Follow the Money

July 8, 2014 by  

Why I Will Not Be Speaking at the FARM “Animal Rights” Conference

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“The Animal Rights National Conference is devoted to advancing the vision that ‘animals have the right to be free from all forms of human exploitation.’ The Conference does not welcome advocacy of continued exploitation of animals [even] under improved conditions, sometimes labeled as ‘humane’…” –Animal Rights Conference “Safe Space” Policy.

Early last month, I posted on Facebook that I would be speaking at FARM’s upcoming Animal Rights Conference in Los Angeles. In that announcement, I expressed guarded hope that the agreed upon terms of my participation in that conference—that I would be given an hour to share the No Kill philosophy and then show my film—might signal a change of heart by the organizers of that event, away from their historical embrace of people who advocate the killing of companion animals and towards an authentic embrace of a true animal rights philosophy, one that included the rights of companion animals currently being slaughtered by the millions in American shelters.

I am sorry to report that I will not be speaking. Not only was my hope misplaced, but the statement released by conference organizers that it “does not welcome advocacy of continued exploitation of animals [even] under improved conditions, sometimes labeled as ‘humane’” is a lie. The Animal Rights Conference continues to welcome speakers who promote “exploitation” under the guise of “humane” if those animals are dogs, cats, rabbits, and other companion animals. In fact, far beyond mere “exploitation,” the Animal Rights Conference welcomes those who advocate the systematic eradication of companion animals. It allows them to speak, provides them political cover, highlights them, inducts them into its hall of fame, and prohibits other speakers from criticizing them. Far from advancing the rights of companion animals, the Animal Rights Conference is helping ensure their continued slaughter.

FARM is trying to cover its track by claiming that I “added a last minute stipulation that no one proposing a path other than his could speak on the same day he spoke…” Like their “vision,” that is also a lie. It was FARM that broke our agreement—for the second time this conference and the third time is as many conferences. An 11th hour change to the schedule revealed that despite earlier and repeated assurances that I would be given adequate time to share my message (a one hour session by myself), my speaking time was cut and I was told that I would have to co-present with Merritt Clifton, a man who doesn’t believe we can adopt our way out of killing despite hundreds of cities which have proved otherwise, defends shelters that kill despite empty cages when those shelters are run by people he likes, and has made a career out of denigrating dogs commonly referred to as “pit bulls.” In fact, a recent issue of Time magazine includes a hit piece on dogs which prominently features fear mongering by Merritt Clifton.

Rather than present a workshop on how No Kill is an animal rights issue and how it can be—and has been—achieved, I would have to spend what little time was now afforded to me responding to Clifton’s assertions about the dangerousness of “pit bulls,” the inability to achieve No Kill through adoptions, and why empty cages—even if it means killing—is necessary. Only here’s the rub: I was also told I could not criticize him for saying so. And it is why, under these circumstances, I would have never agreed to speak in the first place. I pulled out when they changed the agreed upon terms of my participation, even after they admitted they violated our agreement, not the other way around.

Despite all the talk, sent to attendees and speakers alike, that the Animal Rights Conference is a “safe space” for animals where talk of “exploitation” would not be tolerated, attendees will be treated to two speakers who believe that “pit bulls” should be executed, that shelter dogs are dangerous to adopt, and that No Kill is impossible. In the case of speaker Ingrid Newkirk, attendees will hear from a woman who has trained her staff and volunteers to seek out over 2,000 animals annually, including healthy kittens and puppies, in order to inject over 90% of them with a fatal dose of poison. Newkirk believes that animals want to die and should be killed, that killing them is a “gift,” and shelters should continue killing, despite readily available lifesaving alternatives. This is not a “safe space” for animals as they claim. In fact, it is quite the opposite. It is to condone and encourage people who wish to school others in how to actively harm animals and deny them their most basic and fundamental rights, chief among them, their right to live.

Why are they doing this? Why invite me to speak, agree to conditions, and then break that agreement not once, but twice, at the last minute? Follow the money. PETA is a “Gold Sponsor” of the Animal Rights Conference and despite all the talk of ethics and “safe space,” FARM, the conference organizer, appears willing to sell out companion animals to the highest bidder.

This week, if you wish to find several people who represent the anti-thesis of what an animal rights movement should stand for, look no further than the “Animal Rights Conference.” And that is why one person who will not be found there is me.

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The Myth of Pet Overpopulation (HSUS Edition)

July 7, 2014 by  

 

At their national sheltering conference this year, HSUS’ Vice-President for Companion Animals admits that pet overpopulation is a myth; that there is a huge market for shelter animals that vastly exceeds the number of animals killed for lack of a home (17 million homes vs. 3 million killed); that we can adopt our way out of killing; and we should.

Though the supply-demand imbalance is actually even more pronounced in favor of the animals (they are using old data), nonetheless, HSUS says that it isn’t a question of ‘too many animals, not enough homes,’ but the need for increasing market share. Coming from HSUS, this is a revolutionary change, striking as it does, to the heart of the killing.

  • Watch the above 1 minute video excerpt where HSUS is finally making public the statistics revealed by the study, done on their behalf five years ago, showing how demand for animals exceeds the numbers killed in shelters (supply).
  • The whole 1 hour 10 minute video is available by clicking here.
  •  A review of the data is available from the No Kill Advocacy Center by clicking here.

Though No Kill advocates have endured years of ridicule and abuse for exposing the lie of pet overpopulation, one of its primary proponents is finally admitting that, in fact, it simply does not exist. The questions now become:

  • Will HSUS begin to address the true causes of shelter killing?
  • Will it force shelters to change the way they operate so that animals are kept alive long enough to get into those homes?
  • Will they stop promoting and defending the practice of shelters killing animals when there are empty cages?
  • Will they stop working to defeat laws that mandate all the programs and procedures that allow shelters to replace killing with alternatives?
  • Will they stop telling shelters that they are free to keep killing, rather than implement those alternatives to killing?

So far, the answer to all those questions has been “No.”

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Is HSUS Changing? And, If So, Into What?

July 6, 2014 by  

A Look at HSUS’ Embrace of “Open” Adoptions

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When it comes to HSUS betraying animals by enabling shelter killing, I often hear from their defenders that “HSUS is changing.” In fact, it is a retort I’ve been hearing now for better than a decade. Aside from being an admission of guilt, or at the very least, an admission of a pressing need for change, this statement, of course, begs the inevitable questions: Are they truly changing? How long is it going to take? Instead of a perpetual process of “changing,” why don’t they just change? And what are they changing into?

Here’s a case in point. For decades, HSUS defended shelters that killed animals despite rescue groups ready, willing, and able to save them. In fact, in the 1990s, HSUS specifically told shelter directors to kill the animals rather than transfer them to rescuers, stating it “would not recommend the transfer of animals to another facility for adoption… Transport and changes in environment are stressful for animals that are already experiencing stress from the loss of their home.” In 2003, for example, volunteers from a high-volume Virginia-based adoption rescue group offered to save dogs being killed in their county shelter. In a series of meetings with the county administrator and then-shelter leadership, they demonstrated not only how the group could save the lives of dogs in the shelter (by transporting them to private foster homes and then placing them up for adoption in more populated areas of Virginia), but save the county money as well: they offered to pay for the veterinary exam, vaccination, sterilization, transport, and adoption of these dogs. They had just one request: pre-killing notification to let them know which dogs faced death so that they could come and save them.

With their efforts meeting resistance at the local level, the group naively turned to HSUS assuming that they would help. Instead, HSUS sided with the shelter. In a meeting between the rescue community and local officials, HSUS’ representative argued that the rescue groups were trying to hold the shelter “hostage,” that their request for a “euthanasia list” was unreasonable, and that the partnership should not be implemented.

It is no surprise then that HSUS also opposed a 1998 California law making it illegal for shelters to kill animals when rescue groups were willing to save them. Thankfully, that law was passed over HSUS objections, saving over 45,000 animals a year—animals who would be dead had legislators listened to HSUS “experts.”

HSUS now says it has “changed” and supports rescue rights. But what does this mean in terms of HSUS policy and action? It’s not so clear-cut. For one, they’ve only championed such a view in California, where it has already been the law of the land since 1998; a law they long opposed and which was passed over their objection. Their alleged “embrace” of rescue rights in California is, oddly, a defense of the status quo. In other words, since it has been the law for over a decade and their friends who run kill shelters accept these provisions because they are well-settled, HSUS can support the law without angering those who run the kill shelters in that state. Because their allegiance is to those people, rather than the animals those people kill, and despite their claim to have “changed” their views on rescue rights, they continue to oppose it in other states to this very day. Several months ago, HSUS lobbyists killed a similar provision in Minnesota, helping to condemn thousands of animals there to needless death. Why did they oppose it? As HSUS itself admitted, they did so because a Minneapolis kill shelter, with which HSUS has long had a cozy relationship, asked them to. This policy regarding rescue rights shows how incomplete, disingenuous, and schizophrenic “change” at HSUS can be and it is not an aberration.

Late last year, HSUS released a “White Paper” that ostensibly told California shelters, among other things, that they should not take in healthy cats only to kill them. If they are going to kill them, HSUS wrote, it is better not to take them in. They have since repeated this view in other publications. As it relates to “feral” cats, they write, “When euthanasia [sic] is performed on healthy but unsocialized cats, it can be characterized as unnecessary, calling into question whether their deaths are actually humane.” Killing these cats does not “call in to question” whether it is inhumane, it is inhumane. Their language may be an improvement, but it remains cowardly, though prototypically HSUS. Moreover, given that they once called rounding up and killing these cats “the only practical and humane solution,” there was nowhere to go but up.

Nonetheless, given that they are telling shelters not to take in healthy cats, regardless of whether they are social or not social with humans, this would appear to be a welcome change from past HSUS positions and, at the level of rhetoric, it certainly is. But here’s the rub: after the White Paper was released, HSUS killed a law that would have mandated this and other “recommendations” in the White Paper when introduced in another state. Further, the White Paper focused on how to reduce the amount of work shelters had to do. In other words, rather than recommend shelters find homes for all healthy (and treatable) cats they take in, as successful shelters across the country do, HSUS simply told them not to take them in so they would not have to work to do so. In addition, they introduced legislation that would have eliminated holding periods for stray cats without identification, removing any right of reclaim for families whose cats ended up at the shelter. And finally, HSUS told shelters that they should feel free to continue killing the animals if that is what they wanted to do, or, in their own words, that HSUS recommendations “remain at the discretion of each community to choose whether and how to implement.” To HSUS, shelter directors have the right to continue killing animals in the face of alternatives if that is what they would prefer to do which most, tragically, do. Once again, it appears that HSUS wants to be all things to all people, giving to No Kill advocates with one hand what they take away at the behest of shelters with the other. Here’s how it plays out in the adoption arena.

One of the most dramatic changes in HSUS rhetoric involves new adoption recommendations, promoted in a joint presentation with the ASPCA to sheltering officials at their recent animal sheltering conference. The goal was laudable: getting more animals into homes and putting fewer into garbage bags. But, once again, the implementation fell short.

The ASPCA went first. After the ASPCA speaker admitted that she herself is not current on her resident animals’ vaccinations, she further stated that she once lied on an adoption application to acquire a dog from a shelter, including providing the shelter false documentation to do so. As I was watching the presentation, I could not help but wonder what the anti-No Kill zealots would say if I admitted to what the ASPCA speaker admitted to: lying on an adoption application, falsifying answers, committing fraud in order to acquire a dog from a shelter. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad that dog got out and I am glad, as the ASPCA speaker indicated, he died over 10 years later in her arms rather than 10 years earlier in a barren cell at the hands of cruel dogcatchers. And, of course, the larger lesson is more important: shelters do turn good homes away based on arbitrary and wholly unreasonable adoption criteria, while needlessly killing animals and the ASPCA, along with HSUS, are finally admitting that their prior positions defending those arcane policies have cost animals their lives.

Indeed, for decades, the ASPCA and HSUS defended shelters that did a paltry number of adoptions and had high rates of killing by vilifying No Kill advocates who were demanding better by saying that doing so would reduce the “quality” of the adoptive homes and put animals at risk. As far back as the 1970s, these groups, along with the American Humane Association, were telling shelters that only certain kinds of people were worthy of having pets. In a statement reeking with racial overtones, the groups claimed that past adoptions in “ghetto areas” were a failure, and that these dogs were now doing little more than “attacking children in schoolyards.”

