New York’s Shelter Access Bill is Amended

cats in shelters

Update April 30, 2012:  The Shelter Access bill remains in the Assembly Codes committee and is unlikely to move forward this session.  


Update March 14, 2012: The Shelter Access bill, A. 5449 B, has been amended. Under the amendments, rescues are qualified as long as they can provide food, water, shelter, appropriate exercise, and necessary veterinary care and treatment; have a protocol for containing and managing contagious illness and disease; actively tries to find homes or placement for animals, and can keep animals safe and and so they are not at risk of abuse or neglect or for use in fighting or research. Pretty basic standards that will assure animals don’t end up in hoarding or situations where they are abused or neglected and instead have a chance for a new home or placement. The amendments clarify that the Shelter Access bill is indeed a mandate for shelters, that shelters must maintain a list of qualified rescues that they must contact and work with in trying to place animals that would otherwise be euthanized.

Shelters must work with rescues from their own county and any adjoining New York counties. The shelter is free to work with rescues located anywhere in the country.

The Shelter Access bill clarifies rescuers are free to complain about conditions in the shelter or anything else really as long as they don’t disrupt or interfere with lawful operations. This is a typical standard used to assure First Amendment freedoms while protecting the shelter’s operations from disruption or interference.

The Shelter Access bill also clarifies the time frames when shelters must act. The shelters must check tags and other possible identification on an animal within 24 hours and contact with owners must be initiated within that period. In fact, the bill provides the holding period does not begin to run until the required steps have been taken to identify the owner and information about the animal has been made public. Also, an animal must be inspected promptly and promptly provided with care including necessary veterinary care and treatment to alleviate suffering. 

If a rescue is found ineligible for the list, shelters must provide the statement of specific reasons for this within 10 business days. Rescues would have a chance to fix any problems and shelters must conduct any re-inspection within 45 days. 

The Shelter Access bill has always required shelters to make the list of rescues public and provide in writing the specific reasons, including a description of any act or omissions, as to why the rescue is not eligible for the list. The rescue is free to disseminate that written statement. The rescue has the right to correct any deficiency and be considered again for the list.

Rescues have enforceable rights of access under the Shelter Access bill. This is very different than the Delaware law passed in 2011 that requires shelters to maintain a list, but shelters have complete discretion to determine which rescues are placed on the list; no rescue has any right in Delaware to be on the list and is not entitled to any statement from the shelter as to the reasons.  

The New York Shelter Access bill provides a strong framework that will require shelters and rescues to cooperate in saving lives. 

Because the focus of the bill should be shelter access, the bill no longer makes any attempt to amend the section of the code that addresses when euthanasia should be performed during the hold period. The current law will remain in effect, and any amendments are best left to a separate bill as the concern and focus of this bill is shelter access. 

As it always has, the Shelter Access bill would require shelters to contact all eligible rescues on the list prior to euthanasia of an animal in an effort to try to find a placement for the animal.  The shelter would be required to maintain records of these contacts. In fact, before an animal can be euthanized, the shelter would  be required to certify in writing that every eligible rescue was contacted and either did not respond or could not take the animal. 

Also, the amended version of the bill retains the requirement that for the first time means shelters in New York would be required to check tags, scan for micro-chips, check stolen dog reports and take other steps to identify owners of lost or stray animals. In addition, shelters would be required to make public a photo and description of the animal. For the first time in New York, the redemption period would be extended for all animals when an owner is identified, not just dogs. The idea is to make sure every lost animal that ends up in a shelter is given every chance to be reunited with his or her family.

The goal of this bill is not shelter reform. The idea is to get animals out of shelters. This purpose of this bill is simply shelter access. At the same time, in most New York communities are the first rescuer for animals that are lost, abandoned or in need. It is the job of shelters to protect animals from harm and also follow protocols to prevent spread of disease. Their job is to provide care and protection until the animal can be reunited with his or her family or put in a new home or other long-term placement. Eligible rescues can help shelters by taking animals and finding homes or long-term placement for them.  The idea is for them to work together to get animals out of shelters. The Shelter Access bill sets up the framework to require access for them to do that, without compromising the responsibilities of a shelter to the public or jeopardizing the health and safety of animals. 

The Shelter Access bill remains pending before the Codes Committee of the New York Assembly. 

For more on the history of this bill and the earlier version, read Animal Law Coalition’s reports below. 

Update February 15, 2012: The New York Assembly Agriculture Committee has approved AB 5449-A by a vote of 16-4. The bill now goes to the Assembly’s Codes Committee. Codes Committee Chair Joseph Lentol has said he will hold the bill, however. This despite that proponents of the bill worked closely with Codes Committee staff which, in fact, directed subtantial changes that were made to the bill earlier.  

Original report: Ideally, shelters that take in animals impounded as abandoned or lost, seized for neglect or cruelty, or surrendered, work with private animal welfare organizations to find them new homes or caregivers. Yet, millions of animals are still euthanized every year in the U.S. in shelters.

There has been a lot of finger pointing, and an angry and divisive debate of sorts as to why this is. Of course, the 500 lb gorilla in the room is the persistent lack of free or affordable spay/neuter particularly in inner city and rural areas. But a contingent of public shelters and animal welfare organizations and rescues have come together in New York to support a bill offered by Assembly Member Amy PaulinA. 5449-A that offers a framework for cooperation between shelters and rescues to make sure all reasonable efforts are being made to reunite lost pets with their families or caregivers; and find homes or places for other animals in shelters.  For a comparison of this bill with other New York bills requiring rescue access…..  

