually to give the pet killing facility a pat on the back while wagging their fingers at the “irresponsible public”.

When it comes to the private HS/SPCA organizations, well-meaning advocates sometimes believe they should report the needless killing of pets there to the “national” HS/SPCA, meaning the Humane Society of the U.S. and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The sad truth is that neither of these organizations is affiliated with your local shelter, even if the names are similar. Furthermore, HSUS and ASPCA are primarily fundraising organizations and will likely not intervene to prevent wanted pets from being killed by your local non-profit organization.

But there is a solution that addresses the needless killing of wanted pets, and offers numerous other protections for shelter animals, at both public and private shelters. It’s called the Companion Animal Protection Act (CAPA).  CAPA has already been passed in DE and has been introduced by legislators in MN, RI and WV.  Modified versions have been introduced in NY, TX, IL and FL.  More states will be announcing modified versions of CAPA on their legislative agendas soon.

CAPA 4_0001

CAPA lays out a number of important requirements for public and private shelters that include lifesaving, transparency and community participation.  Specifically, neither public nor private shelter directors would have the discretion to kill pets under CAPA without giving public notice nor would they be allowed to kill pets that a rescue is willing to take.

Too often on this blog, we hear from pet advocates who have been shafted by shelter directors committed to killing for arbitrary reasons and, in some cases, in retaliation for shining a light on their dark secrets.  Here is a way to do something about that.  Augment your existing animal advocacy (fostering, rescue, networking, etc.) with some political advocacy that will not only save pets’ lives, but help the people who love them too.

Do you want accountability, transparency and legal access to the animals in your shelter’s care?  If so, you want CAPA.  Talk to your state or local legislators about getting CAPA introduced to protect your community’s pets from those who are needlessly killing them, because they can.  CAPA would make needless and secretive shelter pet killing illegal, regardless of whether the shelter is public or private.  Under CAPA, we would not only protect the lives of shelter pets but the hearts and minds of pet advocates who currently suffer at the whims of directors, standing by their cabinets of Fatal Plus and scoffing at the so-called irresponsible public’s attempts to actually shelter animals.

TN City Enacts Pet Limit Law and Targets Cats for Killing

The city of Rockwood, TN recently enacted what sounds like a terrible anti-pet ordinance.  I wanted to read the actual ordinance but was unable to find it online so had to rely on the summary provided by an area news outlet:

Pet owners and advocates in Rockwood said they are upset over a new city ordinance that limits the number of animals they can have to five, and allows animal control to trap feral cats and stray cats, and euthanize them after three days.

The local news spoke to a woman who cares for 11 cats, seven of whom are feral.  She has trapped, neutered and vaccinated all but 2 of the ferals already.  But under the ordinance, she will have to choose which ones she wants to live (up to 5 total) and even then, the feral cats she cares for will still be at risk for being trapped and impounded by AC.  The only way for a Rockwood resident to own more than 5 pets is to obtain a kennel license and keep the animals on property in a commercial zone.  She told the news she is going to move out of the city.

“Our goal is not going out and trying to roundup all the cats in Rockwood,” said [Mayor James] Watts. “I hope people don’t think the city of Rockwood is an animal hater. We’re not. We’re trying to put the responsibility back on the citizens.”

The city of Rockwood should be trapping, neutering, vaccinating and returning feral cats.  They aren’t.  Instead private citizens are doing it for them.  Now the city wants to punish them and kill their cats.  This is putting the “responsibility back on the citizens”?

Watts reassured people who take care of their animals properly would not be targeted.

Really?  How can the mayor possibly reassure anyone of that?  The lady with 11 cats is taking care of her animals properly but she would be targeted under the ordinance.  As will any cat who walks into a trap set by AC, regardless of who owns or feeds him.  Traps don’t know whose cats to target.

Punitive legislation doesn’t work.  I hope the citizens of Rockwood demand that the city abolishes this anti-pet ordinance.

(Thank you Peter M. for the link.)

Action Alert: New Jersey

Via Nathan Winograd:

Legislation (A3825) has been introduced in New Jersey that would eliminate holding periods and allow shelters to kill animals immediately if the shelter determines, in its sole discretion, that an animal is not fit for adoption. Specifically, if “the animal is inappropriate for adoption as determined by the owner or operator of the shelter, pound or kennel operating as a shelter or pound, because of the animal’s medical, physical, or other condition, or aggressive or dangerous behavior.” The term “other condition” is not defined and there are no standards of any kind: http://legiscan.com/NJ/text/A3825.

A similar bill was vetoed by the governor in 2011 because it would have killed savable animals. Please contact the Assembly Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee and urge a No vote:

Assemblyman Nelson Albano, Email: AsmAlbano@njleg.org
Assemblyman Gilbert L. Wilson, Email: AsmWilson@njleg.org
Assemblywoman Marlene Caride, Email: AswCaride@njleg.org
Assemblyman Robert D. Clifton, Email: AsmClifton@njleg.org 
Assemblyman Ronald S. Dancer, Email: AsmDancer@njleg.org

Please share with your NJ contacts.

Discussion: Catch and Kill Pounds

Among the many shelters which I refer to as pet killing facilities, due to the primary outcome for animals there being death, there is a sub-category of places I call catch and kill pounds.  Some people call them “kill only shelters”.  But there is nothing shelter-y about them.