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As recently as 2009, HSUS was still telling shelters not to adopt out animals during the holidays, effectively condemning a million animals a year to certain death. And in 2011, they launched a campaign to help shelters “educate the public” about adoption policies by creating a poster for shelters to hang in their lobbies. The poster featured a chair beneath a light in a cement room. The tagline reads: “What’s with all the questions?” Rather than ask shelters to reexamine their own assumptions which turned good homes away, HSUS produced a poster of what looked like an interrogation room at Abu Ghraib, instructing potential adopters to simply put up with it and further perpetuating the stereotype among shelter directors that the public is the enemy, rather than the solution. Three years later, they have swung the pendulum completely the other way, telling shelters that people who have made a decision to adopt from a shelter should not be turned away for three reasons: 1. Most people can be trusted, 2. Animals are being killed and they need homes, and 3. Those turned away will buy an animal instead; fueling the mill industry and, for some, putting the animals they acquire beyond the reach of spay/neuter, vaccinations, and other care.

You can watch the video here.

While I think the third argument can only be carried so far—a shelter has a responsibility to protect animals in its care—the truth of the matter is that shelters—and many rescue groups—do have unreasonable adoption criteria, which I noted in my second book, Irreconcilable Differences. In a chapter entitled “Good Homes Need Not Apply,” I wrote:

[M]any shelters go too far with fixed, arbitrary rules—dictated by national organizations—that turn away good homes under the theory that people aren’t trustworthy, that few people are good enough, and that animals are better off dead. Unfortunately, rescue groups all-too-often share this mindset…. People who do rescue love animals, but they have been schooled by HSUS to be unreasonably—indeed, absurdly—suspicious of the public. Consequently, they make it difficult, if not downright impossible, to adopt their rescued animals…

 

And, the number of people shelters turn away because of some arbitrary and bureaucratic process proves it. Like this experience shared with me a few years ago: “I tried to adopt from my local shelter… I found this scared, skinny cat hiding in the back of his cage and I filled out an application. I was turned down because I didn’t turn in the paperwork on time, which meant a half hour before closing, but I couldn’t get there from work in time to do that. I tried to leave work early the next day, but I called and found out they had already killed the poor cat. I will never go back.”

 

Shelter animals already face formidable obstacles to getting out alive: customer service is often poor, a shelter’s location may be remote, adoption hours may be limited, policies may limit the number of days they are held, they can get sick in a shelter, and shelter directors often reject common-sense alternatives to killing. One-third to one-half of all dogs and roughly 60 percent of cats are killed because of these obstacles. Since the animals already face enormous problems, including the constant threat of execution, shelters and rescue groups shouldn’t add arbitrary roadblocks. When kind hearted people come to help, shelter bureaucrats shouldn’t start out with a presumption that they can’t be trusted.

 

In fact, most of the evidence suggests that the public can be trusted. While roughly eight million dogs and cats enter shelters every year, that is a small fraction compared to the 165 million thriving in people’s homes. Of those entering shelters, only four percent are seized because of cruelty and neglect. Some people surrender their animals because they are irresponsible, but others do so because they have nowhere else to turn—a person dies, they lose their job, their home is foreclosed. In theory, that is why shelters exist—to be a safety net for animals whose caretakers no longer can or want to care for them.

 

When people decide to adopt from a shelter—despite having more convenient options such as buying from a pet store or responding to a newspaper ad—they should be rewarded. We are a nation of animal lovers, and we should be treated with gratitude, not suspicion. More importantly, the animals facing death deserve the second chance that many well intentioned Americans are eager to give them, but in too many cases, are senselessly prevented from doing so.

It is no surprise then that some shelter advocates are applauding HSUS’/ASPCA’s turn around on adoption policies. Certainly viewed in light of past policies, the presentation was revolutionary on the part of HSUS and the ASPCA and a welcome rejection of a nearly old century excuse that enabled shelter killing. But there are problems.

For one, I have never advocated “open” adoptions if we are going to define “open” accurately, instead of having it mean whatever we want it to mean at any given time. The closest I came was five years ago in Houston, Texas, where I had just completed a multi-day and ultimately 200-page assessment of the pound and found it rife with neglect, cruelty, and systematic killing. Here’s what I wrote,

BARC basically does “open adoptions,” meaning there is virtually no screening of any kind.

 

Successful high volume adoption shelters have proved that the notion that one needs to reduce quality of homes in order to increase quantity is one of the anachronisms of old-guard, “catch and kill” shelters who needed a way to justify a paradigm of high impounds, high kill rates and low adoptions. In fact, some of the most successful industries in the United States have excelled in a consumer market demanding high volume coupled with increasing consumer awareness, information and requirement for quality. These agencies are able to meet demand for both quality and quantity. Quality and quantity are not, and have never been, mutually exclusive…

 

At BARC, by contrast, screening is perfunctory, there is no real counseling, good matches are not considered as kennel attendants spend no time with the potential adopter or the animal, customer service representatives have limited information in which to match animal with lifestyle, and the cost is not inexpensive in an era of pet shops, “free to good home” ads, backyard breeders, and BARC’s poor location, facility, and bureaucratic procedures.

 

This is an area where volunteers have repeatedly suggested some form of screening to make sure animals are not just going into homes, but “good” homes. This suggestion has some appeal. And while it should ultimately be BARC’s goal, in the larger cost-benefit analysis, I think it would be a mistake to do so at this time…

 

BARC is not capable of adoption screening and the end result will mean the needless loss of animal life.

 

At this point in BARC’s history, the goal must be to get animals out of BARC where they and others are continually under the threat of a death sentence. And given the problems with procedure implementation at BARC, my fear is that the process will become arbitrary depending on who is in charge of adoptions. There is simply too much at stake for the types of staff I observed to hold even more power over life and death.

That is the choice BARC, by virtue of its rampant and systematic embrace of neglect, abuse, and killing, forced. It is not, however, the real or only choice. The choice is never any home or death. The choice includes a reasonably screened home which offers protection to the animal. In fact, I would go on to say:

When BARC has high quality staff, is consistent in applying sound policies and procedures, and has achieved a higher save rate—when BARC animals do not have a daily choice between life and death—it can revisit the issue of thoughtful screening to provide homes more suitable for particular BARC animals.

That is not, however, what HSUS is advocating. In a blanket embrace of “open” adoptions, they potentially leave the animals with no protection of any kind. Admittedly, this is a lesser risk, as most people can be trusted, and especially in light of a death sentence, but “either-or” is a false choice. Ironically, too, while HSUS now wants shelters to basically give animals to anyone, they continue to fight efforts, as they did in Minnesota this year, to allow incorporated, non-profit rescue groups, to have access to them. In other words, they would say “yes” to anyone off the street—including as they have to dog abuser Michael Vick who HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle said “would do a good job as a pet owner”—but give shelters the power to say “no” to non-profit SPCAs and rescue organizations that are dedicated to protecting animals and have never committed abuse.

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Nor do they stop there in failing to embrace simple, common sense protections for shelter animals. In 2013, Michigan lawmakers introduced legislation which would have made it illegal for shelters to adopt out animals to those convicted of animal abuse. By knowing the right lies to tell and which truths to omit, convicted animal abusers can acquire animals even from those who may be dedicated to their protection but are currently forced to operate in a state of ignorance simply because they lack access to valuable information that would help them make better, more informed choices about the animals in their care. The Michigan law, giving shelters access to a database of those convicted of cruelty, would have stripped abusers of this advantage and prevent future animal abuse with nothing more than a few simple strokes of a keyboard. HSUS opposes these laws, arguing that we must balance the rights of animals with the rights of their abusers, and tragically, the Michigan bill failed to pass.

A Lobbyist for Kill Shelters, Not the Animals Shelters Kill

Why? What is the cause of this seemingly schizophrenic type of policy? These types of contradictions only makes sense in the context of HSUS’ overriding philosophy that they are, first and foremost, a lobbyist for kill shelters, rather than for the animals those shelters kill. When you consider each of their actions in this context, the logical contradiction disappears. With shelters under increasing pressure to reduce killing, HSUS is now realizing they cannot stem the move towards No Kill, despite their best efforts to do exactly that. Their advice to shelters as to how they can appease critics by reducing killing without actually having to increase their workload becomes simple: don’t take in cats if all you are going to do is kill them and, as it relates to the instant case, don’t bother putting in place comprehensive adoption programs and thoughtful screening protocols, simply give the animals to virtually anyone who walks through your doors. Once again, like they did with the White Paper, they refuse to ask shelters to live up to their responsibilities by doing the (sometimes hard) work necessary to save lives in earnest.

That said, I do not want to be too cynical, because some of what HSUS (and the ASPCA) advocate in the video is actually good, quite good in fact, even if none of it is “new” as they pretend, given that many of us have been promoting those things for over 15 years over their objections. This includes, for example, an embrace of “fee waived” adoptions which have been shown to double and, in some cases, triple adoptions, without impacting the quality of the home (given reasonable screening). In terms of kill shelters, HSUS has a bigger bully pulpit and getting the animals the hell out of those facilities continues to be the prime directive in sheltering, as these shelters are the leading cause of death for healthy dogs and cats in the United States. If looked at in the context of the Houston recommendations, and putting aside the defense of convicted abusers and opposition to rescuers, the HSUS turnaround—with caveats—is enormously beneficial to animals and does, in fact, represent significant progress.

HSUS Admits Demand Exceeds Supply

It should also be noted that in that presentation, HSUS also admits that pet overpopulation is a myth; that there is a huge market for shelter animals that vastly exceeds the number of animals killed for lack of a home. More than anything else in the video, this is the most revolutionary change, striking as it does, to the heart of the killing, though it has received scant mention by anyone.

Though the supply-demand imbalance is actually even more pronounced in favor of the animals (they are using old data), nonetheless, HSUS says that it isn’t a question of “too many animals, not enough homes,” but the need for shelters to overcome two primary hurdles (there are actually more): the false belief that shelter animals would not be in the shelter unless there was something wrong with them and, more to the point, that shelter adoption criteria tends to be unreasonable. Once again, that is progress, a departure from the intentional blindness they have operated under for decades in order to defend the fact that shelters were needlessly putting animals in their graves. (The other reasons are that shelters do not keep animals alive long enough to get into those homes, they do not aggressively market the animals, animal lovers find it difficult to go to kill shelters because they are depressing places, that customer service is often poor, the shelter is located away from where people live, work, and play, and that public access hours are often inconvenient or non-existent.)

What has not changed, however, is their willingness to hold shelters accountable at the level of policy making. Responding to the pressure, HSUS is giving shelters a false choice: kill them or save them by doing nothing more than swinging the doors to the shelter wide-open. If that were the choice, I’d go with the latter. If those in attendance were as regressive as the Houston pound was the year I wrote my assessment, I’d embrace it for them, too. But HSUS goes further than ethics allow: HSUS doesn’t want any protections at all, including potentially adopting them to those who have committed the most egregious and wanton cruelty.

To achieve No Kill, to save more lives, that isn’t what we should do. There’s a reasonable middle ground between their “Abu Ghraib” approach in 2011 and their “free-for-all” of 2014. But that requires a smart, reasonable, and thoughtful balance between the need to adopt out more animals and the need to protect animals from harm—neither of which are mutually exclusive but should, in fact, go hand in hand. To fail to hold those accountable who portray them as separate and distinct, who claim that to end one harm we need to potentially enable another, is to not only allow animals to needlessly be placed in harm’s way, but to sacrifice the only thing that has ever pushed HSUS to a more progressive position: holding them accountable when they get it wrong, as they so often, and tragically, do.

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No Kill is Love Tour 2014

May 5, 2014 by  

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This summer, I’ll be touring the nation screening Redemption, a film about the No Kill revolution in America. In many of those cities, I’ll be following up the film with a seminar on building a No Kill community. And in still others, there will be an after party. It is all part of my 2014 “No Kill is Love” tour. Please join me in a city near you.

For more information, list of cities, and tickets, go to: www.nokill.org

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AB 2343: A Postmortem

April 29, 2014 by  

Assembly Member Mike Gatto Pulls Harmful HSUS Bill After Massive Outcry From California Animal Lovers

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If HSUS’ Wayne Pacelle and Jennifer Fearing had their way, cats (and dogs) in California shelters could have been given to for-profit companies. Thankfully, the bill was defeated. In an Orwellian response, Pacelle defends this effort, claiming those who opposed their bill harm animals.

