“As used in this section, an ‘animal rescue or adoption organization’ is a for-profit or nonprofit, as described in Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, entity, or a collaboration of individuals with at least one of its purposes being the sale or placement of any dog/cat that has been removed from a public animal control agency or shelter, society for the prevention of cruelty to animals shelter, or humane society shelter, or that has been previously owned by any person other than the original breeder of that dog/cat.”
Two weeks ago, I warned about a possible attempt by Jennifer Fearing, HSUS’ California lobbyist, to seek legislation eliminating the right of families to reclaim their cat. You can read that article by clicking here. I was right. But it gets worse: AB 2343, as amended yesterday, will not only tear families apart, it will allow for the transfer of California’s shelter dogs and cats to individuals who want to sell them for undisclosed purposes. Yes, sell them.
If HSUS succeeds, stray cats who enter California shelters with no identification either because the collar was taken off, fell off, a microchip scan failed to find a match or the animal never had one, could be adopted out or transferred to individuals and companies that sell them for profit, with no right of redemption by the cat’s human family and no requirement that the individuals disclose what they plan to sell those animals for. If you live in California and HSUS has its way, your lost cat could not only be immediately given to others on the very day he or she becomes lost, but she or he may be given to people who sell them to others for unknown, even potentially harmful, purposes.
As I argued in the other article, this is unfair to families who deeply love their cats. Accidents happen; animals get lost and end up at shelters, yet HSUS proposes breaking up families by having them lose all rights in their animal with no reclaim period of any kind. In suggesting this disturbing proposal, HSUS has lost 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.
But AB 2343 is worse than I could have envisioned. Not only does Fearing want to take your cat from you, she proposes to allow shelters to immediately give these cats to others who could then sell them for any reason whatsoever. In addition, she proposes that if shelters do hold the cats for a holding period but then decide to kill them, those individuals would then have a legal right to take those cats, and dogs, and sell them for any purpose.
Currently, California law makes it illegal for tax-funded and other shelters to kill animals after the holding period (and thus after their families have had an opportunity to reclaim them) when qualified non-profit shelters and rescue groups are willing to save them. The law has been an unqualified success. The number of animals transferred to rescue groups rather than killed went from 12,526 to 58,939—a lifesaving increase of over 370%. (Not surprisingly, HSUS opposed the law.) As it is now written, California law mandates the transfer of animals on death row at shelters only to non-profit organization 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. Second, the IRS requirement provides oversight. For example, they must register with the federal government, and with several state agencies, including the Department of State and Attorney General, providing a number of checks and balances. It also requires 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 were not 501(c)(3) organizations, would become so if a similar law passes, effectively increasing the professionalism, capacity, and oversight of rescue organizations. This is good for those organizations and it is good for animals.
Jennifer Fearing now proposes to eliminate these safeguards. 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 Fearing’s 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.
Just one month ago, HSUS helped kill a provision in a Minnesota bill which would have empowered non-profit shelters, like SPCAs and humane societies, as well as non-profit rescue groups in that state to save animals who shelters were intent on killing. The bill required that these groups have a mission of animal protection and adoption. It required them to be an incorporated non-profit organization. It excluded groups if “any of the organization’s current directors, officers, staff, or volunteers have been convicted in a court of competent jurisdiction of a crime consisting of cruelty to animals or neglect of animals; or if such charges are pending; or if that organization is constrained by a court order that prevents the organization from taking in or keeping animals.” And it required those groups report “the total number of animals the organization has taken from the agency who have been adopted, died, were transferred, were killed, and are still under the organization’s care.” HSUS joined shelters in opposing this law by claiming that this law would put animals in the hands of dog fighters and hoarders. Similarly, HSUS either failed to support or helped kill bills in other states that went even further by including inspection by the shelter if there was probable cause to believe neglect or cruelty. In one of those states, over 100,000 animals have been killed as a result. Yet, HSUS is now willing to give animals to anyone who sells them at a profit in California, while taking those cats from the families who love them. Why? For one reason and one reason only: They will do whatever shelters ask them to do.
In fact, an HSUS official admitted to me that HSUS would never take a position in opposition to what the law’s leading opponent in Minnesota, the Animal Humane Society, a kill shelter, wanted, because of their relationship, admitting that HSUS is a lobbying organization for shelters, rather than the animals those shelters kill. As such, moral consistency, logical consistency, the best interests of animals, what facts or experience have demonstrated to maximize lifesaving and animal welfare are simply of no consequence to HSUS and its lobbyist, Jennifer Fearing. Instead, HSUS operates by a simple maxim, uncomplicated by matters relating to its professed mission of promoting animal welfare: whatever shelters want, shelters get. Not only does the Minnesota debacle prove this, so does AB 2343 in California, a law which directly counters every assertion made by HSUS in their opposition to rescue rights bills in other states. In Minnesota, they joined forces with AHS which opposed the law by disparaging the motives of rescue groups. In California, HSUS has swung the pendulum in entirely the opposite direction, arguing that anyone, for any purpose, should be allowed to claim and even sell California’s lost and abandoned dogs and cats, even for purposes other than companionship.
Of course, I 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 Fearing and HSUS ask us to 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 lives, 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.
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, at the same time it eliminates rights for the families who dearly love their cats. This not only harms those animals and causes pain for people, 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, resulting 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 movement to empower non-profit rescue organizations to save more lives.
In short, you do not have a right to your cat if he or she gets lost and ends up at the shelter, but a for profit company does. For HSUS, it is whatever shelters want, shelters get, the animals and people who love them be damned.
The bill has been assigned to the Local Government Committee. To send an email urging them not to accept those two amendments, click here.