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Senator Tom Hayden has died.

As obituaries are written across California and even our nation to honor the life and achievements of this stalwart champion of justice, those tributes will highlight those chapters of his life story for which Tom Hayden is most famous, including his efforts as an outspoken, young anti-war activist in the 1960s and 70s, his work championing civil rights and fighting poverty, and, of course, his marriage to Jane Fonda. But what is lesser known, but no less important, is how his passing marks the end of a life that left a profound and lasting legacy for the animals of California; a legacy that touched me, personally, in two important ways.

Not only did I have the honor of working with him in his efforts to strengthen protections for California’s shelter animals, but my dog, Oswald, owes his very life to Tom Hayden, as do over 46,000 dogs, cats, rabbits and other animals who are being saved, rather than killed, in California pounds every year.

In 1998, Senator Hayden introduced the California Animal Shelter Law that, among other things, made it illegal for pounds to kill animals if rescue groups were willing to save them. Today, that law is simply known as the “Hayden Law.”

Although the legislation was opposed by HSUS, the ASPCA, and virtually every “shelter” in California, it passed by an overwhelmingly bipartisan margin. It simply made no sense to legislators that taxpayers were killing animals at public expense when private rescuers were willing to spend their own money to save them. After it passed, HSUS and others spent years trying to water it down and repeal it. Tragically, they succeeded in derailing the longer holding periods and some other provisions, but they failed in repeal of the rescue rights law.

I attended and testified at every hearing in defense of that law. Before the start of each one, I would hear that familiar yell of his to lace up and get in the ring: “Where’s Winograd?” And along with a handful of others, we’d have to fend off those who saw shelter reform as a threat to their power and to the power of their friends: HSUS, Los Angeles County Dept. of Animal Care & Control, the League of California Cities, the California Animal Control Directors Association, the State Humane Association, and all their cronies.

For those who live in the Golden State, Senator Hayden’s lasting legacy can be seen on your morning walk when you pass someone walking a dog saved from a pound that was forced to allow that animal to go into the loving and protective embrace of a rescue group rather than out their backdoor in a garbage bag. It can be seen in the cat sunning himself in the window of your neighbor’s house if that cat was adopted, as many in California have been, from a rescue group who pulled the litter of which she was a part from a pound that had scheduled them to be killed.

In just one California county, the number of dogs and cats and other animals who went to rescue rather than be killed went from zero to roughly 4,000 every year because the pounds were precluded by the Hayden Law from killing animals rescue groups wanted to save. Oswald, my dog, came from that pound. Without the Hayden Law, Oswald would be dead.

Over 800,000 and as many as a 1,000,000 animals have been saved rather than killed in the 18 years since the Hayden Law was signed by the Governor. And one of them is sleeping comfortably beside me as I write these words. One day away from being killed in a pound that once had a “no rescue” policy, Oswald — underweight, fearful, and suffering from a painful eye injury — was transferred to a rescue group who patched him up and adopted him to us.

When he wakes, we’ll go for a walk. He’ll feel the sun overhead. He’ll take in all the unique and wonderful smells in the breeze. He’ll be greeted by everyone who passes by and he’ll return that greeting ten-fold. He’ll also lift his leg on bushes of all kinds to let every other dog in the neighborhood know that “Oswald Was Here.”

And he is here, and will be here for many, many years to come, because of a kind and decent man.

“Where’s Winograd?”

I’m right here Tom, continuing to champion your noble legacy.

Click here to introduce Hayden’s Law in your city, county, or state and save a million animals of your own.

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