Animal lovers in California can celebrate and breath a collective sigh of relief because Assemblyman Mike Gatto has announced that AB 2343, the harmful bill he introduced several weeks ago at the behest of HSUS lobbyist, Jennifer Fearing, has been pulled. The bill is dead.

As originally written, AB 2343 contained provisions that would have allowed for-profit companies the legal right to take animals on death row in California shelters in order to sell them for any reason, including, potentially, for animal research. The bill also could have stripped Californians who share their lives and homes with cats of the ability to reclaim them by allowing shelters to give those cats to others, including for-profit companies, immediately on intake if the cat entered the shelter without identification. If HSUS had had its way, any cat entering a shelter without ID, either because the collar fell off, a microchip scan failed or the cat never had one, could have been adopted out or given to individuals who want to sell the them, the very moment they arrive at a shelter, the very day the animal becomes lost, and before a family was even given the opportunity to recognize that their cat was missing, leading to destroyed families and great heartbreak.

In response, a massive public outcry from Californian animal lovers opposed to the bill flooded Gatto’s office and the California Assembly. Emails, phone calls, and a petition signed by over 5,000 animal lovers implored California legislators to reject Fearing’s disastrous legislation. Joining in opposition were shelter directors who were, in part, concerned that certain provisions of the bill would have required them to take people’s animals without due process (a violation of the Constitution that would set have them up for lawsuits). Given the almost unanimous opposition, the bill faced certain defeat and Assembly Member Gatto had no choice but to withdraw it. Whether or not a realization by Gatto that he had been misled and betrayed by Fearing and HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle played a role in withdrawing the bill is unknown. But in an attempt to salvage his reputation with Gatto and others, and to defend his incompetent lobbyist, Pacelle immediately issued a response defending the bill. The response is vintage Pacelle: duplicitous, confused, superficial, betraying an ignorance of basic principles of animal protection, and a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Despite the fact that AB 2343 was designed to weaken animal protection, Pacelle starts out by claiming that the bill was a sincere attempt to reduce killing in California. Second, he claims that anyone who challenges his corrupt agenda is divisive and therefore harming the animal protection movement. Finally, he claims that those who opposed Fearing’s bizarre, disastrous, and hopelessly bungled bill—which neither addressed the true cause of shelter killing nor attempted to mandate any of the protocols that have already allowed shelters across the nation to end the killing—were working to maintain “the status quo” by failing to allow for “new strategies” to “help animals facing euthanasia in the months and years ahead.” Given that Pacelle continues to ignore existing No Kill success, his statement borders on the absurd. In fact, given HSUS’ ongoing campaign to kill genuine shelter reform legislation across the nation (some of which have passed over HSUS objections and are responsible for saving tens of thousands of lives every year), that Pacelle would now co-opt the language of the No Kill movement to cloak an anti-animal agenda as a genuine attempt at helping animals is breathtaking in its gall. It does, however, show that Pacelle is under tremendous pressure to sound like a genuine advocate for an end to shelter killing. Unfortunately for the animals, Pacelle finds it easier to ignore existing No Kill, while remaining willfully ignorant of what it actually takes to achieve it.

And because of that, yet again, HSUS’ half-baked, ill-informed, and even harmful forays into shelter legislation required sincere and educated advocates including animal law attorneys and my organization, the No Kill Advocacy Center, to drop all our important animal protection work and work to defeat it. As UCLA Law Professor Taimie L. Bryant wrote,

[I]t’s worth reflecting on how much time and energy was expended on a bill that was massively confusing, complex, and riddled with unintended consequences. I was particularly sobered by the posting on Sutter’s Friends of a rabbit rescuer who expressed concern about the “for-profit” provision in AB 2343. How much more helpful to rabbits could that person have been if she had not had to worry about this harmful legislation? Similarly, the day before the bill appeared in its true form, my students and I had had the opportunity to work with a talented attorney who has the experience and thoughtfulness to help us develop a proposal for a new way of conducting dangerous dog hearings. Instead of using the weekend to put together the ideas that came out of that session, I had to drop everything to address as quickly as possible the most dangerous aspects of AB 2343. Shelter managers, leaders of shelter organizations, and leaders of local and national animal protection organizations had to drop the work they were doing, as well, in order to begin work on AB 2343. Individuals concerned about early reports on AB 2343 started reacting quickly by sending comments to members of the Local Government Committee. All of that time and energy was diverted from activities that could have enriched all of our lives and the lives of those we care about, including animals.

Despite Pacelle’s ignorant assertions to the contrary, we don’t need to experiment with deadly legislation to determine how to end the killing in animal shelters. We already know how to do so and we already have legislation that has proven to dramatically decrease it. So why don’t we have more laws like it? Because HSUS won’t let us pass these bills, banding together time and again with regressive kill shelters, to defeat them.

As early as last month, Jennifer Fearing ordered an HSUS lackey in Minnesota to kill legislation in that state which, among various other proven and necessary improvements, would have ended heart sticking, banned the gas chamber, and mandated rescue access—a provision which HSUS opposed when it passed in California but has increased lifesaving in that state by 370%. In places where true shelter reform laws introduced by No Kill advocates have passed, they have been wildly successful. In Austin, Texas, a local ordinance mandating that the local shelter stop convenience killing in favor of the programs and services of the No Kill Equation led to save rates of over 90%. Did the Fearing bill contain any of the provisions that allowed Austin to achieve this immediate success? No. In Delaware, a similar law that passed in that state in 2010 has already decreased killing by a whopping 78% statewide. Did the Fearing bill contain any of the provisions that allowed for such a dramatic, statewide decline in killing? No. Neither Austin nor Delaware nor any of the other several hundred communities that have ended the killing got there by stripping families of the right to reclaim their lost animals or by mandating the release of shelter animals to for-profit groups who sell dogs and cats. And why would they? Neither of these things have anything to do with addressing the true cause of shelter killing: directors who are content to go on killing in the face of proven, viable, lifesaving alternatives; alternatives Pacelle and Fearing continue to tell shelter directors they could go on ignoring if that is what they prefer to do.

Even though the bill could have had disastrous consequences for animals had Pacelle and Fearing had their way, and I in no way wish to diminish the irresponsibility of attempting to do so, there is a silver lining to this entire debacle and it is this: while HSUS staffers and Pacelle continue to behave as though it is still 20 years ago before the advent of the modern No Kill movement, continue to wallow in failure and engage in wilful blindness to the solution the rest of us have embraced with enthusiasm, and while they continue to parrot the charade that ending shelter killing (or, as Pacelle still archaically and euphemistically likes to call it, “euthanasia”) is a disease for which there is no cure, Pacelle can no longer cavalierly celebrate the status quo. He has to at least pretend that he thinks it is unacceptable and that HSUS is trying to do something about it.

As No Kill advocates seek to reform their cruel, kill-happy shelters by openly and publicly exposing them—an act HSUS once successfully kept in check by maligning as heresy—HSUS is no longer asking us to join them in celebrating the institutions responsible for the systematic killing of millions of animals every year. Gone is the language of “pet overpopulation;” gone is their promotion of “National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week.” In their place is language finally recognizing that which No Kill advocates have known and been seeking to address for nearly two decades now: that it is our shelters that need reforming, not the American public. Yet, tragically, while HSUS’ language may be changing due to our intense pressure, their actions, as AB 2343 demonstrates, have yet to. HSUS is still asking us to join them on Fantasy Island, though one of a different kind. While we are no longer directed to pass the blame to the public and accept the killing as a “kindness,” we are asked to believe that while our shelters need reforming, we have no idea how we can do so and therefore must “experiment” with “new strategies.” This is a new and different kind of lie for Pacelle, but it is just as deadly and just as defeatist all the same.

As we bury HSUS’ dead legislation, I want to close this latest chapter in the tragic and ongoing “HSUS vs. the No Kill Movement” story with a postmortem. We learn from the past by studying it so that in the future, we can be wiser and better prepared to face its challenges. As HSUS evolves its strategy, as it seeks to co-opt the language of the movement to end shelter killing but not its mission, we must be on guard against Pacelle’s efforts to cloak his disingenuous and dangerously misinformed agenda in the mantel of No Kill. Following is a response to Pacelle’s ongoing, yet evolving, pattern of duplicity:

According to Pacelle, “Giving shelters the option to move much faster on adoption and transfer to rescues when they are handling cats without identification is a novel, progressive step forward. Cats in this class are very unlikely to be reclaimed by owners – for 15 years, the reclaim rate in California has stood at two percent. We can give 10 times that number of cats a much better chance at survival by moving them out soon after intake, rather than forcing shelters to hold them for a set number of days before making them available.”

Pacelle doesn’t tell you why such a small percentage of cats are reclaimed by their families because he doesn’t know himself, which is why AB 2343 would have made things worse. First, more cats are not reclaimed because shelters kill them before their families have a reasonable chance to find them. In California, the existing holding period is a paltry 72 hours. Only one state has a holding period lower than California. The answer here is to increase the holding period, not shorten it. Second, there are many reasons why cats end up at shelters as strays, but a number of them are not even lost. Frequently, they are taken to the shelter by neighbors or others who assume they are lost when they are not. Once again, these cats are killed because of the inadequate holding period and not because there is no one to claim them. Third, low return rates for cats are also caused by misguided lost and found techniques on the part of an uninformed family, because shelter staff are often ignorant of proper techniques to search for lost cats and thus fail to educate families in a manner that will lead to fewer impounds and greater reclaims, because some cats do not enter shelters for several weeks after a family has already stopped looking (fearing the worst), and also because of the failure of shelters to match lost reports with the found cats entering their facilities.

The answer to the various reasons as to why more cats are not reclaimed by their families is not to strip families of their rights by eliminating a reclaim period altogether when those cats lose their collars or don’t have one, but by regulating shelters and mandating training so they do a better job. In fact, shelters which do a better job at these things vastly increase their reclaim rates for cats: 22% across all shelters in Colorado (about the same as the dog reclaim rate nationally), and even higher in other North American communities. The Pacelle-Fearing proposal not only counters compelling evidence which disproves the perceived “need” for it, but would in fact exacerbate, rather than fix, the causes of the currently low reclaim rates of cats in California shelters. In other words, the fault for low reclaim rates for cats lies with the shelter and Pacelle is using the poor performance of those shelters as a reason to undermine protections that people in California have a right to expect of their tax-funded institutions. Finally, regardless of the numbers, that not allowing people any time to reclaim their cats is an obvious threat to the deep and meaningful relationship between people and their cats must be pointed out to HSUS which has grown astronomically wealthy trumpeting the value of the “human-animal bond” adds another layer of absurdity to the already bewildering necessity of this discussion, one based on HSUS’ astounding assertion that the citizens of California should immediately lose claims to their animals—often cherished family members—should they ever accidentally end up at a shelter they fund in part expressly for such purpose.

According to Pacelle, studies prove that giving cats to others on intake “will reduce overcrowding, disease, and result in more lives saved.”

None of the studies stand for the proposition Pacelle, Fearing, and others at HSUS claim. The first is a study which shows that the likelihood of an animal being reunited with their human caretakers is greater for cats if they are allowed to remain where they are rather than being impounded: 13 times more likely to be returned home by non-shelter means (such as returning home on their own) than through the pound. Had Pacelle actually looked at that study, he would have immediately seen why these results do not support the HSUS bill. It would be one thing if they added a provision, as I recommended, that the holding period should not apply for cats who are sterilized and then returned. It does not further the conclusion of this study to give the cat to someone else.

The second study purports to show that the longer a cat is in a shelter, the greater chance of the cat getting sick, which then results in the cat being killed for being sick. That is why Pacelle claims it will reduce disease and save more lives. What he ignores is that shelters should not be killing sick cats. They should be providing them medical care, something that has been written in true shelter reform bills in Texas, New York, Minnesota, and even California, all of which HSUS has fought against. More on point, 72 hours—the current enforceable California holding period for stray cats—is already early release. According to the study, between day 0 and day 5, there is only a 0.01 increase in the number of sick cats. Being allowed to shorten the hold from 72 hours to zero will barely move the dial on feline disease. What it will do is codify the pernicious idea that cats’ relationships with their families are less valuable than dogs, and put California in the position of going backward instead of forward in the sheltering field.

