Where Do We Go From Here?

March 16, 2012 by  

PAULIN AMENDS QUICK KILL BILL TO REMOVE “PSYCHOLOGICAL PAIN” PROVISION, BUT THE FIGHT FOR THE SAFETY OF NEW YORK ANIMALS IS FAR FROM OVER.

Congratulations to every animal lover who assisted in forcing Assemblywoman Amy Paulin to amend her deadly legislation, the “Quick Kill Bill,” to eliminate the provision allowing for the immediate killing of animals entering shelters who are claimed to be in “psychological pain.” Together, we have succeeded in stopping the ASPCA, Jane Hoffman of the Mayor’s Alliance, a woman named Laura Allen and Amy Paulin from eroding New York State’s mandated holding period for shelter animals. By flooding the New York State legislature with roughly 20,000 calls and e-mails of opposition, 11 cosponsors dropped their support for the bill, including the New York Senator who introduced the bill in his chamber, and Paulin was forced to revise some of the language of her bill.

Together, we prevented a very tiny handful of heartless people from thwarting the will of animal lovers and the best interest of animals by turning back the clock on animal protection in New York over 40 years.  While this is indeed cause for celebration, and evidence of our collective power, it is, in reality, just the beginning of the fight against Paulin’s bill and the effort by a small group of individuals to thwart real shelter reform, including genuine rescue access, in New York State.

Paulin’s bill, even as amended, is still dangerous, and although over the last few months we were forced to focus our energies on preserving what few protections New York animals have when they enter shelters, we must still contend with the fact that the Paulin bill was introduced merely to co-opt the real rescue access bill overwhelmingly supported by New York rescuers and animal lovers, the Kellner Bill (A07312A). The Kellner bill would require shelters to give animals to rescue groups that they have determined to kill. Had the “psychological pain” provision never been included in the Paulin Bill—an immediate threat to animals which required our urgent focus—then all of our energies would have been aimed at exposing how the Paulin bill is merely a cynical attempt to derail the effort for the much needed rescue access provision guaranteed by the Kellner Bill.

Please join me and New York rescuers and animal lovers in directing our attention back to our original goal: guaranteeing genuine rescue access legislation in New York state to prevent the needless deaths of an estimated 25,000 animals every single year who shelters are determined to kill, but rescue groups are willing to save.

Below is a quick history of the Paulin Bill, the players who are working to promote it and thereby defeat true rescue access legislation, and a point-by point overview of the dangers of the Paulin bill as it is now written, including the following:

  1. The amended bill says that shelter “may” make animals they intend to kill available to rescue groups, rather than “shall” as the Kellner bill does. In short, it continues to give shelters the power to kill in the face of a rescue group alternative.
  2. The authors themselves admit that the law is amended to add “‘placement with an organization on a list of approved organizations’ as an option for a humane society, animal shelter or pound to consider in the case of any animal of which possession is taken.” It should not be an “option” for them “to consider,” but a requirement for animals scheduled to be killed.
  3. The amended bill gives shelters the power to “approve” or not approve rescue groups, eviscerating any whistleblower protections that rescue rights laws were designed for by giving shelters the unchecked power to deny rescue groups because the director deems them “disruptive.” That is tantamount to self-regulation by the industry. In other words, the requirement should be mandatory for animals shelters are intent on killing when rescue groups meet state-approved criteria, like those in the much more comprehensive and thoughtful bill introduced by Assembly Member Micah Kellner (A07312A).
  4. Shelters “are not required to include on the list animal rescue organizations located outside of the impounding organization’s county and adjoining counties in the state of New York”, thus preserving Jane Hoffman’s power at the expense of the animals and allowing rural shelters to avoid working with rescue groups in Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester, and New York City where homes are in greater abundance.

The “Quick Kill” Bill

New York State Assemblywoman Amy Paulin has a reputation for introducing bills on behalf of well-heeled constituents without reading them. Her “Quick Kill” bill (A05449A) was no exception. At the behest of the ASPCA, and working with Laura Allen of the so-called Animal Law Coalition (it is a coalition of one—Laura Allen) and Jane Hoffman of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC Animals which has nothing to do with the Mayor, she introduced a bill that would have allowed New York State shelters to kill animals immediately if shelter staff determines that the animals are in “psychological pain.” There was no definition of what constituted psychological pain and no standards to how it would have been applied. For the first time anywhere in the U.S., shelters would have been allowed to kill animals with no holding period of any kind based on the animals’ perceived state of mind, giving shelter staff unlimited discretion to immediately kill animals based on unenforceable, unknowable, and completely subjective criteria. Not only was this a real and immediate threat to shy and scared animals, but it undermined New York State’s laws protecting lost animals that have been in place since 1971, turning back the clock on animal protection over 40 years.

