The Fight for the Minnesota Companion Animal Protection Act
There was a time when Best Friends represented the future. Unless they support reformers and rescuers in Minnesota, they will now represent the past. This week, the Animal Humane Society in Minnesota launched an all out offensive against the Companion Animal Protection Act (CAPA) currently pending in the Minnesota State Legislature, citing Best Friends as one of the reasons. In 2010, Best Friends opposed shelter reform legislation in New York, helping to kill a badly needed bill which would have saved the lives of 25,000 animals per year at no cost to taxpayers. In a letter to supporters, Janelle Dixon, the President of the Animal Humane Society, wrote this week in her opposition to CAPA,
“[L]ike Best Friends Animal Society who did not endorse similar bills introduced in other states, we cannot support this flawed legislation, and we wanted you to know why.”
And like Best Friends, they proceeded to lie about the basis of their opposition, fear mongering with similarly discredited claims and using the same dirty tricks.
The biggest of those dirty tricks is the hoarding card, arguing that animal rescue non-profit organizations are hoarders in disguise, the same argument Best Friends made to oppose rescue access legislation in New York State, even though MN CAPA has extensive protections:
- The group has to be a non-profit organization under IRS Code Section 501(c)(3);
- The group is disqualified if any person associated with the group has any record of convictions for neglect or abuse of animals;
- The group is disqualified if any person associated with group has been charged with any crime involving neglect or abuse of animals, even if they have not been yet convicted.
Moreover, there is nothing—absolutely, positively nothing—in CAPA that requires a kill shelter to work with any particular rescue group. They can work others. Or they can save the animals themselves. What they cannot do, what they should never be permitted to do, is to kill them out of convenience. And preventing the killing of animals who can and should be saved is good public policy.
In addition, the fear-mongering about hoarding is the same disingenuous argument made about the law passed in California in 1998, on which laws like Minnesota’s CAPA are based. As California now has over a decade’s worth of experience with the law, the lack of harm should end any debate. In California, the law passed despite the opposition of killing shelters, and none of the harm materialized as they predicted. But all of the benefit did. In just one of California’s 58 counties, the number of animals saved by rescue groups jumped from 0 before the law, because the pound had a policy of not working with rescue groups choosing to kill them instead, to about 4,000 per year. Times that by 11 years and that’s tens of thousands of animals saved in one county—one of 58—just on the rescue access provision. And given that it saves taxpayers money for holding and killing animals and passes the cost onto adopters and private rescue groups for saving them, the benefit is also economic. In a neighboring California county, the savings on this provision was calculated at $486,480 per year in 1999.
Of course, the 1998 Animal Shelter Law in California is more extensive, and so is Minnesota CAPA. The number of lives saved would be far greater. Delaware passed CAPA in 2010. Lifesaving has also increased there, with one shelter very close to No Kill (after a decline in killing of over 70%). And, of course, Austin, Texas passed similar reforms which are credited with the rise of the save rate from half of all animals to as high as 96%.
In fact, while it is true that Best Friends originally opposed rescue access in New York State, they did not do so for policy reasons. They did so to ally themselves with the ASPCA in order to open a fundraising office in New York City. Their original opposition had nothing whatsoever to do with the merits of the law. It was naked self-interest. Because they were resoundly condemned for it, for betraying the animals in order to increase their own wealth, however, they had to justify the opposition. So they tried to defend themselves by attacking me and by attacking rescuers as hoarders in disguise.* In short, they claimed it would put animals into the hands of hoarders and harm them in other contexts. In other words, the animals were better off dead. This was the Best Friends argument in New York. An argument that, combined with the ASPCA’s war on rescuers, proved enough to kill any hopes of passage in New York. And the Animal Humane Society is using the same dirty tricks from the same dirty playbook, hoping to derail it in Minnesota so that they can continue killing in the face of lifesaving alternatives, pocketing the money given to them by unsuspecting donors who erroneously believe they will use that money to leave no stone unturned if it means saving the life of an animal.
But using Best Friends to justify their opposition to CAPA is not only dirty, it is also wrong. In the end, Best Friends did support the New York law. Once their New York fundraising office was open for business, and the dollars began to flow, they reversed themselves and supported the law the following year. They also praised Delaware after it passed CAPA. And, once the dust settled and reformers were victorious in Austin, they praised them as well, a tacit endorsement of their shelter reform law. But, unfortunately, Best Friends is being used by the Animal Humane Society and they need to account for that. And they can do that by taking away Animal Humane Society’s excuse by publicly and without reservation endorsing Minnesota’s CAPA before the fact, not doing what they did in Austin and Delaware: quietly sitting on the sidelines until the dust settles and then embracing reformers only if they win. Moreover, there are plenty of reasons to support reformers in Minnesota now.
