April 18, 2014
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.
- Read the bill: http://bit.ly/1nbKiz3
- Read my analysis: http://huff.to/1hQdp8X
- Read the letter from the No Kill Advocacy Center: http://bit.ly/1hAYwHy
- Read the analysis from a Professor of Animal Law at UCLA: http://bit.ly/1jEvjK8
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.
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
April 17, 2014
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.
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
April 15, 2014
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.
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.
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.
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
April 13, 2014
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
Jennifer Fearing, HSUS Lobbyist: ‘Take cats from the families who love them and give them to those who sell them for undisclosed purposes at a profit.’
April 11, 2014
“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.