Basically – and I am making generalizations here for the sake of brevity – catch and kill pounds are municipal facilities used to house stray pets for the legally mandated holding period.  The facilities typically have one or more ACOs who will respond to loose dog complaints, set traps for pets, and possibly pick up owner surrenders within the jurisdiction.  There is no pretense of sheltering these animals.  The pets are not marketed for adoption in any way and they may not even be photographed.  The facility is not generally open to the public and adopters wanting to look at pets would never know these animals were in need of homes.  Owners searching for lost pets usually have to track down the ACO personally and arrange a time to meet at the pound in order look at the animals.  There may or may not be any relationship with rescuers or other pet advocates within the community.  But really, who would want to volunteer at a place that makes no effort to get pets adopted?

In the state of NC, legislators took the time to write and pass legislation requiring municipal shelters to be open to the public and to make unclaimed pets available for adoption:

(a1) Before an animal may be sold or put to death, it shall be made available for adoption under procedures that enable members of the public to inspect the animal, except in cases in which the animal is found by the operator of the shelter to be unadoptable due to injury or defects of health or temperament. An animal that is seriously ill or injured may be euthanized if the manager of the animal shelter determines, in writing, that it is appropriate to do so. Nothing in this subsection shall supercede (i) any rules adopted by the Board of Agriculture which specify the number of animals allowed for kennel space in animal shelters, or (ii) the duration of impoundment established by the county board of commissioners, or the 72‑hour holding period, as provided in subsection (a) of this section.

(a2) Except as otherwise provided in this subsection, a person who comes to an animal shelter attempting to locate a lost pet is entitled to view every animal held at the shelter, subject to rules providing for such viewing during at least four hours a day, three days a week. If the shelter is housing animals that must be kept apart from the general public for health reasons, public safety concerns, or in order to preserve evidence for criminal proceedings, the shelter shall make reasonable arrangements that allow pet owners to determine whether their lost pets are among those animals.

And yet there are reports of catch and kill pounds in the state of NC which are not in compliance with the law.  With no state entity apparently willing to enforce the law, municipalities get away with running a pet killing operation on the taxpayers’ dime.  These are your public animal shelters.  The ones who claim nobody wants to kill animals, they’re trying their best, and that the public is to blame for shelter pet killing.

Are there any catch and kill pounds in your state?  Do you have a state law requiring animal shelters to be open to the public and/or to make unclaimed pets available for adoption?

(Thank you Lisa B. for the link.)

Nobody WANTS to kill animals – CA Law Edition

CA state Senator Ted Lieu sponsored a pet related, HSUS backed bill that was signed by the governor in September and will take effect January 1, 2013.  Senator’s Lieu’s website makes the bill sound pretty good:

Neglected or injured animals will no longer be returned to abusive owners[.]

Pretty good, yes?  Hold your applause.

The bill purportedly fixes a “loophole” in existing CA law which allows for the return of seized pets under certain circumstances:

Specifically, the law states mistreated animals must be returned to the owner if the animal is physically fit or the owner can and will provide the necessary care for the animal. Because these hearings typically occur weeks after an animal has been seized, the animal is almost always “fit” due to the care provided by the animal-control agency. This means the agencies are then forced to return animals to the same harmful environment where they had been abused.

I am not seeing a loophole here.  What I see is a poorly worded law that allows a sluggish court system to dictate when the assessment of the abused animal is made.  It could be fixed by speeding up the wheels of justice (not likely) or by simply wording it such that the assessment of the animal is made at time of seizure.  The new law does nothing to address the time of assessment but rather replaces the “or” with “and”, requiring pets to be fit and the owner to demonstrate ability to provide care before a seized pet is returned.  I have to wonder how prosecutors in CA are able to secure animal cruelty convictions if assessments of the animals’ health are not made until the court case comes up on the docket.  This makes no sense to me and the new bill does not fix it.

In addition, the bill “would allow a seizing agency or a prosecutor to file a petition in the criminal action requesting that the court issue an order forfeiting the animal(s) to the county or seizing agency prior to final disposition of the criminal charge. [emphasis added]  The reasons given for this change are:

  • The cost of housing seized animals at the pound.
  • The cruelty of keeping seized animals in cages for an extended period of time.
  • The fact that pounds “have to” kill other pets for space taken up by the seized animals.
  • If the accused owner lives in an area with a pet limit law and has more than the allowed number of pets seized, the owner won’t legally be able to keep all the pets anyway, regardless of the outcome of the case.

This is a bunch of baloney.  It’s all a fancy way of saying that shelters aren’t doing their jobs therefore the state should be able to seize and dispose of property (pets) as it deems fit, regardless of the owner’s right to due process.

No shelter “has to” kill healthy/treatable pets.  Many don’t, in fact.  Only the ones that choose to kill do so.  If an owner is simply over the pet limit and not found guilty of animal cruelty, the owner should have first option to place as many pets as needed to come into compliance with the law.  Animal control can offer to assist with placement but no pet killing facility should be able to legally take ownership of someone’s well cared for pets without due process.

Furthermore, I see nothing to protect the lives of the seized animals and no mechanism to return the legally allowed number of pets to the accused owner.  It looks as if the law will allow the pound, or the state, to simply take every animal from a home and give the owner nothing in return, even if he is acquitted.

Thanks Senator Lieu and HSUS for another backwards law enabling shelters to kill more animals, even ones whose owners love and want them, under the guise of animal protection.  How humane.  We are the real humane society – small h, small sJoin us.

(Thanks Jan for alerting me to this bill.)

 

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