Delaware Makes Saving Lives a Priority for Shelters

shelter animalsDelaware’s Governor Jack Markell has signed into law Senate Bill 280 that sets new standards for animal shelters.

"Up until now, we have had no state standards of operation for animal shelters. Today, that changes, " said Governor Markell. "These standards put Delaware shelter regulations among the most comprehensive in the country, a legislative accomplishment we should all be proud of – we did this together. This new law protects our shelters, our pets and the people who love them, pet owners."

All five animal shelters in the state- Delaware SPCA, Kent County SPCA, Delaware Humane Association, Faithful Friends and Safe Havens Shelter – support the new standards.  Representatives from each shelter attended the bill signing.

Delaware state Senate Majority Leader Patricia Blevins (D-Elsmere), the primary sponsor of the legislation, said the law was drafted to ensure uniform standards for shelters, previously unregulated. State Rep. Melanie George (D- Newark) led the effort in the House.

Veterinary care

Highlights of the new law (attached below for downloading) require shelters to work with a licensed veterinarian to develop a protocol for veterinary care which must include an examination within 72 hours and certain vaccinations within 8 hours unless the animals is quarantined for rabies observation, has injuries, illness or "temperament that make administration of the vaccinations unsafe."

Animals held in shelters must be provided "urgent medical care as needed" and must be seen by a veterinarian "within a reasonable amount of time based on the condition of the animal".  Animals requiring treatment must have "treatment plans" developed by a veterinarian.

Animal shelters shall include a designated treatment area and isolation and/or quarantine areas. 

Shelters must try to find owners

Animals must be held in the shelter for 72 hours to allow their owners to find them.  Animal must be checked "for all currently acceptable methods of identification, including microchips, identification tags, tattoos, and licenses" Shelters must maintain "updated lists of animals reported lost, and attempt to match these lost reports with animals reported found and animals in the shelter, and shall also post all stray animals on the Internet with sufficient detail to allow them to be recognized and claimed by their owners." 

"If a possible owner is identified, the animal shelter shall make every reasonable attempt to reunite the animal with its owner.  Upon the owner’s or caretaker’s initiative of recovery procedures, the animal shelter shall retain custody of the animal for a five day period to allow for completion of the recovery process.  The owner or custodian of the animal may be held responsible for reasonable housing and boarding costs once the owner or custodian has been notified of the animal’s location, provided that the owner or custodian has been advised of such costs prior to the costs being incurred."

Shelters must try to find rescues or homes for animals 

It is often difficult for people who work during the day to find time to visit animal shelters that are only open during normal business hours.  It is significant that the new law requires shelters "shall be open to the public after normal business hours, including evenings and weekends, to increase access for the purpose of adoption".  

Animals that are not owner surrendered may after 72 hours be transferred to another shelter or rescue or adopted. Owner-surrendered animals may be transferred immediately. The new law requires the shelter to "establish and maintain a registry" of rescues, including breed rescues, where animals can be placed.  "Animal shelters shall have the right to inspect the facilities of any adoption organization taking animals from the shelter."

Under Delaware’s approach shelters must work with qualified rescues to place  animals but, unlike Oreo’s Law proposed in New York this year, the new Delaware law also helps ensure animals don’t end up in the hands of hoarders or substandard rescues. Under Oreo’s Law New York shelters would have been required to turn over animals on demand to any 501(c)3 designated rescue unless a staff member was currently charged or had been convicted of violation of an animal cruelty "statute". 501(c)3 is simply an IRS designation and has nothing to do with quality of care. Hoarders and substandard rescues can have this designation. Under a revised version shelters could inspect a rescue but only if the shelter is able to determine legally that the rescue is in violation of animal protection laws and even then must still turn over the animal unless criminal charges are successfully pursued.   

The Delaware law focuses on building working relationships between shelters and rescues to save as many animal lives as possible and at the same time ensuring that they don’t end up in a hoarding or other situation where they are abused or neglected.  

Before euthanizing animals, shelters must look at every reasonable alternative to keep animals alive 

The current law requires that animals cannot be euthanized for 5 days and under the new law, even then, shelters must look for reasonable alternatives and specifically, "shall ensure…[t]here are no empty cages, kennels, or other living environments in the shelter that are suitable for the animal; [t]he animal cannot share a cage or kennel with appropriately sized primary living space with another animal; [a] foster home is not available"; a rescue on the registry cannot accept the animal.

No animal can be euthanized until the "animal care/control manager certifies" the holding period has expired and there are none of these alternatives available to the animal.  

An animal may be euthanized, however, "to alleviate undue suffering or to protect shelter staff and/or other sheltered animals from an animal’s severe aggression or contagious deadly health condition.  The determination of whether euthanasia is necessary ….shall be made by a licensed veterinarian or, in cases of extreme emergency occurring after regular business hours in circumstances under which a licensed veterinarian is not available, by other appropriately trained staff".

Standards for euthanasia

The new law also improves the standards for euthanasia. Delaware law already limits euthanasia to lethal injection or ingestion of sodium pentobarbital or administration of chloroform. §§8001-8003. Under the new law the Dept. of Agriculture must issue regulations regarding acceptable methods, sanitation and ventilation. Each shelter must have a policy and procedure manual. Animals must be separated, held or supported and not left alone during euthanasia. Death must be verified. Sodium pentobarbital may be obtained by an animal shelter with required federal and state permits.

Keeping track of the numbers

There is also a new requirement for record keeping and reporting:  Animal shelters shall maintain records regarding the following information:

  • (a) Intake rate;
  • (b) Euthanasia rate including age (infant, juvenile, and adult), by animal;
  • (c) Number of adoptions;
  • (d) Number reclaimed by owner;
  • (e) Number transferred to other agencies for adoption;
  • (f) Number of spay/neuters;
  • (g) Number of animals in the shelter;
  • (h) Records showing the number of animals that died or were lost/stolen;
  • (i) Records showing compliance with vaccination requirements; and
  • (j) Records regarding medical treatment provided.

"The information in subsections (a) through (g) shall be posted to the shelter’s website on a quarterly basis.  The information in subsections (h), (i) and (j) shall be made available upon request by appropriate authorities."

2 thoughts on “Delaware Makes Saving Lives a Priority for Shelters”

  1. It gives them the right to inspect receiving orgs (and, one might assume, give them opportunity to report them to LE), but it does not give them the right to refuse transfer to any group willing to take an animal, 501c3 or not. That’s about as broad as it gets – a good thing, IMHO.

  2. It took a long time for the government to pay attention to the animals. It was a long time for people who tried to change the situation and give pets a possibility to live normal life, receive medical care and find new home. It took the time and effort from famous people actors and singers to attract attention of government bodies to change the situation. They had to speak, write and sing at to express their feelings about animals and make their position clear. Now government is ready to react and pay attention to shelters not as a temporary decision of the animal problem but as a real shelter to the small “citizens” of the city who need care.

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