Similarly, a third study relied on by HSUS looked at factors that lead to the development of feline respiratory disease in shelters. But contrary to Pacelle’s claim, that study found that length of stay wasn’t really the determining factor. No surprise as Pacelle didn’t read that one, either. A poorly run shelter leads to disease, not how long a cat stays in the shelter. Poorly run shelters tend to have longer lengths of stay, terrible adoption programs, and worse shelter medicine practices than progressive, successful shelters.

Reforming shelters to ensure they are run with compassion, integrity, and in line with the most up-to-date and innovative sheltering and veterinary protocols would go a long way towards reducing disease rates. The choice is not, and never has been, that we either allow our shelters to make homeless animals sick through shoddy cleaning and care, or we must “protect” animals from the poor care of shelters by allowing shelters to give cats to others, including for-profit companies, the moment they enter the shelter. Rather, the animals deserve, and as taxpayers we have a right to expect, that our taxpayer funded institutions do the job they are paid in part to do: care for lost animals in a safe, clean environment until they can be reclaimed by their families.

Although it should go without saying that animals should not be released to for-profit companies who want to sell animals for harmful purposes like dissection or animal research, had someone with any intelligence at HSUS drafted the bill and they were committed to immediate release for cats in order to free up cage space, they could have done it in a way that did not cause immeasurable heartbreak by breaking up families or by violating the constitution: allow shelters to place cats in the care of non-profit rescue groups immediately, but give families the same right of reclaim for the first 72 hours as if the cats were still in the shelter, with a mechanism for people knowing that their cats are still in the legal and constructive custody of the shelter.

In fact, I was working on compromise language on this score with HSUS when Fearing sabotaged the talks in order to defend the gas chamber and heart-sticking in Minnesota because a regressive, kill shelter asked her to. Such a bill would have met the goals Pacelle claims he is seeking, while protecting animals and their human families. But that of course requires someone intelligent (or at least truly dedicated) working at HSUS. And when your boss is Wayne Pacelle who lacks vision, pretends to know more than he does, has never run a shelter, cites studies without reading them, and betrays the animals simply because a kill shelter asks him to (or a football team offers his organization $50,000), that is not likely to happen.

According to Pacelle, “advocates in California were divided on the issue, with much of that dissension based on a false understanding of the bill and the political process.”

In truth, it was Pacelle and Fearing who had a false understanding of the bill and the political process. In addition to their own incompetence, these are just two of the many reasons why HSUS wrote such a bungled, badly thought out, disastrous bill. In fact, given the manner in which Pacelle described the bill in the first public statement about the bill, it is virtually certain that he did not even bother reading it before he sent out a plea for people to write in support of it. Again, I turn to Professor Bryant, the primary author of the 1998 Animal Shelter Law which AB 2343 sought to weaken:

[P]eople should consider the possibility that Wayne Pacelle had not actually read AB 2343 before he sent the alert and that he was instead relying on someone else’s judgment about AB 2343. Look at the alert and ask yourself if there is any indication that he read it. Certainly he does not encourage YOU to read AB 2343. He appears to expect blind reliance, perhaps just like his own. A scary possibility is that no one at HSUS other than Jennifer Fearing actually read AB 2343 before that alert went out. And even scarier is the possibility that Assemblymember Mike Gatto has not read AB 2343, either.

Even if Pacelle did read the bill (a dubious proposition), it would be wrong to assume that simply because he oversees a large, national animal protection group, that he is therefore qualified in matters of companion animal legislation or even sheltering in general. First of all, neither he nor anyone in the HSUS sheltering department has ever worked in a shelter, let alone one that has created No Kill. And Fearing, their chief lobbyist on sheltering legislation (and the primary architect of the bill) has likewise never run a shelter, never worked in a shelter, is not a lawyer, and as the disastrous implications of AB 2343 which she wrote reveal, ignorant of basic principles of law. Despite $140,000,000 in annual revenues, HSUS typically does not seek out the “best and the brightest” to represent shelter animals. And no better proof of that exists than AB 2343 which had the potential, in one fell swoop, to preempt all local laws against selling shelter animals to research, eliminate holding periods entirely, and give for-profit companies more rights to cats than their human families.

According to Pacelle, opposition to AB 2343 means “Keeping the status quo, and failing to develop and apply new strategies, is very unlikely to help animals facing euthanasia in the months and years ahead.”

To call his claim Orwellian, given that both he and Fearing have made a career out of fighting shelter reform and defending the status quo, would be an understatement. As recently as one month ago, they fought a bill that would have banned the gas chamber, banned heart-sticking, ended convenience killing, stopped the all-too-common practice of immediately killing animals who are surrendered by their families with no holding period or chance at adoption at all, and would have made it illegal for shelters to kill animals when non-profit rescue groups are willing to save them. In fact, HSUS fought against the 1998 Animal Shelter Law in California when it was first introduced, supported the claim that it should not be enforced, and supported the Governor’s attempt to repeal it in 2012. We shouldn’t be surprised that they would introduce a bill to weaken it now. Across the nation and on numerous occasions, HSUS has worked with the directors of regressive kill shelters to successfully defeat shelter reform laws. The HSUS record on this score is without mercy.

According to Pacelle, “when lawmakers are put in the position of having to choose between different segments or players in the animal movement, it doesn’t inspire confidence in our cause, and it leaves lawmakers confused.”

Wrong. Not fighting AB 2343 out of misplaced deference to a corrupt organization just because it claims to be about animal protection even as its legislation would subvert rather than further that very outcome would have been a dereliction of our duty to animals, not the other way around. Pacelle’s statement also asks us to buy into a false assertion that a blow to HSUS is a blow to the animal protection movement itself. But HSUS is not the animal protection movement and the animal protection movement certainly isn’t HSUS. To the extent that we can educate legislators and the American public to the fact that HSUS is, in truth, a lobbyist for killing shelters, rather than for the animals those shelters kill, the closer we come to neutralizing their harmful opposition to No Kill and their ability to pursue dangerous bills such as AB 2343. HSUS may financially benefit from their name and a public image as an animal protection organization, but that is not how they actually behave. Pretending otherwise would not result in substantive improvement for animals entering shelters, it would undermine it.

The fact that animal lovers won on this score and Gatto was forced to retract a very harmful bill is in no way a disservice to animals; it protected them. And Mike Gatto learned a valuable lesson: when it comes to shelter reform, blind faith in HSUS puts you on the wrong side of the animals, animal lovers, progress, and history. To the extent that this might make Gatto and others less likely to introduce harmful legislation proposed by HSUS in the future, the animals, again, come away the winners.

The death of AB 2343, the neutering of Pacelle, the eroding of HSUS’ reputation among legislators, and the humiliation of Jennifer Fearing who went into hiding when the controversy erupted by pretending to be on vacation and refusing to answer any questions about the bill she wrote, are good for animals entering shelters.

Though HSUS took a huge black eye from this incident, the animal protection movement is stronger for it. Together, we demonstrated that when it comes to our beloved companion animals, it is their true interests, and not the prerogatives of corrupt organizations like HSUS which feed off their plight, that matter most. And just as important, we sent a strong, clear and unequivocal message to HSUS that they neither speak for us nor the animals, and that they pretend to do so at their own peril.

Well done, fellow animal lovers, well done.

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AB 2343 Amended: More Incompetence from HSUS

April 22, 2014 by  

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If Jennifer Fearing & HSUS have their way, your beloved cats can be given to someone else the moment they enter the shelter, with no right of reclaim.

As many of you know, for the last couple of weeks, we’ve been fighting California’s AB 2343, an HSUS bill which would eliminate the right of people to reclaim their cats if those cats did not have identification because a breakaway collar fell off, a microchip scan failed to read a chip, or simply because the cat never had ID. In other words, a shelter can give someone’s cat away the very moment the cat enters a shelter, the very day that animal becomes lost, and before a family even has the opportunity to recognize that their cat it missing.

In addition, because of the sloppy and unprofessional way Jennifer Fearing, HSUS’ lobbyist, wrote the bill, it would have also given for-profit companies the right to dogs and cats in shelters in order to sell them for any reason and, after the first year, eliminated holding periods in some jurisdictions, allowing shelters to kill dogs and cats immediately, without offering them for adoption, reclaim, or transfer to rescue.

Read “Mike Gatto’s AB 2343 Betrays Dogs, Cats & The People Who Love Them” by clicking here.

Despite these major problems which would have set animal welfare in California back half a century, Wayne Pacelle and others at HSUS publicly urged people to support the bill, falsely claiming much of this was already the law. It was not and privately, they knew they were lying. In response to a massive backlash by thousands of California animal lovers who flooded Gatto and the Local Government Committee hearing the bill with emails in opposition, HSUS and Gatto have changed the language of the bill. Yesterday, they released amendments to the bill that I believe were an attempt to fix these mistakes but, due to their utter incompetence, do not actually fully do so. While the “for-profit” language was removed, the amendments to Fearing’s bill still allow shelters to immediately give cats without identification to groups that are not registered as non-profit organizations, as well as other cats and dogs at various times. Moreover, the bill does not guarantee future funding and, as such, would not be enforceable after the first year. Fearing and HSUS are seeking to pass a law they know shelters will be allowed to ignore.

Worse, Fearing and Mike Gatto, the Assembly Member sponsoring the HSUS bill, are still intent on stripping people of their right to reclaim their cats in California shelters. That has not been amended, even though Gatto promised he would do so. In response to thousands of emails sent to his office, Gatto replied that,

“You may rest assured that I have already publicly committed to making sure that no one’s companion, including cats, will be adopted before their guardian can claim them.”

But even as he was sending this out, his legislative assistant was assuring HSUS they would not amend this part of the bill and they haven’t: the bill still allows cats to be given to others with no reclaim period of any kind. As I wrote in The Huffington Post,

To be fair, families with cats should have the same amount of time as families with dogs to reclaim their animals. But if Gatto is intent on reducing cats to second class status, there is a way to do this without breaking up families: allow shelters to place cats in the care of non-profit rescue groups immediately, but give families the same right of reclaim for the first 72 hours as if the cats were still in the shelter, with a mechanism for people knowing that their cats are still in the legal custody of the shelter.

Both Gatto and HSUS refuse to do this and that shows what little regard they have for people who love cats. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: that not allowing people any time to reclaim their cats is an obvious threat to the deep and meaningful relationship between people and their cats must be pointed out to groups like HSUS which have grown astronomically wealthy trumpeting the value of the “human-animal bond” adds another layer of absurdity to the already bewildering necessity of this discussion, one based on their astounding assertion that the citizens of California should immediately lose claims to their animals—often cherished family members—should they ever accidentally end up at a shelter they fund in part expressly for such purpose.

When it comes to fundraising, HSUS is happy to celebrate the special bond you and your animal share. But when it comes to legislation, they want to empower shelters with the ability to destroy that relationship. HSUS’ legislation has also lost sight of one of the reasons taxpayer funded shelters exist in the first place: to provide a haven for lost animals and a place where people can go to reclaim them when they become lost.

These concerns are aside from those involving other fiscal issues, as well as the incompetent way it is written (in some provisions, AB 2343 applies to animals who are “admitted” into shelters; in others “impounded”). It is aside from the fact that the bill is designed to subvert the lifesaving shelter reforms of the 1998 Animal Shelter Law through what appears to be a backdoor deal between HSUS and the Governor’s Office. In short, despite the amendments, it remains a badly written bill which would cause a lot of confusion and a lot of turmoil for animals and animal lovers.

The bill is scheduled for a vote a week from tomorrow. Please voice your continued opposition to Mike Gatto and to the Assembly Local Government Commitment and let them know that AB 2343 as it is written is still a terrible bill, one that seeks to subvert the very purpose of the shelters you pay for with your taxes while destroying families and breaking hearts. Remind Gatto that he promised he would amend this part of the bill, but has failed to do so.

Call to action: Please email the following legislators and implore them to reject AB 2343 (cut and paste the following to your “to” line of your email and ask for a “No” vote):

Assemblymember.Achadjian@assembly.ca.gov; Assemblymember.Levine@assembly.ca.gov; Assemblymember.Alejo@assembly.ca.gov; Assemblymember.Bradford@assembly.ca.gov; Assemblymember.Gordon@assembly.ca.gov; Assemblymember.Melendez@assembly.ca.gov; Assemblymember.Mullin@assembly.ca.gov; Assemblymember.Rendon@assembly.ca.gov; Assemblymember.Waldron@assembly.ca.gov

Here is sample language you can use (please feel free to cut and paste to your email):

I am writing to urge you to vote No on AB 2343. AB 2343 loses sight of what is, in fact, one of the primary functions and mandates of a taxpayer funded, municipal animal shelter: to provide a safe haven for the lost animals of local people and a place where they can go to find them. Since their taxes pay for these services, families with cats deserve the same amount of time as families who share their homes with dogs to reclaim their companions.  Thank you.