Rescue list

Shelters in New York would be required to maintain a list of approved animal rescue organizations willing and able to accept animals for the purpose of adoption, or placement, including breed specific rescues.

It would be simple: The list would include the name and contact information for each approved organization, the types and breeds of animals they accept, and any resources they have available such as veterinary, rehabilitative or other care; care for special needs animals, training or behavior modification programs, or appropriate sanctuary or long term placement.

Each shelter would include on the list rescues from the county where the shelter is located or adjoining NY counties. A rescue could be approved for some animals and not for others. Shelters that take in less than 100 animals each year are not required to maintain more than 3 rescues on the list.

The rescuers would qualify by submitting and maintaining current contact information and proof of their IRS 501c3 designation and by demonstrating during an inspection, if the shelter decides to ask for one, that they have the resources to provide the following for the animals:

clean, sanitary and appropriate shelter; food, water, appropriate exercise, necessary veterinary care and treatment, including parasite control and vaccinations; and a safe environment; a protocol for containing and managing contagious illness and disease, an active adoption or placement program or facilities for long term placement, the ability to manage animals to minimize risk of injury to the animals and the public, and manages its operations so that animals are
not  at 
risk  for  abuse 
or neglect 
or  for  use in animal fighting or research,
experimentation or testing. The rescue can be rejected or removed from the list if the staff or directors has knowingly made any material
misrepresentations or material false statements to the shelter or engages in behavior  that 
is  abusive  to  the  shelter’s staff or disrupts or interferes with the shelter’s  lawful  operations.

The 501c3 designation is important to keep out pet dealers or puppy mills. Under current New York law, unfortunately, pet dealers can pose as rescuers fairly easily.  The founders, directors, employees or regular volunteers of rescues with felony convictions, convictions for violent crimes, or who have violated animal cruelty or protection laws or are currently facing such charges, or had animals removed from their care, would not be eligible for the rescue list. Nor would rescuers who sell animals for research or those who knowingly provide false information in connection with the list or obtaining animals from the shelter. There is also a requirement that rescuers avoid abusive behavior and not disrupt or interfere with lawful shelter operations.

The shelters will be able to inspect the rescuers, including foster homes, at reasonable times just to be sure they can provide the basic care requirements.

Approval to be on the list could not be unreasonably withheld. Inspection reports would be in writing and disclosed only to the rescuers. Any reasons for withholding approval must be specifically stated in writing and the rescuers would have an opportunity to correct any problems and obtain approval though shelters would not be required to consider a rescue more than twice annually. The list would be made known to staff and the public.

The current law would be expanded to allow euthanasia in cases where a "veterinarian shall certify in writing, or if two reputable citizens called …find:..(1)  it is necessary to alleviate "a deadly, contagious health condition"; (2) where animals have been accepted from owners only for the purpose of humane euthanasia, or (3) where the animal is "so maimed, diseased, disabled, or infirm" that the animal is suffering irremediable physical or psychological pain and should be euthanized. Otherwise, no animal held by a shelter could be euthanized except as follows:

The director or designated representative must certify in writing or show a record that all eligible rescuers on the list were contacted and none could take the animal or failed to confirm they could take the animal, or the rescue failed to pick up the animal, by the end of the redemption period or after two days, whichever is longer.

Shelters are not required to contact rescues for animals that they are not approved to accept, but they must contact every rescue approved for the particular animal to be euthanized. Dogs declared dangerous would only be required to be placed with rescues who meet the requirements for keeping such dogs. Rescues must be able to demonstrate they can manage animals that present a risk of injury to the public.

These certifications would be available to the public upon request. The shelter may charge a reasonable adoption fee for each animal transferred to a rescuer, but the fee cannot be more than the fee charged to adopters.

Delaware enacted a law last year in 2010 that requires shelters to maintain a registry of animal rescue organizations that the shelter director must verify were contacted prior to euthanasia of animal and given a chance to rescue the animal. Under Delaware’s law, the shelter alone in its sole discretion decides whether a rescue can be on the registry. There is no limit to the Delaware shelter’s discretion in making that decision and no right of any rescue to be on the registry.  

This bill, New York A.B. 5449, goes further in requiring 501c3 rescues to be placed on the registry if they meet certain basic criteria for the care and control of animals, do not provide false information in relation to the registry or obtaining animals, do not have employees or regular volunteers with a criminal history related to animals or other felonious conduct or who had animals seized from them; and are located within a reasonable geographic area. Not much to ask to make sure animals don’t end up in the wrong hands. 

Also, unlike the Delaware law, New York’s A.B. 5449 would require shelters to state specifically in writing why the rescue doesn’t qualify for the registry and what they need to do to qualify. The written reasons must be given to the rescue who has a chance to try again.    

Helping people find lost pets  

There’s more. Under this bill, A.B. 5449-A, dog control officers, peace officers, societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals, humane societies, animal shelters and pounds, would be required to (1) check animals for "all currently possible forms of identification" including tags, micro-chips, tattoos, etc., and contact owners or caregivers, (2) check reports of lost or stolen animals, and (3) make available to the public on a website or in some way, a photograph, if practicable, and a general description of the animal.

Vaccinations and emergency care to relieve pain and suffering

The shelters would be required to (1) examine animals "as soon as practicable" to ensure they are provided with care and treatment to relieve any pain and suffering, including providing immediate necessary care and treatment; and also (2) provide parasite control and appropriate vaccinations.