Tragically, that was not the only problem with the bill. The parts of the bill that would have been beneficial, such as posting animals on the internet or scanning for microchips, turned out to be suggestive, rather than mandatory. Paulin’s bill only required these things if they were “practicable,” and tragically, they never seem to be practicable or we would not need a law in the first place. When it comes to legislation, language is everything, and giving shelters the out if they determine doing so is not “practicable” rendered the provisions paper tigers.

Finally, the provisions asking shelters to work with rescue organizations merely codified existing practices. The bill specifically said that shelters “may” give animals to rescue groups rather than kill them, instead of “shall” give the animals to them. And if they choose to, it gave them unlimited authority to determine whether a rescue group or particular animal qualifies. If shelter staff believed the rescue group is unfairly critical of the shelter, they could have deemed that rescue group “abusive” under the law and prevented them from rescuing animals. That is the power they have now, and shelters like New York City’s pound have banned rescuers and volunteers for exercising their First Amendment rights trying to improve conditions. (Except for a few cosmetic changes, these latter provisions have not changed.)

Writing the provisions this way was by design. The ASPCA, Hoffman, and Allen—collectively known in New York City as the “humane mafia”—asked Paulin to introduce the “Quick Kill” bill as an alternative to true shelter reform, which they have been fighting for three years because they saw it as a threat to their power, and in the case of Hoffman, wealth. (You can read more by clicking here.) In response, roughly 20,000 New Yorkers wrote in opposition, ten of Paulin’s cosponsors withdrew their support, the Senate sponsor struck his own bill leaving her without anyone in the Senate willing to carry it, and Codes Committee Chairman, Joe Lentol, stated emphatically, the bill was dead. Instead of acknowledging anyone’s concerns, Paulin dismissed all of them, including Lentol, as “uninformed,” “uneducated,” and “emotional.” We wanted what she wanted, she said. We were just too stupid to know it.

The Amendments

A more thoughtful Assembly Member would have seen their relationship with the ASPCA, which kills animals in the face of alternatives and hoards its money while the animals of New York City’s pound are systematically neglected, abused, and put to death, and those of the ASPCA’s enablers, like Allen and Hoffman, who have their own skeletons in the closet (Allen was willing to exploit the law to save her own dog which was declared dangerous by a shelter), as not only toxic, but self-serving at her expense. Instead, Paulin—ever willing to do their bidding—simply claimed that it was all a big “misunderstanding” (it was not), and amended her bill (she had no choice), reintroducing it as A05449B, without the Quick Kill provision. The bill also made other improvements, such as removing some (but not all) of the language giving shelters an out if they find certain provisions impracticable—see, for example, Section 1(A)(3) requiring shelters to upload a photograph to the internet, but only “if practicable” or requiring shelters to publicize stray animals, again only if practicable—somewhat of an improvement over the original bill (A05449A), but hardly making the new version worthy of support; in fact, far from it.

It is merely a continuation of their true goal: undermine rescue access rights which would undermine Hoffman’s power as the middleman between rescue groups and the New York City pound which has allowed her to control and siphon off some of the over $20,000,000 in grants. They are willing to compromise on the rest of the bill because those provisions are not important to them. They merely provide a vehicle to undermine the effort to pass a true rescue group bill of rights.

Their hope is that people will support the requirement of “appropriate” vaccinations and “necessary” medical care enough (“necessary” is not defined, unlike the Kellner bill) that they will go along with the rest of the bill, even at the expense of codifying shelter power over rescue groups. (Ironically, the ASPCA claimed legislators would not support the true shelter reform bill introduced by Assemblyman Micah Kellner because it was an “unfunded mandate,” but Paulin’s bill is now filled with unfunded mandates. Why would they support her unfunded mandate that shelters provide veterinary care and vaccinations if they were not willing to support the Kellner bill?) Although Hoffman & Company made some cosmetic changes to those provisions, the intent remains the same; as does the outcome: the continued killing of tens of thousands of animals every year in New York State shelters, even when those animals have an immediate place to go.

The amendments were also so hastily and sloppily written (does Paulin’s staff even proof the language given to her by Nancy Perry of the ASPCA, Allen, and Hoffman?), that in fact, they are internally contradictory. And they exclude whole categories of shelter animals. For example, the sections suggesting, if practicable, that photographs be uploaded to the internet, or that require veterinary care and vaccinations do not appear to apply to owner-surrendered animals, only stray animals. Moreover, while Section 1 deals with dogs and Section 2 deals with other animals such as cats, the Section 2 requirements to provide shelter, food and water specifically says that they have to do this only “during the time the dog is in the[ir] possession.” Section 2 does not deal with dogs, so it makes no sense. Poor drafting to be sure, but it affects the legal requirements. All of that, of course, can be remedied and depending on the level of opposition, may well be, because none of that really matters much to them. Their eye is on the real prize: undermine the movement for full rescue access, the kind that gives rescue groups whistleblower protection from abusive shelter directors. A 2010 survey found that 71% of NYS rescue groups have been turned away by shelters and those shelters subsequently killed the animals they offered to save. The survey also found that roughly half of all non-profit organizations have been the subject of retaliation, including retaliatory killing of animals, for expressing concern about inhumane conditions in shelters.