Please also email Mike Gatto and tell him you still oppose his bill, despite the amendments: Assemblymember.Gatto@assembly.ca.gov. Tell him, he promised to allow people with cats the same right of reclaim as people with dogs, but has not amended this part of the bill: “You may rest assured that I have already publicly committed to making sure that no one’s companion, including cats, will be adopted before their guardian can claim them.”

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Have a comment? Join the discussion by clicking here.

Here is my story: www.nathanwinograd.com/?p=11902

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Understanding AB 2343: Why the “Fearing Law” Is So Dangerous

April 18, 2014 by  

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By Nathan & Jennifer Winograd

AB 2343 is a betrayal of dogs, cats, and the people who love them. To read why, click here.

Many animal activists are aware that there is a battle raging right now over AB 2343, a bill introduced by California legislator Mike Gatto at the behest of HSUS lobbyist, Jennifer Fearing. This bill, which seeks to amend existing California law, has created a lot of confusion and many animal lovers are not sure which side to support. When HSUS President Wayne Pacelle announced the bill earlier this week, he did so by claiming that it would provide millions for shelters and give them flexibility to save lives and urged all California animal lovers to call their legislators in support of this bill. On the other side of the debate are No Kill advocates, including my organization, the No Kill Advocacy Center, as well as Sutter’s Friends, an organization of animal law attorneys specializing in shelter law and headed by renowned UCLA Animal Law Professor, Taimie Bryant, which considers the provisions of AB 2343 not only to be a cruel and unfair affront to the people of California who share their lives with cats, but a bill so poorly and dangerously written as to potentially turn one of the most important animal protection laws in California into one of the most harmful. How? By requiring the release of animals in shelters to those who want to sell them for-profit, including, potentially, those who will sell those animals to research facilities, for dissection or for other nefarious, cruel purposes. In response to these concerns, HSUS has chosen to stay the course, clinging to their assertion that AB 2343 does not present the dangers its critics, including me, claim that it does. Who should you believe? And why is it important?

When there are heated and differing opinions on an issue, it can be basic human nature to want to distance oneself from such conflict, by conveniently reducing an issue to nothing more than a clash of egos between equally well-intended individuals. In the case of AB 2343, this would be a grave mistake. As Professor Bryant noted in her letter to the Assembly Local Government Committee hearing the bill,

AB 2343 will harm animals by eliminating the state holding period for sheltered animals, significantly increase lawsuits against local governments and the State, waste the State’s money on establishing and trying to administer a problematic and half-baked “grant program,” imperil animals by subjecting them to mandatory release to for-profit entities, regardless of those entities’ intended uses of the animals, and cause considerable confusion as to whether particular state laws are or are not in force in a particular place.

This Q and A addresses the issues causing such confusion about the bill, why the precise wording chosen by HSUS in crafting AB 2343 poses such a pernicious threat to the welfare of California’s shelter animals, historically how this bill came about, and ultimately, why faith in Pacelle, who clearly did not read the bill before asking people to support it, is misplaced.

HSUS is claiming that AB 2343 does not add any new language to the rescue access provision of the law, that it merely restates what existing law already allows for. So what’s all the fuss?

This legislation is being spearheaded by Jennifer Fearing, HSUS’ California lobbyist who was also recently promoted to oversee HSUS sheltering policy nationwide. Her promotion belies her credentials. Fearing has never run a shelter, never worked in a shelter, is not a lawyer, and is ignorant of basic principles of law. Nor is her promotion surprising: despite $140,000,000 in annual revenues, HSUS typically does not seek out the “best and the brightest” to represent shelter animals: none of the four individuals who work in the sheltering division have ever worked in a shelter or have the kind of formal training, such as veterinary medicine or law, to justify their claimed “expert” status. This ignorance is demonstrated by her inadvertent effort to give for-profit companies who sell dogs and cats for any reason, including potentially, to research labs the legal right to take those animals from shelters.

To defend the addition of “for-profit” companies, Fearing, in an argument parroted by Wayne Pacelle, claims,

AB 2343 does not change the definition in California law of a rescue group in any way. That definition is already in statute (at Food & Ag Code 31751.3(a) 2.). AB 2343 merely copies that definition into other relevant sections of state law to ensure that rescue access is consistent. The words “for-profit” have been included in this definition for many years.

But this is not true. I do not doubt that when Fearing initially wrote the bill, she did not deliberately set out to change the definition of who could claim animals under the rescue access provision of existing law to empower “bunchers” who sell animals to research and others who may have nefarious aims, even though, in the end, that is precisely what she has done. While there are many other provisions of this bill that are also harmful and which Fearing absolutely did intend (as I discuss in greater detail below), in this case, I think that Fearing made a terrible, terrible blunder when she wrote the bill, has by now realized she has made a grave error, but rather than admit her mistake and fix it in order to protect California’s animals from being seized by for-profit entities for nefarious ends, she is choosing instead to charge ahead on the disastrous course she inadvertently placed herself and HSUS upon, the animals be damned. That she could get away with this and that there would actually be animal activists coming to her defense, so blind in their trust and obedience to HSUS that they still refuse to take just a few minutes to read the law for themselves and see exactly what it states, is further evidence of the tragic state of the animal protection movement at the beginning of the 21st century. There are many in this movement who seem to be motivated not by their values, but by a cultish devotion to high profile, celebrity personalities and organizations. The animals deserve so much better.

How, exactly, does AB 2343 place animals in peril by forcing their release to people who want to sell them for-profit? It’s very simple. When drafting the legislation, Fearing took a definition from one law, a law relating to spay/neuter and not rescue access, and placed it into the law relating to rescue access. The language was taken from the law which states that any person or group who gets a dog or cat from a shelter must agree to spay and neuter the animal, if the animal was not sterilized by the shelter. It does not mandate that the shelter give animals to for-profit groups. It was an attempt to cast a very wide net as to impact all potential recipients of unsterilized shelter animals in California. It had nothing whatsoever to do with mandatory release of California shelter animals to any particular entity.

Nonetheless, when amending the language in a different California law specifically dealing with rescue access, Fearing placed this other definition into the rescue access law, thereby expanding the definition of who can claim animals on death row in California’s pounds. Instead of non-profit rescue and adoption organizations, whose mission is animal protection, she sought to empower anyone who sells animals for-profit for any reason. This change would potentially mandate the release of shelter animals to companies who could sell those animals for undisclosed purposes, and that could, according to UCLA Law Professor, Tamie Bryant, potentially include animal research, with this state law taking precedent over local, county ordinances which may ban pound seizure.

Moreover, for-profit entities do not have to adopt those animals out as companions, nor do they have to be accountable to any particular standards like non-profit groups are. If this provision of the law passes, for-profit companies will have as much right to California’s shelter animals as rescue groups, and more rights to claim recently lost cats than the human families of cats do as a result to other changes in the California code which Fearing’s Bill also proposes. This is not a question open to debate or multiple interpretations. It is simple fact. The language Fearing has inserted into the law is so clear and transparent as to preclude any confusion as to whether or not it allows “for-profit” groups access to shelter animals or not. It most certainly does. The implications of Fearing’s Law are as clear as day for anyone who takes the time to actually read the bill. You can do so by clicking here (do a search for “for-profit” or look at my analysis by clicking here).

But didn’t HSUS, as it is claiming, run this law through a stakeholder group of animal welfare groups to ensure that it is good legislation?

In responding to criticism about the bill, Fearing is attempting to dispel that criticism by hiding behind others. Fearing is claiming that her law is supported by the recommendations of HSUS’ own “White Paper” on sheltering, the California groups and shelters that helped to write that paper, as well as Tom Hayden, the author of the legislation which AB 2343 seeks to amend. But are these claims true? And, if they are, does that mean AB 2343 is therefore a good law? The answer to both questions is no.

To begin with, Tom Hayden, the original author of the law AB 2343 seeks to amend, has withdrawn his support for the bill. Sutter’s Friends, an organization of attorneys specializing in animal law, and sheltering law specifically, has also released a document entitled, AB 2343 and the White Paper: Interplay of White Paper with Existing Law, which highlights the many ways in which AB 2343 not only contradicts the HSUS White Paper, but laws already in effect in the state. That paper can be found here: https://app.box.com/s/g6pn99z534yal8bcvib8.

But that’s not all. Since Pacelle’s public announcement of AB 2343 last week, there has been a tremendous backlash against the law not only by No Kill advocates, but even by shelter directors across the state, some of whom were even part of the original HSUS “stakeholder” group which drafted the paper. These shelter directors are claiming that both the bill and the White Paper are being erroneously portrayed by Fearing as having been fully vetted by the animal sheltering industry in California when they have not been. In a statement attempting to clarify this misconception, The State Humane Association of California and the California Animal Control Director’s Association issued the following joint statement:

In early 2012, four animal-welfare advocates formed a group to analyze and make recommendations regarding animal-sheltering practices in light of the suspension of state-mandated funding for animal shelters. An ensuing “stakeholders” group was selected by these four people and the entire process – including the meeting agendas, drafting of a resulting so-called “White Paper”, and the format of a statewide listening tour – was controlled by this group of four. Ultimately, this “White Paper” – a document entitled Charting a Path Forward: Reaching California’s policy to save all adoptable and treatable animals – is a reflection of these four peoples’ views and priorities. Their views do not represent a unanimous agreement among the members of the stakeholder group itself or California’s sheltering community as a whole. Hence, this paper should be viewed as an opinion piece, not as an authoritative document… In response to the paper, a coalition of 19 public and private animal-welfare agencies comprised of highly-experienced and -respected sheltering professionals in California, most of whom run large and influential organizations and have decades of experience in these matters, came together to issue a rebuttal.

Their “rebuttal” can be read here: http://californiastatehumane.org/PDFs/Coalition_Response.PDF

A word of caution about that rebuttal: As will be explained in greater detail below, the White Paper issue by this HSUS-coordinated “stakeholder” group was far from perfect. In fact, given the people who were asked to join this group—directors from kill shelters across the state notorious for their opposition to No Kill—that is to be expected. Seeking to “Chart a Path Forward” to “save all adoptable and treatable animals” as the White Paper claimed to set out to do by pretending that an effective model for lifesaving—the No Kill Equation—does not already exist and then asking for buy-in from the very individuals who are already refusing to embrace that model is disingenuous and a recipe for a deeply dishonest and ineffectual document.

Rather than ask the directors of kill shelters how they can save more lives, any organization sincere in its desire to end the killing would be asking shelter directors who have already done so, and no such individuals were asked to join the HSUS stakeholder group. As explained below, this is intentional, a classic example of HSUS trying to give the public impression of pursuing an agenda that will end the killing of animals in shelters while willfully ignoring that we already know how to do so. A full analysis of the flaws in the White Paper by my organization, the No Kill Advocacy Center, can be found here: http://bit.ly/184Rlm9.

Lastly, while animal lovers should rejoice that many of California’s shelter directors are opposed to AB 2343’s attempt to divest Californians of their right to reclaim their lost cats, recognizing that to do so would be a violation of the Constitution, the most tragic thing about the opposition of many of the California animal control directors who have made public statements against the White Paper is that they are in fact objecting to the few positive things the paper actually recommended but which, predictably, are nowhere to be found in AB 2343, such as advising shelters to no longer take in cats they are simply planning to kill. This is further proof that Fearing’s attempt to portray any support for AB 2343 by California’s kill shelter directors as a positive thing is irrelevant. From the standpoint of animal lovers and No Kill advocates, such support, were it to have materialized, would have been a red flag, a signal that such a law would be either totally ineffectual at the stated purpose of actually reducing killing or even dangerous for other reasons beyond the ones that already make it so.

On the bright side, the fact that there are now fissures in HSUS’ long-standing and cozy relationship with California’s kill shelter directors in a good thing for No Kill. Historically, HSUS and kill shelter directors have walked in lock-step, united together to form an unyielding brick wall of opposition to our efforts, barring substantive progress for shelter animals. Now, hurt feelings, bruised egos and colliding career interests resulting from AB 2343 may signal a compromised opposition. Energy once directed at fighting No Kill may be siphoned off to fight one another, while cracks in their once solid relationship result in a weakened defensive line; cracks we can exploit to save more lives.