Contrary to the arguments made by the Animal Humane Society in Minnesota, if passed:
- CAPA would make it illegal for shelters to kill animals within minutes of arrival. That is what is faced by roughly half of all animals who enter shelters. If an animal is owner surrendered, it does not matter if the animal is healthy. It does not matter if a rescue group is willing to save the animal. It does not matter if there is space in the shelter, as we know groups like Animal Humane Society kill animals despite empty cages. It does not matter if the animal is highly adoptable. She can be put to death with no holding period of any kind. And many are in shelters across the state and across the nation. CAPA would require shelters to make them available for adoption or rescue right away, unless those animals were suffering. What they can’t do is take them from the front counter where they are surrendered straight to the kill room where they are then discarded in a trash can before the former owner even has to time to get in his car and leave the parking lot;
- It would make it illegal for shelters to kill animals if a qualified rescue organization is willing to save that animal’s life;
- It would make it illegal for shelters to kill animals in front of other animals or using cruel methods;
- It would require shelters to be transparent so that donors and taxpayers can know if their money is being used to save animals, or to kill them;
- It would require shelters to provide basic care;
- And it would end “convenience killing”—the killing of savable animals when there is available cage and kennel space.
Who could be against that?
The answer is rather obvious. Shelter directors and organizations that do not have the best interests of animals at heart. Shelter directors and organizations that find killing easier than doing what is necessary to stop it. That would rather kill than employ readily available lifesaving alternatives. That should not have the power of life and death over defenseless animals. In short, Janelle Dixon and the Animal Humane Society. She should be fired. And they should be condemned for their opposition. Thankfully, they already are.
As the Animal Humane Society attacks this badly needed bill, their opposition—like that of Best Friends—is backfiring as donors, supporters, and every day animal lovers are discovering that their shelters are not doing these things already and that the large animal “protection” groups are defending their ability not to.
In fact, the Animal Humane Society has a long, dubious history of killing animals out of convenience, even when rescue groups are offering to save those lives. Indeed, the Animal Humane Society routinely kills despite empty cages, kills animals in violation of state mandated holding periods, kills Minnesota animals while taking in out of state animals, and lies to the public about it. That is not what people want. And it is certainly not what the animals deserve when they enter a so-called “humane society.”
In a national survey, 96% of Americans—almost every single person—said we have a moral obligation to protect animals and that we should have strong laws to do so. CAPA mandates the programs and services which have proven so successful at lifesaving in shelters which have implemented them; follows the only model that has actually created a No Kill community; and, focuses its effort on the very shelters that are doing the killing. As a result, it provides a framework for success unavailable from traditional legislative models such as punitive legislation aimed at the public or through counterproductive national efforts that legitimize the killing.
These are simple, reasonable, common sense policies that most people would be shocked to learn are not being done voluntarily. And because they are not, because animals are needlessly being slaughtered, not just by the Animal Humane Society, but by shelters across the state, we have to give the policies the force of law.
For No Kill success to be widespread and long lasting, we must focus on institutionalizing No Kill by giving shelter animals the rights and protections afforded by law. Every successful social movement results in legal protections that codify expected conduct and provide protection against future conduct that violates normative values. We need to regulate shelters in the same way we regulate hospitals and other agencies which hold the power over life and death. The answer lies in passing and enforcing shelter reform legislation which mandates how a shelter must operate.
That is what CAPA does. And that is why it is so vital to the future of Minnesota’s animals.
What You Can Do:
- Please go to the Facebook page of Best Friends and tell them you are deeply disturbed that they are being used to fight progressive shelter reform legislation and ask them to publicly support CAPA in Minnesota. Let them know it is not enough to simply watch No Kill battles from the sidelines—like they did in Delaware and Austin—and then swoop in after No Kill advocates prevail to align themselves with the winning side. They need to put their weight behind those who are in the trenches, especially when their past positions are being used against No Kill advocates, rescuers, shelter reformers, and the animals.
- If you live in Minnesota, please contact your state representatives and ask them to support MN CAPA. You can find out who they are by clicking here.
* It was bad enough that they were willing to sacrifice the lives of roughly 25,000 animals a year for money in that state. This is why I find it intellectually and ethically bankrupt to dismiss the anti-animal positions taken by “animal protection groups” by suggesting that it is somehow forgivable because “they do so much other good for animals.” First of all, we have to look at whether they do as much good as they say they do. But even if they did, it does not give them a blank check to harm animals in other contexts. That is what Best Friends did in NYS and it now may cost animals their lives in MN if the Animal Humane Society is successful. While we can never bring the animals killed in New York State back, they can certainly stop the killing in Minnesota by supporting MN CAPA without reservation.