Shelters May Transfer Animals Instead of Killing Them; They Don’t Have To

That is why the bill, especially the provisions allegedly mandating “rescue access,” continue to deserve the opposition of New York State animal lovers and the legislators who represent them. Section 4 of the bill says that shelter “may” make animals they intend to kill available to rescue groups, rather than “shall” as the Kellner bill does. In short, it continues to give shelters the power to do one of three things after the holding period for stray animals: adopt the animals out, transfer the animals to rescue groups, or kill them. That is the power they always have had. As such, the bill continues to codify the status quo which has resulted in the killing of, by some estimates, 25,000 animals every year despite rescue groups ready, willing, able, and capable of saving them. (The bill later says that animals cannot be killed unless the shelter reaches out to rescue groups, so it is internally contradictory on this score. Whether this is simply Allen and Hoffman’s sloppy draftsmanship or intentional is not clear. Either way, the language of the enabling section remains permissive—may—rather than mandatory—shall.) In fact, the policy language, part of the legislative history which can be used to determine legislative intent when the bill itself is contradictory or confusing (it is both) specifically says,

Subdivision 2 is amended to add “placement with an organization on a list of approved organizations” as an option for a humane society, animal shelter or pound to consider in the case of any animal of which possession is taken.

It should not be an “option” for them “to consider,” but a requirement for animals scheduled to be killed. Nor does it make sense to give shelters the power to “approve” or not approve rescue groups. That is tantamount to self-regulation by the industry, a power they have used to kill animals in the face of readily-available lifesaving alternatives they have refused to implement. In other words, the requirement should be mandatory for animals shelters are intent on killing when rescue groups meet state-approved criteria, like those in the much more comprehensive and thoughtful bill introduced by Assembly Member Micah Kellner (A07312A).

Self-Regulation

Moreover, the bill gives shelters open-ended discretion to reject rescue groups, since the bill specifically says that rescuers are “subject to approval by the impounding organization as set forth in this subdivision,” once again a power they already have. Other than setting deadlines, the provisions give shelters virtually unchecked power, including the power to reject rescue groups not in their own county or if they claim, with no standards of any kind, that the rescue groups engaged in behavior that calls into question the activities of the shelter, even when those activities include unnecessary killing. In other words, the bill allows Hoffman to maintain control over New York City rescue groups (shelters “are not required to include on the list animal rescue organizations located outside of the impounding organization’s county and adjoining counties in the state of New York”), it allows rural shelters to avoid working with rescue groups in Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester, and New York City where homes are in greater abundance, and it eviscerates any whistleblower protections that rescue rights laws were designed for by giving shelters the unchecked power to deny rescue groups because the director deems them “disruptive.”

New York City’s abusive pound has fired and has threatened to fire volunteers and rescuers who are critical of their shelter (a violation of their First Amendment rights). It has engaged in a witch hunt to determine who leaked information that an employee abused a rabbit, rather than fire the abusive employee (he still works there and still has access to animals). And it continues to set the terms of which rescue groups get approved, turning away qualified rescue groups despite killing healthy and adoptable animals. That kind of conduct would continue under the Paulin bill, even as amended.

History Repeating Itself

Of course, if she hears from enough New Yorkers that they remain opposed, she’ll no doubt accuse them of being “misinformed” and “uneducated.” When that fails, as it did before, she may even claim again that it was a “misunderstanding” as she did with the “Quick Kill” provision, which on top of being dishonest, calls into question her ability: a legislator who keeps misunderstanding what their own bill does is not fit to represent the people, let alone set the standard by which animals live or die in New York State. Once again, this bill—even as amended—is not good for animals, it is not good for animal lovers, it is not good for New York, and it is not a good precedent for the nation.

The good news is that there is already legislation pending that would truly end the practice of convenience killing in New York State shelters. Assembly Member Kellner’s bill (A07312A) would empower non-profit animal rescue organizations to fulfill their missions, a right often denied to them by larger non-profit organizations and shelters. It provides whistleblower protection for rescue groups, creating an incentive for non-profit organizations to help end cruelty or neglect at shelters without fear of retaliation and loss of rescue access. It has specific provisions to ensure that these groups have the best interests of animals at heart and are able to care for them. And it prevents needless animal suffering by mandating precise, sensible, and objective criteria for determining which animals are dangerous or irremediably suffering and therefore exempt from rescue access provisions.

Don’t be fooled: Amy Paulin’s bill is a continuing death threat to animals who have a place to go. Jane Hoffman knows it. Laura Allen knows it. Ed Sayres and Nancy Perry know it. And Amy Paulin does—or should—know it, too.

What You Can Do

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