February 23, 2011

Dear friends, colleagues, and rescuers in New York State:

Working with a coalition of New York State shelters, the ASPCA is introducing a rival bill to Oreo’s Law. Claiming that it allows “rescue access” but also seeks to ensure those rescue groups are not hoarders in disguise, the new bill will give shelters virtually unlimited power to decide which animals are subject to rescue and which rescue groups they work with. Not only would this continue current practice, giving the stamp of legislative legitimacy to killing despite a rescue alternative, it would make it more difficult for rescuers to seek real legislative reform in the future. The ASPCA bill would not have saved Oreo. In fact, it would not save the majority of the 25,000 animals currently being killed in New York State shelters every year despite a qualified rescue alternative. For example, the bill specifically says shelters do not have to work with rescue groups outside of their county, even when those organizations have the ability, capacity, and desire to save lives. This allows shelters in rural communities to avoid working with the extensive rescue group network of New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse, where homes are in greater abundance. It also allows shelters to avoid working with rescue groups and No Kill shelters in neighboring suburbs or counties.

There is no question that a rescue access law is needed in New York State. 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. One bill—Oreo’s Law—seeks to truly end these practices.

While Oreo’s Law empowers non-profit animal rescue organizations to fulfill their missions, a right often denied to them by larger non-profit organizations and shelters, the ASPCA bill paradoxically assumes such organizations guilty of the very problem they were chartered to combat.

Oreo’s Law 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. The ASPCA bill gives shelters the authority to refuse working with rescue groups if they determine those groups are hostile toward the shelters, effectively eviscerating any whistleblower protections and conditioning rescue access on silence as to inhumane conditions which may exist in that particular shelter.

Oreo’s Law prevents needless animal suffering by mandating precise, sensible, and objective criteria for determining which animals are irremediably suffering and therefore exempt from rescue access provisions. The ASPCA bill creates a number of loopholes and fails to specifically define the terms of such exemptions, leaving them open to interpretation by the very individuals the law should be regulating. For example, the ASPCA bill allows shelters to kill animals they consider are in “psychological pain” which lacks any objective standards of determination.

Oreo’s Law ensures public safety by mandating precise criteria for determining which dogs are dangerous or aggressive and therefore exempt from rescue access. The ASPCA bill fails to specifically define the terms of such exemptions, again leaving these important and life-determining evaluations open to decisions unrelated to a dog’s true temperament.

Oreo’s Law protects animal well-being by providing specific, sensible, and objective criteria whereby a shelter can refuse to provide rescue access to a particular non-profit for reasons of proven cruelty or neglect. The ASPCA bill allows shelters to refuse rescue access to non-profits even when none of these conditions actually exist.

Under the ASPCA bill, New York State shelters could refuse to give this puppy to a rescue group and kill him instead for any of the following reasons (and more):

  1. The shelter claims the puppy is in “psychological pain” because he whines in the shelter.
  2. The shelter says the rescue group is hostile because it reported publicly that shelter animals are allowed to wallow in filth while staff is not reprimanded for failure to clean.
  3. The rescue group is in a neighboring county.
  4. The shelter states that it does not believe the rescue group can provide adequate care without having to objectively state how or why they arrived at that conclusion.
  5. The puppy has a cold which the shelter determines to be “contagious” and therefore “deadly” to other animals in the shelter.
  6. The shelter claims the puppy is aggressive.

By contrast, under Oreo’s Law, the shelter would not be able to kill this puppy if a rescue group offered to save him unless:

  1. The puppy had a confirmed case of symptomatic parvovirus and the prognosis for rehabilitation was poor or grave.
  2. The rescue group had a volunteer, staff, or board member who has charges of animal neglect, cruelty, or dog fighting pending against them or a conviction for neglect, cruelty, or dog fighting.
  3. The rescue group failed an inspection that was conducted in a timely manner with objective criteria for failing.

The rival bill is an attempt to co-opt the movement for rescue access and to defray criticism by claiming they support ‘rescue access’ without directly challenging the conditions which make true rescue access so vital to saving lives in New York State. But it is still very early in the legislative process, there is no impending committee action, and both I and the No Kill Advocacy Center will continue to monitor these bills and keep you informed. Stay tuned…

Nathan Winograd

Update:

“Impounding organizations may but are not required to include on the registry animal rescue organizations or individuals located outside of the impounding organization’s county…” If two shelter employees (“reputable citizens”) say that the animal is in “psychological pain and that humane euthanasia is warranted” the provisions also do not apply. That and more… Click here for the language proposed.

It actually gets worse. The ASPCA included this as part of a larger bill that includes a requirement of microchip scanning by shelters, vaccinations and veterinary care, posting of information on a website and maintaining records to help people find lost strays, and more. So, while I’ve not yet analyzed those other aspects of their bill, they appear worthy of support as a separate bill. But the ASPCA is trying to ramrod false rescue access by forcing animal lovers to say “No” to these other things, unless they also accept their version of “rescue access” which isn’t much access. A Sophie’s choice. To which a commenter on my Facebook page says:

As last year’s defeat of Oreo’s Law by the ASPCA despite thousands and thousands of calls of support from the public demonstrates, they have a lot of power in Albany. So why now? Why now does the ASPCA introduce legislation to require shelters to scan for microchips and more? Why didn’t they legislate all these worthwhile things before if they had the power to do so? And why include them in a bill that is bound to be controversial? To force animal lovers into a corner regarding Oreo’s Law. Shameful.

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