Rather than attack HSUS publically, why don’t you work with HSUS privately when you have concerns about the law? After all, we all need to work together and we all want what is best for animals.

As the explanation to the question above demonstrates, it is not true that everyone working on animal related issues always has their best interest at heart. Those running our shelters and their allies at HSUS have many other priorities dictating their policies other than what will maximize lifesaving and animal welfare. Otherwise, they would be introducing the kinds of laws that the No Kill Advocacy Center is seeking, laws like the Companion Animal Protection Act which mandates that shelters follow proven protocols for lifesaving and which, within just a few years of passing in Delaware, reduced killing in that state by 78%. But ending the killing by requiring shelters to embrace change that entails working harder, smarter and more humanely isn’t what HSUS wants to do. Why?

HSUS, which has historically been run by or on the advice of kill shelter directors, is not a companion animal protection organization, but first and foremost a lobbying organization for the directors of kill shelters. That is why they approach all of their supposed advocacy from a “collaborative” approach, one that seeks to build consensus among the very people doing the killing about what level of lifesaving change they are willing to embrace, rather than seeking laws that mandate that those shelters implement existing alternatives to killing whether they want to or not. This means that despite whatever proven methods of lifesaving may exist, if those methods require more effort and create substantive standards by which the performance of shelter directors can be gauged, shelter directors accustomed to not doing those things, of taking the “easy” way out by killing, are going to resist such innovation. And like a trade guild or corrupt union, HSUS sees it as its job to shield shelter directors—their friends and colleagues—from such demands, by defending them publically when they come under scrutiny by animal lovers, by working to defeat progressive shelter reform laws that require them to replace killing with alternatives, and by schooling animal activists to place the blame for killing on the public, rather than on the people actually doing the killing in the face of available alternatives.

HSUS’ name, reputation and general recognition by the public, legislators, and the media as an animal protection group vests them with tremendous power to mislead and obfuscate. Believing HSUS to be a non-profit organization that places the interests of animals first, people are inclined to defer to them, and they abuse this power by portraying basic shelter reform efforts—such as forcing shelters not to kill when there are empty cages or when rescue groups are willing to save animals—as harmful or dangerous, sowing seeds of doubt about common sense shelter reform where none should be.

But this dichotomy—this disconnect between word and deed and between their professed mission and their actual priorities—places HSUS in a precarious position. In their public statements, they are forced to begrudgingly admit the efficacy of certain elements of No Kill sheltering that have been proven to succeed in those communities where the shelter directors are progressive and have ignored HSUS’ advice to reject them. Every innovation of the No Kill Equation that makes it possible for a shelter to replace killing—TNR, offsite adoptions, foster care, behavior rehabilitation, working with rescue groups and more—was bitterly opposed by HSUS when it was first conceived. Despite HSUS pushback, progressive shelter directors and animal advocates embraced them and, with time, their proven efficacy and growing popularity required HSUS to stop disparaging them, or appear thoroughly out of touch and antiquated, an unenviable position for any organization claiming a leadership position to be in. But does that mean that they are telling shelters that have yet to embrace such programs that they must? No. In the White Paper, Fearing admits that there are many proven, lifesaving programs that shelters should embrace, but she then give shelters carte blanche to continue ignoring them, stating that whether or not to implement those programs should be left to the discretion of each individual shelter director. In other words, Fearing told shelters to continue killing in the face of alternatives if that is what they prefer to do.

This tension also means that HSUS is constantly acting in contravention to its own professed mission and what it claims, to the public, to support. HSUS is now infamous within the No Kill movement for claiming to support certain progressive measures but then, in practice, working to defeat laws that mandate them. For instance, HSUS, which was one of the Hayden Law’s (the law AB 2343 seeks to amend) most vociferous opponents and supported the Governor’s attempts to repeal it in 2012, now admits that rescue access laws like it save lives. In spite of this admission, they are still working to defeat laws mandating it in other states where the shelters in those states don’t want those laws to pass. In Texas, in Virginia, in Florida and elsewhere over the last few years, HSUS has worked to defeat laws mandating policies they publically claim to support.

For instance, HSUS claims publicly to oppose the gas chamber, but just last month, Fearing directed the HSUS Office in Minnesota to help the Animal Humane Society in that state defeat a bill that banned it (and which also mandated rescue access) because the Animal Humane Society, a group with whom HSUS has a long relationship, asked them to. In other words, HSUS doesn’t take positions based on what the animals need, but rather, what shelters want. Therefore, it is naïve to assume that No Kill advocates, who recognize that it is a recipe for stagnation and continued killing to allow shelter directors themselves to dictate their own level of lifesaving, and HSUS, which has never take a position that most kill shelter directors will oppose (it could be argued, until AB 2343), are ever likely to work together constructively. Both groups want very different, very distinct things. No Kill advocates speak for the animals being killed in shelters, while HSUS speaks for those who are killing them. Expecting them to work together to come up with effective legislation that will protect animals is like asking Greenpeace to collaborate with BP to come up with strong, environmental protection laws or a vegan advocacy group to collaborate with ConAgra to come up with strong, laws protecting chickens, cows, or pigs.

Nonetheless, No Kill advocates recognize that by continually exposing the truth about HSUS, by educating the public about the actions HSUS continually takes that contradict their professed mission and lucrative fundraising appeals, HSUS is under tremendous pressure to evolve. After all, unlike BP which everyone clearly understands is an oil company for which profit is the bottom line, HSUS has a stated purpose that is deeply at odds with the one that actually dictates its policies. To the extent that the pressure created by exposing this dichotomy creates an opening to force change at HSUS, I have historically believed it in the best interest of animals to work with HSUS if at all possible in order to stop them from continually thwarting our efforts.

That is why for the last 20 years, I have been attempting to find common ground with HSUS to no avail. Again and again and again, Wayne Pacelle has ignored my letters and rejected my offers to meet, even going so far as to say, at the same time that he was touring the country with the most infamous animal abuser of our generation, Michael Vick, that he would not meet with me because he does not “trust” No Kill advocates. The closest I have ever come to negotiations was at the beginning of this year, when a series of meetings and phone calls took place between me, Jennifer Fearing and a recently appointed Board member of HSUS with whom I have been acquainted for nearly a decade, all portrayed to me as a necessary “precursor” to someday meeting with the Chair of the HSUS Board and, possibly, Pacelle.

I met them and discussed our differences in good faith. They did not. Fearing, in short, lied to me repeatedly and when confronted with those lies, broke off further communications. To say it was a disaster would be an understatement. HSUS continually made promises to me that either never materialized or which they immediately violated, all while claiming, as Fearing is now doing, that they were not doing precisely what they were doing. Within just two short months, Jennifer Fearing broke at least four commitments, the most egregious being that she looked me in the eye, shook my hand, and promised that HSUS would not claim neutrality on shelter reform then work with kill shelters to try to undermine passage of laws introduced by No Kill advocates. She then turned around and ordered the HSUS office in Minneapolis to try to table a bill that would ban the gas chamber, end heart sticking, end convenience killing, and mandate rescue access. It was astonishing, even for HSUS.

Incidentally, when these sham “negotiations” were taking place between me and Fearing, I asked if I could see a draft of California legislation Fearing was working on so that I might weigh in privately before the law went public and find common ground to avoid harm to animals or a public fight. She refused. I then asked her if such legislation was going to be introduced this year, but again, she said no, even as her legislative sponsor, Mike Gatto, was in the process of introducing AB 2343 as a “spot bill”. In short, she lied. Other No Kill advocates who have attempted to work with HSUS employees on particular issues have received similar treatment. They have been made certain promises about policy changes HSUS will make to become more progressive, only to watch HSUS turn around and defeat laws that mandate those things at the very first opportunity they get.

How can I or anyone else anyone who wants to protect animals from the totally needless killing of animals in our nation’s shelters ever work constructively with people who not only do not share our priorities, but have no integrity whatsoever, refusing to play by the rules of honesty, fairness and accountability? The obvious and hard learned answer to that question for me is you simply can’t. I fight HSUS publically because they simply leave me no other option. To do otherwise would be to betray the animals for the interests of people who have clearly demonstrated time and again that they are not the ally of the animals or the cause to end their killing, but a cleverly disguised opponent, feeding off the tragic plight of animals for their own gain.

Of course, you don’t have to take my word for it. Although you are likely to get nothing but lies and spin, you could always try talking to Jennifer Fearing yourself. However, right now, you can’t do that. Since the fervor over AB 2343 has erupted, Fearing is nowhere to be found. Call this lobbyist’s phone number or send her an email right now, one week after legislation she has been working on for the past two years was just introduced into the California legislature, and you will be treated to a message in which she explains that she has gone on vacation. Once again, Fearing, like Pacelle and others at HSUS, refuse to be held accountable.

Aren’t the people in the companion animal division of HSUS experts? What gives you the right to criticize them?

Aside from lacking honesty and integrity as explained above, what is also sorely lacking in the HSUS Companion Animal Division is sheltering expertise. Although many of HSUS fundraising appeals portray dogs and cats because they are the animals most beloved by the American public and are therefore the most lucrative, the Companion Animal Division is actually quite small, made up of four individuals. It should also be noted that in contradiction to pervasive public perception, HSUS does not run a shelter. This is a misperception HSUS likes to encourage, given that many people erroneously believe that when they donate to HSUS, they are donating to their local shelter. Shelters which have attempted to buy HSUS mailing lists in order to clarify this misconception to their local membership have been denied the ability to do so. HSUS is happy to sell the names of their donors to other groups, but only on the agreement that they not clarify that HSUS is not them, but rather a separate and distinct organization.

Moreover, the four individuals who make up the Companion Animal Division at HSUS do not have any personal experience running shelters, let alone No Kill ones, and yet, they are relied upon by legislators as “experts’ in this field, and many shelters defer to them regarding what operating procedures they should be following. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing were these four individuals seeking to recommend “best practices” that have been proven to maximize lifesaving. That is to say, were HSUS employees genuine in their desire to end the killing and were therefore seeking out the advice of the most effective shelter directors in the nation and then both assisting and, where necessary, demanding, that other shelter directors follow their progressive lead, but that is not what these individuals do. Instead, as with the White Paper “stakeholder” group they formed, the advice and guidance of No Kill shelter directors is never sought, only the advice and guidance of kill shelter directors, creating a self-perpetuating cycle of failure.

As to what qualifications I, or my organization, have that qualifies us to weigh in as an “experts” on this legislation, they are many. To begin with, I am the Executive Director of the No Kill Advocacy Center, an organization working to end the systematic killing of animals in shelters across the nation. One way we do this is by seeking laws mandating that shelters follow the programs and services of the No Kill Equation. States and communities which have enacted laws based on our model legislation have seen sudden and dramatic declines in killing, such as Delaware’s 78% decline, as well as others. I am also a graduate of Stanford Law School and an attorney, but more to the point as it concerns this particular legislation, I was an attorney working for one of the state’s most successful shelters when the Hayden Law was introduced. I worked with Tom Hayden to successfully pass his legislation, overcoming attempts by HSUS and California’s kill shelters to kill it. Just one provision of that law resulted in a 370% increase in lifesaving throughout California. Over 46,000 animals a year would be dead had HSUS been successful. With AB 2343, HSUS is again seeking to amend and, indeed, destroy it. I also worked against harmful amendments and repeal of that law at other times, fighting HSUS which tried to do so or supported the attempts by other to, as when Jennifer Fearing told the Sacramento Bee in 2012 that the Hayden Law was no longer necessary when the Governor tried to repeal it. I’ve also run two of the most successful shelters in the country and have worked to reform dozens more. I am also a former humane officer and Deputy District Attorney who handled, among others, animal cruelty cases. Unlike anyone at HSUS, I have created No Kill communities.

If HSUS drops the words “for-profit” from the language of the bill discussing right of access, would you drop your opposition to the bill?

