April 25, 2011 by Nathan J. Winograd
California requires public and private shelters to release animals who are not “irremediably suffering” to nonprofit animal rescue and adoption groups with Internal Revenue Code §501(c)(3) status, as long as those groups request the animals “prior to [the animal’s] scheduled killing.” This “rescue access provision” is part of the Hayden Law (also known as Chapter 752, Statutes of 1998), which first went into effect on July 1, 1999. An analysis of this provision conducted by an attorney at one of the largest law firms in the world concludes that over the last ten years since its enactment, the Hayden Law has led to many concrete, positive changes for shelter animals and the rescue groups committed to saving them.
In particular, the “rescue access” provision of the Hayden Law has empowered nonprofit groups to save more animals’ lives, to lower killing rates in our shelters, and also to save taxpayer money. The law has also led to positive culture changes in shelters. In one case prior to its enactment, shelter employee hosed down the cage of a dog that had just had puppies, resulting in one of the puppies being swept down the drain and drowned. The shelter not only neglected animals, but it also refused to work with rescue groups. In fact, the shelter was a prime example of why the rescue access provision was so essential, despite the common myth that shelters would never act irrationally and immorally by wasting taxpayer money by killing and disposing of animals that rescue groups were willing to save. Thanks to the Hayden Law, the number of cats and dogs rescued from that shelter immediately started to increase from zero before Hayden was implemented to over 1200 cats and 2500 dogs annually. And now that rescue groups have legal access and no longer fear retaliation, they have successfully lobbied for overall improvements in shelter operations.
Other species entering shelters also benefit from the Hayden Law’s rescue access provision, not just dogs and cats. While rabbits are the third most popular pet after dogs and cats, most shelters in California prior to the enactment of the Hayden Law did very little for them. The Hayden Law places cats, dogs, and small animals on the same footing. Thus, the fact that the Hayden Law establishes mandatory rescue access for small animals as well as cats and dogs has helped create a more vibrant and professional small animal rescue community. As a result, more rabbits and other small animals are getting out of shelters alive.
Before the Hayden Law, there was great variation in how willing public shelters were to work with nonprofit groups: “Some are better than others, some more proactive, some more difficult… Some still think they’re [role is to] house and kill [animals].” One shelter went from refusing to give any animals to rescue groups despite the highest killing rate in the state to transferring over 4,000 animals a year. Not only did this save lives, but taxpayer money as well. In fact, one analysis found taxpayer savings of nearly $500,000 a year in one community as a result of these public-private partnerships.
By contrast, in states with no equivalent of the rescue access provision of the Hayden Law, rescuers have a much more difficult time trying to save lives and improve shelters; in the absence of any legal mechanism to require that shelters work with rescue groups, rescuers are fearful of the shelters’ unchecked power to retaliate against them. The result is that animals who are neglected and even abused in shelters are more likely not to be helped, and animals who would otherwise be rescued are killed instead.
Aside from the emotional toll on rescuers, the fact that many rescue organizations cannot operate effectively due to retaliation from shelters only reaffirms the need for rescue access laws in states outside of California. In New York and Washington, for example, rescue groups state that the lack of a rescue access law has caused many of them to lose rescue access because they criticized shelters publicly.
Overall, the past ten years of experience with rescue access legislation in California reveal that rescue groups can significantly increase the number of animals saved and significantly decrease shelter killing rates and expenditures. Although there continues to be resistant shelter managers, there have been many improvements as a result of the Hayden Law. Moreover, there is no evidence that the problems predicted by some when the law was considered, such as hoarding or exposing the public to dangerous dogs, has ever materialized.
Read the report by clicking here.
Learn about rescue access laws by clicking here.
Lobby to have them introduced in your state by clicking here.
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