Requiring Rescue Access to Shelters

cat in shelterIn New York and other states, bills have been introduced that would generally require public animal shelters to release to rescue organizations animals that would otherwise be euthanized.

California’s Hayden Law enacted in 1998 was the first such law in the U.S. Hayden Law is a number of interrelated laws designed to implement the state’s policy "that no treatable animal should be euthanized. A treatable animal shall include any animal that is not adoptable but that could become adoptable with reasonable efforts".  

"Adoptable animals include only those animals eight weeks of age or older that, at or subsequent to the time the animal is impounded or otherwise taken into possession, have manifested no sign of a behavioral or temperamental defect that could pose a health or safety risk or otherwise make the animal unsuitable for placement as a pet, and have manifested no sign of disease, injury, or congenital or hereditary condition that adversely affects the health of the animal or that is likely to adversely affect the animal’s health in the future." Cal. Civil Code §1834.4

To that end, Hayden Law contains provisions to require shelters to extend the holding or redemption period prior to euthanasia, make efforts to find owners of lost animals, extend their hours, provide "necessary and prompt" veterinary care, adequate nutrition, water and shelter; and make sure cats are truly feral and not simply frightened.

Hayden Law also requires shelters to release any "stray" dog or cat including a feral cat to any non-profit with an IRS 501(c)3 designation that requests the animal. The only exception is for animals suffering irremediably.  (For information about current efforts to repeal portions of Hayden Law, visit this link.)

Twelve years later, Delaware enacted a law 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. The shelter also has the right to inspect a rescue to determine if placement on the registry is appropriate. No criteria for the inspections are specified.   

Bills, A. 5449-C sponsored by Assembly member Amy Paulin and A. 7312-C introduced by Assembly member Micah Kellner have been filed in New York‘s legislature to mandate rescue access to public shelters. Neither bill passed in 2012.

Bills similar to the New York bill, A. 7312-C, have failed in Rhode Island, Minnesota, Florida and West Virginia. A Texas bill, H.B. 3450, was left in committee and did not advance prior to the end of the 2011 legislative session but is expected to be re-introduced in 2013. 

In Rhode Island, for example, S.B. 91, would have required animal shelters "to maintain a registry of Rhode Island incorporated animal organizations, municipal animal shelters and private animal shelters willing to accept animals, including breed-specific rescues, for the purpose of adoption or long-term placement."

The registry would include the types and breeds of animals about which an organization wishes to be contacted and would "be available and accessible to the general public on the internet".

Under the bill before euthanizing an animal, the manager of the animal shelter would be required to certify that the holding period for the animal has expired and that there is no "reasonable alternative" to euthanasia because (1) there are "no empty cages, kennels or other living environments in the shelter suitable for the animal"; (2) a foster home is not available through another municipal or private animal shelter or Rhode Island incorporated animal organization; and(3) another municipal or private animal shelter or Rhode Island incorporated animal organization is unwilling to accept the animal.

As another example, a bill mandating rescue access was also introduced in MinnesotaH.F. 1735, by Rep. John Benson, would require all public and private animal shelters to maintain a registry of 501(c)3 rescue organizations which must be notified prior to the euthanasia of any animal. There would be no geographic restrictions on the rescues that could request placement on the registry. It would mean shelters could be inundated with registry applications from rescues all over the world. Shelters could be required to notify hundreds of rescues prior to the euthanasia of an animal.    

The only restriction on obtaining placement on the registry would be that the rescue’s current directors and officers must not have a past conviction for animal cruelty or neglect or face current animal cruelty or neglect charges; no court order can prohibit placement of animals with the organization. It is very difficult to obtain an animal cruelty conviction. Such a limited restriction could force shelters to put animals in the hands of other criminals or those who have violated animal protection laws or had animals seized or forfeited for cruelty, neglect or fighting. 

Rescues could be required to report monthly the  "total number of animals the organization has taken from the agency who have been adopted,
died, were transferred, were killed, and are still under the organization’s care". 

The director of the shelter would be required to certify before killing a "savable" animal, that the following conditions have been met:

(1) there are no cages, kennels or other "living environments" available; (2) the animal cannot share a cage or kennel; (3) there are no foster homes available; (4) none of the organizations on the registry can take the animal; (5) all mandates, programs and services under this law have been met; and (6) there is "no alternative" .

The certification would be in writing, signed by the director and made available to the public for 3 years. 

A "savable" animal is defined as one who is healthy or treatable and not a vicious or dangerous dog. A big loophole. Unweaned animals are also excluded if they are not in foster care, the shelter cannot provide supplemental feed and has made an emergency appeal to rescues for help to which there has been no response for at least 8 hours. 

H.F. 1735  contains a number of provisions otherwise regulating both public and private shelters: The bill would (1) extend and clarify holding periods in shelters and require efforts to find owners of lost animals; (2) add extensive requirements for shelters particularly relating to veterinary care, sanitation and socialization; (3)  mandate use of intravenous injection of sodium pentobarbital as the preferred method for euthanasia with the alternative intraperitoneal or intracardiac injections available under certain conditions and also specify protocols for humane treatment of animals during euthanasia; (4) prohibit refusal to place dogs for adoption based on breed and other animals based on "arbitrary" criteria; and (5) require shelters to track and report each month for public inspection the numbers of animals impounded, sterilized, adopted or transferred, or who were returned to owners or died, or who were lost, stolen or euthanized.