No. While reverting to the original definition of rescue group would end the harm that would result if Fearing succeeded in empowering for-profit companies, and that would be a good thing, there are at least two other major flaws in the legislation. The second big concern is the way mandates are funded and laws are enforceable. Under our state constitution, if the legislature passes a law that costs money for local municipalities to implement, they have to fund it. If the state does not fund it, the law is not enforceable. Fearing’s bill requires expenses and the Governor is offering a one time block grant of $10,000,000, but he is not committing to any future funding and certainly he cannot require future Governors or the Legislature to fund it beyond the first year. Given past history, it is almost certain that there will not be additional funding. As such, after the first year, AB 2343 will not be enforceable and shelters will not have to comply with any provisions. Because of the sloppy way Fearing wrote the bill, that means all holding periods would become unenforceable, as I explain in my Huffington Post article: http://huff.to/1hQdp8X. That further means dogs and cats could be killed immediately, regardless of whether they are stray or surrendered, without ever being offered for adoption, rescue, or reclaim.

As to the third concern, they appear to be talking from both sides of their mouths. Gatto writes: “You may rest assured that I have already publicly committed to making sure that no one’s companion, including cats, will be adopted before their guardian can claim them,” but his chief aide admitted this aspect of the bill will NOT be amended. So regardless of Gatto’s claim, they appear intent on maintaining the part of the bill where families whose cats enter shelters without identification—if, for example, a breakaway collar fell off—would lose all rights to reclaim their cat if the shelter immediately gives the cat to someone else.

The bill is offering $10,000,000 to shelters. Shouldn’t we support that?

Although $10,000,000 sounds like a lot of money, spread among all the various shelters in California’s 58 counties, some of which have multiple shelters, it will run out very quickly. But to the extent the one-time allotment of $10,000,000 is used to increase lifesaving, of course. But that is not what AB 2343 does. Fearing’s bill offers $10,000,000 to subvert animal protection in California. And long after the money runs out, the provisions of AB 2343 will continue to apply. Moreover, if HSUS, the Governor, or Gatto really care about the protections in the original Hayden Law which are suspended, there is a simple way to fix that: fund the original law.

It is hard to know who to trust. HSUS says one thing, you say another. How do I know who to believe in this case?

You don’t have to believe either of us; what is right or wrong does not come down to who is advocating a particular position, but which position is most likely to foster the kind of outcome you, as an animal lover, would like to see. In fact, your duty to animals requires that you make up your own mind, rather than relying on any one person or organization to tell you what to believe or to do. Humans are fallible. They are also capable of being manipulated. People who we respect can get it wrong. They can also change, become corrupted by power or their proximity to power, causing them to shift priorities so that we while we may believe it is safe, given their history, to defer to them, their calculations and allegiances are no longer in line with ours, and in deferring to them, we err. Because we can never truly know another’s heart, we must come to rely on the only person we can ever fully know and trust: ourselves.

Then make up your own mind. Pacelle, however, wants you to take his word for it. As the UCLA law professor wrote: “many people have expressed confusion about the characterization of AB 2343 they saw here and the alert they received from Wayne Pacelle of HSUS asking for support of AB 2343. Those confused people should consider the possibility that Wayne Pacelle had not actually read AB 2343 before he sent the alert and that he was instead relying on someone else’s judgment about AB 2343. Look at the alert and ask yourself if there is any indication that he read it. Certainly he does not encourage YOU to read AB 2343. He appears to expect blind reliance, perhaps just like his own.” (See http://on.fb.me/1gGLBSH)

We owe the animals an open mind and thoughtful deliberation of those views that contradict our own, but we also owe them the determination to stand up for what we, in the end, determine to be the correct course of action, rather than abdicating that responsibility in order to defer to “leaders” like Wayne Pacelle through cultish devotion. Our duty, first and foremost, lies with the animals who face needless suffering and whose very lives are often at stake. It does not lie in allegiance to “leaders” of the animal protection movement who might be embarrassed, offended, or threatened by others challenging their wisdom or authority. And it doesn’t lie with activists who regurgitate the pronouncements of those “leaders” without first thoughtfully deliberating their validity for themselves. My hope is that, eventually, the animal protection movement will evolve to welcome rather than shrink from points of view that challenge the views of those in the greatest positions of power within our movement, not because all points of view are of identical merit, but precisely because they are not.

Pacelle calls this a “vendetta,” I call it democracy. It is what we owe the animals in a movement of conscience.

To learn what you can do, click here.

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Have a comment? Join the discussion by clicking here.

Here is my story: www.nathanwinograd.com/?p=11902

And this is my vision: http://vimeo.com/48445902

AB 2343 Betrays Dogs, Cats & The People Who Love Them

April 17, 2014 by  

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If California Assembly Member Mike Gatto has his way, cats who enter shelters without identification will be immediately taken from their families and given to for-profit companies, including, potentially, companies who sell animals to research labs.

If passed, Gatto’s AB 2343 would allow (and in some cases require) shelters to give dogs and cats to for-profit companies to sell for any reason whatsoever. In the case of cats entering shelters without identification, shelters can adopt them out or give them to individuals who sell them the very moment the cat enters a shelter, the very day that animal becomes lost, and before a family even has the opportunity to recognize that their cat it missing.

Read my article in The Huffington Post by clicking here.

 

To learn what you can do to stop it, click here.

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Have a comment? Join the discussion by clicking here.

Here is my story: www.nathanwinograd.com/?p=11902

And this is my vision: http://vimeo.com/48445902

Help Me Prevent Dogs & Cats From Ending Up in Research Labs

April 15, 2014 by  

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As I posted here and here, Jennifer Fearing, a lobbyist for HSUS, is proposing a bill which threatens to take cats from their families and give them to for-profit companies, including potentially, companies who sell animals to research labs. If passed, AB 2343 (the Fearing Bill) would allow (and in some cases require) shelters to give dogs and cats to for-profit companies to sell for any reason whatsoever. In the case of cats entering shelters without ID, shelters can adopt them out or give them to individuals who sell them the very moment the cat enters a shelter, the very day that animal becomes lost, and before a family even has the opportunity to recognize that their cat it missing.

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How does it do this? Sec. 31752(b)(1)(B) of the proposed bill says that stray cats without identification can be adopted or transferred to a “rescue group” immediately. Subsection (g) then changes the definition of a “rescue group” to be for-profit or nonprofit. It can be a 501(c)(3) or an “entity” or a collaboration of individuals who sell dogs and cats. There is no requirement that the sale be for purposes of companionship. There are no standards of any kind for these for-profit individuals. What might they sell animals for? According to one legal analysis, since state law preempts local laws, the Fearing Bill would potentially undo local laws that prevent shelter animals from being sold to research labs, thus allowing “bunchers” to do so.

Fearing and her enablers at HSUS claim California law already allows this, but this is just profound ignorance. What Jennifer Fearing did was take a definition from the Vincent bill passed in 1998 to ensure animals were neutered before placement and placed it into her bill which addresses the right of rescue groups to animals in shelters. The purpose of the definition was to make sure all animals were sterilized before they were placed by anyone if those animals came from shelters. It was not part of the Hayden bill passed the same year for purposes of giving animals from shelters to non-profit rescue groups. Fearing is now proposing that the spay/neuter definition be applied to the “rescue” provision which would mean, for the first time ever, anyone who calls themselves an “entity” or two or more people who sell dogs and cats “for profit” (and for any reason whatsoever) will be given the right to take animals out of shelters. Currently, that specific law empowers only non-profit animal adoption or rescue groups. As any lawyer can tell you, you cannot take a definition from one law and place it in another law without consequences.

As I write in my letter on behalf of the No Kill Advocacy Center and as explained in the analysis by the UCLA law professor, as it is now written, California law mandates the transfer of animals on death row at shelters only after the holding period (given families an opportunity to reclaim their animal companions) and only to non-profit organizations recognized under Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3). These organizations must have a mission of prevention of cruelty to animals and be adopting animals for purposes of adoption. Such requirements serve important policy considerations. For one, the requirement that they have a mission of animal protection and adoption speaks for itself. Without such a provision, animals could be sold to others for potentially harmful purposes. Second, the IRS requirement provides oversight by promoting professionalism. For example, they must register with the federal government, and with several state agencies, including the Department of State and Attorney General, as well as requiring that they have an independent Board of Directors. Moreover, experience in California has shown that it results in more individual rescuers incorporating and in fact, statewide surveys in two states found that virtually all rescuers who want to save animals from shelters but are not 501(c)(3) organizations would become so if a similar law were enacted, effectively increasing the professionalism, capacity, and oversight of rescue organizations. This is good for those organizations and it is good for animals.

Yet, under the Fearing Bill, the following would also be considered “rescue groups” for purposes of this law and thus have a mandatory right of access: any individual calling himself an “entity” or two or more individuals, whose purpose includes “the sale or placement of any dog/cat.” Under the express terms of the language, they could be non-profit or for-profit. There is no requirement that the individuals be licensed, have any sort of corporate status, or have standards of any kind. As written, they do not even have to sell animals to be companions, but can be in the business of selling dogs or cats for any purpose whatsoever. If passed, for the first time, companies which sell animals for any purpose would have rights to animals in California shelters. Moreover, it would give them more rights to cats than the families of those cats. That is not only dead wrong, it is pernicious.

While I consider many provisions of the Fearing Bill to be potentially disastrous, that is to say, there are many harmful aspects of the law above and beyond the changes to rescue access that is now the focus of so much attention, and while I believe that these other changes were entirely deliberate, I do not believe that the rescue access change was. I believe it was a giant, unintended blunder by Fearing because she’s in over her head, ignorant of basic legal principals, ignorant of California’s shelter laws, has never worked in a shelter, and is not an attorney. Nonetheless, the blunder is one she now simply refuses to correct because to do so would be to admit to a mistake so potentially mortifying that she would rather continue to argue that her language doesn’t do exactly what it does in order for her to save face. In other words, she values her own reputation more than the lives and well being of animals. She’d rather keep a dangerous law in the California legislative hopper than face the consequences resulting from her own incompetence. But even if this aspect of the Fearing Bill is amended, it should still be opposed. The Fearing Bill places holding periods at risks and is unfair to families who deeply love their cats. Coupled with the fact that California’s stray holding period is already among the lowest in the nation, breaking up families by having them lose all rights in their animal with no reclaim period of any kind is draconian. The Fearing Bill loses sight of what, in fact, is one of the primary functions and mandates of a taxpayer funded, municipal animal shelter: to provide a safe haven for the lost animals of local people and a place where they can go to find them.

That this must be pointed out to groups like HSUS which have grown astronomically wealthy trumpeting the value of the “human-animal bond” adds another layer of absurdity to the already bewildering necessity of this discussion, one based on their astounding assertion that the citizens of California should immediately lose claims to their animals—often cherished family members—should they ever accidentally end up at a shelter they fund in part expressly for such purpose.

To read the analysis by a UCLA law professor, click here.

To read the No Kill Advocacy Center letter, click here.

Call to action: Please email the following legislators and implore them to reject AB 2343 (cut and paste the following to your “to” line of your email and ask for a “No” vote):

Assemblymember.Achadjian@assembly.ca.gov; Assemblymember.Levine@assembly.ca.gov; Assemblymember.Alejo@assembly.ca.gov; Assemblymember.Bradford@assembly.ca.gov; Assemblymember.Gordon@assembly.ca.gov; Assemblymember.Melendez@assembly.ca.gov; Assemblymember.Mullin@assembly.ca.gov; Assemblymember.Rendon@assembly.ca.gov; Assemblymember.Waldron@assembly.ca.gov

Here is sample language you can use (please feel free to cut and paste to your email):

I am writing to urge you to vote No on AB 2343. AB 2343 loses sight of what is, in fact, one of the primary functions and mandates of a taxpayer funded, municipal animal shelter: to provide a safe haven for the lost animals of local people and a place where they can go to find them. Since their taxes pay for these services, families with cats deserve the same amount of time as families who share their homes with dogs to reclaim their companions. At the same time that the bill immediately divests a family of their cat, it allows shelters to immediately give these cats to others who could then sell them for a profit and sell them for any reason whatsoever, not just for purposes of companionship. This will put animals in harm’s way. Thank you.

As wrong as it is to talk of cats as “property,” given their current legal status as such and without the benefits that would come with having other legally guaranteed rights at this time in history, in this limited circumstance, their legal status as property confers a protection where no others currently exist: the express intent of the proposal being put forth is to divest a person of his “title” without any reasonable proceeding for that purpose and would manifestly be a taking of property without due process of law. Under the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, and of Section 1, Article 1, such taking would not be within the power of the state or municipality, and the statute purporting to provide therefore would be void. Currently, approximately 7,818 families a year reclaim their cats from California shelters. Consider that unless those cats have identification, the Fearing Bill would potentially divest that number of Californians from their “property” without due process of law. Given that these animals are often beloved family members, it is naïve to assume that none of those people will step forward to challenge the constitutionality of that law. In fact, it is fair to assume that many of them are likely to do so. To help them, the No Kill Advocacy Center will file a lawsuit against any shelter, any municipality, and any receiving organization which illegal takes a family’s beloved companion to give to others.

The Humane Society of the United States.AB2343_0001

Please note: You may have received an alert from Wayne Pacelle of HSUS asking you to support the bill. He either sent that alert without reading the bill or he is more uncaring than any of us could have imagined, which is saying a lot given his many misdeeds and his embrace of the most notorious dog abuser of our generation. For more information about Pacelle’s alert, click here.

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Have a comment? Join the discussion by clicking here.

Here is my story: www.nathanwinograd.com/?p=11902

And this is my vision: http://vimeo.com/48445902

AB 2343 Seeks to Eviscerate Protections for Dogs/Cats in CA Shelters

April 13, 2014 by  

dog

April 12, 2014

The Hon. Katcho Achadjian, Chair, and
Members of the Local Government Committee
Assembly Local Government Committee
1020 N Street, Room 157
Sacramento, California 95814

Re: AB 2343

Dear Chairman Achadjian and Members of the Local Government Committee,

We are writing in opposition to AB 2343 as it now stands and believe it should be amended. First, it proposes that stray cats with no identification at the time the cat enters a shelter—either because the collar was taken off, fell off, a microchip scan failed to find a match or the animal never had one—be adopted out or transferred to “rescue groups” and others immediately, with no right of redemption by the cat’s human family. This is unfair to families who deeply love their cats. Coupled with the fact that California’s stray holding period is already among the lowest in the nation, breaking up families by having them lose all rights in their animal with no reclaim period of any kind is draconian. AB 2343 loses sight of what, in fact, is one of the primary functions and mandates of a taxpayer funded, municipal animal shelter: to provide a safe haven for the lost animals of local people and a place where they can go to find them. Since their taxes pay for these services, families with cats deserve the same amount of time as families who share their homes with dogs to reclaim their companions. Second, at the same time that the bill immediately divests a family of their cat, it allows shelters to immediately give these cats to others who could then sell them for a profit and sell them for any reason whatsoever, not just for purposes of companionship. This will put animals in harm’s way. As a former deputy district attorney, animal control officer, and animal shelter director, I speak out of experience. I also speak out of experience with these particular provisions of the law.

In 1998 and subsequent years, as an attorney for what was the state’s most successful shelter, my organization worked with Senator Hayden to pass and protect the 1998 Animal Shelter Law—the law AB 2343 seeks to weaken, even though it has since come to be regarded as one of the most vital laws protecting homeless dogs and cats in our state’s shelters.

Among other things, the purpose of the 1998 law was two-fold. One of those was to empower the California animal rescue community to save the lives of animals on death row in our state’s shelters. It was an attempt to eliminate the discretion which allowed shelter directors to kill animals other non-profit groups had requested to save, a problem that proved to be epidemic statewide.

Second, it sought to protect people from heartache; the heartache that comes from having beloved animal companions killed or given to others because California, the country’s wealthiest and arguably most progressive state, had a holding period—a paltry 72 hours—that was the second lowest in the entire country. In fact, by increasing it to four days, California retained the second lowest holding period in the nation. But at 72 hours, by the time people were able to miss work and get to the shelter, their animals were often already dead.

Though the bill was enacted into law with overwhelming bipartisan support, it faced fierce opposition by regressive shelters in the state and their mouthpiece, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which is also spearheading AB 2343. Among other things, they argued that these changes would lead to overcrowding and would put animals in the hands of dog fighters and hoarders, a claim that 14 years of experience proved a lie. Wisely, the legislature and governor then, as should occur now, did not listen to HSUS. The rescue rights provision alone, which makes it illegal for shelters to kill animals when non-profit rescue organizations are willing to save the animals, has led to the direct saving of over 46,000 animals a year. The number of animals transferred to rescue groups rather than killed went from 12,526 to 58,939—a lifesaving increase of over 370%, animals who would have been killed had the Legislature listened to HSUS.

One of the reasons their fear mongering failed to materialize is because two vital protections for animals were written into the law, provisions that AB 2343 now seeks to strip away. As it is now written, California law mandates the transfer of animals on death row at shelters only after the holding period (given families an opportunity to reclaim their animal companions) and only to non-profit organizations recognized under Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3). These organizations must have a mission of prevention of cruelty to animals and be adopting animals for purposes of adoption. Such requirements serve important policy considerations. For one, the requirement that they have a mission of animal protection and adoption speaks for itself. Without such a provision, animals could be sold to others for potentially harmful purposes.

Second, the IRS requirement provides oversight by promoting professionalism. For example, they must register with the federal government, and with several state agencies, including the Department of State and Attorney General, as well as requiring that they have an independent Board of Directors. Moreover, experience in California has shown that it results in more individual rescuers incorporating and in fact, statewide surveys in two states found that virtually all rescuers who want to save animals from shelters but are not 501(c)(3) organizations would become so if a similar law were enacted, effectively increasing the professionalism, capacity, and oversight of rescue organizations. This is good for those organizations and it is good for animals.

Yet, under AB 2343, the following would also be considered “rescue groups” for purposes of this law and thus have a mandatory right of access: any individual calling himself an “entity” or two or more individuals, whose purpose includes “the sale or placement of any dog/cat.” Under the express terms of the language, they could be non-profit or for-profit. There is no requirement that the individuals be licensed, have any sort of corporate status, or have standards of any kind. As written, they do not even have to sell animals to be companions, but can be in the business of selling dogs or cats for any purpose whatsoever.

At the No Kill Advocacy Center, we believe that the life of an animal is paramount and when facing a guaranteed death, every effort should be extended to give animals an alternative. But AB 2343 would make an unjustified and potentially disastrous leap which has not proved necessary in those communities across the state and country that have already ended the killing of healthy and treatable animals. To save more animals, we do not need to eliminate existing protections that also safeguard their welfare. Moreover, modifying the provisions of an already proven, effective law that does not require a “fix” to the point that it can potentially undermine, rather than further, the laws’ singular purpose—to protect animals from harm—may needlessly place the larger law itself in jeopardy.

As an attorney involved in the original law who has since worked to pass similar provisions in other states through The No Kill Advocacy Center, I am deeply disturbed by the dangerous precedent introduced with AB 2343, a move that seeks to “fix” a law that is not broken by weakening the protections that it currently affords to our state’s homeless animals. With no analogous licensure requirement or even a requirement that those claiming animals be in the business of selling animals as companions, this law has the potential to lead to tragic outcomes that would not have occurred if the law was kept intact. This not only harms animals, but any disasters resulting from HSUS’ proposed change will no doubt be erroneously misinterpreted as resulting from the law in general, and not the addition of the dangerous provision HSUS is now proposing. This, in turn, may result in the possibility that the Legislature may curtail all rescue access in California, access that now saves the lives of tens of thousands of animals every year by non-profit SPCAs and other adoption organizations. It would certainly kill any hope for responsible rescue access in other states, causing long term damage to the effort to save more lives by empowering non-profit rescue organizations.

Second, at the same time that it empowers people who can sell animals for any purpose, it thoroughly divests families of any rights to their cats if the cat enters the shelter without identification even though the public funds this service and has a right to expect it. This proposal not only undermines the relationship people have with their animal companions and causes them emotional suffering, but it is also illegal. As wrong as it is to talk of cats as “property,” given their current legal status as such and without the benefits that would come with having other legally guaranteed rights at this time in history, in this limited circumstance, their legal status as property confers a protection where no others currently exist: the express intent of the proposal being put forth is to divest a person of his “title” without any reasonable proceeding for that purpose and would manifestly be a taking of property without due process of law. Under the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, and of Section 1, Article 1, such taking would not be within the power of the state or municipality, and the statute purporting to provide therefore would be void. Currently, approximately 7,818 families a year reclaim their cats from California shelters. Consider that unless those cats have identification, HSUS’ proposal would potentially divest that number of Californians from their “property” without due process of law. Given that these animals are often beloved family members, it is naïve to assume that none of those people will step forward to challenge the constitutionality of that law. In fact, it is fair to assume that many of them are likely to do so. (Even if they don’t, our legislators should not be in the business of seeking unconstitutional laws.)

Despite its unconstitutional overreach and ethical concerns, HSUS is no doubt arguing that most cats are not reclaimed and so it will affect few families. But this is dishonest, with 7,818 families annually proving otherwise. It is also based on a flawed understanding of why more cats are not reclaimed. It is not because the cat lacks a family, but because shelters kill them too quickly before their families can find them. In California, the existing holding period is already far from generous: a paltry 72 hours before animals can be killed. Only one state has a holding period lower than California. The answer here is to increase the holding period, not shorten it. Second, there are many reasons why cats end up at shelters as strays, but a number of them are not even lost. Frequently, they are taken to the shelter by neighbors or others who assume they are lost when they are not. Once again, these cats are killed because of the inadequate holding period. Third, low return rates for cats are also caused by misguided lost and found techniques on the part of an uninformed family, because shelter staff are often ignorant of proper techniques to search for lost cats and thus fail to educate families in a manner that will lead to fewer impounds and greater reclaims, because some cats do not enter shelters for several weeks after a family has already stopped looking (fearing the worst), and also because of the failure of shelters to match lost reports with the found cats entering their facilities. The answer to the various reasons as to why more cats are not reclaimed by their families is not to strip families of their rights by eliminating a reclaim period altogether, but by regulating shelters and mandating training so they do a better job. In fact, shelters which do a better job at these things vastly increase their reclaim rates for cats: 22% across all shelters in Colorado (about the same as the dog reclaim rate nationally), and even higher in other North American communities. HSUS’ proposal not only counters compelling evidence which disproves the perceived “need” for it, but would in fact exacerbate, rather than fix, the causes of the currently low reclaim rates of cats in California shelters.

In other words, the fault for low reclaim rates for cats lies with the shelter and HSUS is using the poor performance of those shelters as a reason to undermine protections that people in California have a right to expect of their tax-funded institutions. Finally, regardless of the numbers, that not allowing people any time to reclaim their cats is an obvious threat to the deep and meaningful relationship between people and their cats must be pointed out to HSUS which has grown astronomically wealthy trumpeting the value of the “human-animal bond” adds another layer of absurdity to the already bewildering necessity of this discussion, one based on HSUS’ astounding assertion that the citizens of California should immediately lose claims to their animals—often cherished family members—should they ever accidentally end up at a shelter they fund in part expressly for such purpose.

Finally, AB 2343 is dishonest in its scope and impact. We agree that shelters should be holding animals for longer than 72 hours. And but for a Commission on State Mandates ruling, which HSUS urged, and the Governor’s refusal to fund animal welfare, they would be. But while AB 2343 claims to incentivize the lengthening of holding periods for dogs and cats by eliminating a mandate claim, it will only do so for one year. The legislation promises a one-time budget allocation of $10,000,000 to be shared among all cities and counties which agree to do so. If the Governor or Legislature fails to fund it in the future, and given the history of reimbursement such a scenario is likely, the holding periods will no longer be enforceable, meaning they will either revert to 72 hours or, worse, not exist all, while the harmful aspects of the law will remain on the books, meaning shelters will continue to take cats from the families who love them and give them to those who sell them for undisclosed purposes at a profit, even after other animals lose the benefit of a longer holding period.

As such, AB 2343 does not seek to strengthen or even protect the 1998 Animal Shelter Law; in respect to and as it relates to cats without identification, rescue rights, animal welfare, and holding periods, it seeks to weaken it, not surprising given HSUS’ opposition to it then and HSUS lobbyist Jennifer Fearing’s blind defense of Governor Brown’s failed attempt to repeal it in 2012. Fearing, who has never run a shelter, incredulously told the Sacramento Bee that the law was no longer needed, while using HSUS political muscle to defeat progressive shelter reform laws like it in other states throughout the nation. When it comes to the two dangerous provisions proposed in AB 2343, HSUS is, as it was in 1998 and 2012, on the wrong side of history, the animals, and the people who love them.

Very truly yours,

Nathan J. Winograd

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