Articles HSUS

California Shelter Animals Under Attack

A vital law to protect animals in California shelters is under siege. If the Governor succeeds in repealing parts of the Hayden Law, animals will be sentenced to certain death in shelters. But we can do something about it.  We succeeded once before when the former Governor tried to repeal the law and we can do so again. Please contact the Governor’s Office and tell him, that as a California taxpayer and animal lover, you do not want the Hayden Law provisions to be repealed. (Contact information at the bottom of the post.)

If there was any doubt that the Humane Society of the United States has a singular mission when it comes to animals shelters, the Governor’s proposal to repeal part of California’s Hayden Law, shelter reform provisions to orient shelters toward lifesaving, should bring that doubt to an end. Its position on the Governor’s proposal is merely a continuation of a decades-long effort to defend poorly performing shelters and make the task of killing easier.

Whether it was helping shelters “construct and use a simple and inexpensive cabinet for [killing] dogs and cats with carbon monoxide,” telling shelters not to work with rescue groups, arguing that “being dead is not cruelty to animals,” fighting shelter reform in communities across the country, calling for the killing of two-week old puppies, legitimizing the killing of animals in “shelters,” lobbying to have the victims of abuse killed, or coordinating the defeat of state legislation that would have banned the gas chamber and outlawed discrimination against pit bulls and older animals, HSUS has been no friend to animals in shelters. And given that they opposed the initial enactment of the Hayden Law in 1998, it is no surprise that they are celebrating the repeal of some of its provisions.

When Governor Brown recently announced his intent to do so, he claimed that the provisions designed to protect animals from quick killing were no longer needed since shelters are doing everything they can to save animals already and would continue to do so even if the law mandating some of these things were repealed. And while he was offering that false rationale, there was HSUS, as they always are, applauding in agreement, embracing the Governor’s effort to set the clock back for California’s shelter animals 15 years.

Specifically, the Governor is asking the Legislature to repeal several provisions of the Hayden Law including the increase of California’s holding period from 72 hours to four days; the requirement that other species such as rabbits and guinea pigs be given the same protections as cats and dogs; the posting of lost and found lists so that more animals get home to their families; and the mandate to provide prompt and necessary veterinary care for sick and injured animals.

According to Jennifer Fearing, California coordinator for HSUS, these laws are not needed. She told the Sacramento Bee that, “The vast majority of shelters have adjusted to the new, longer holding periods, and they added space. Most of them are going to do those things anyway, because the paradigm has shifted.” Anyone who has ever visited the shelter in, say, Devore, California, the Central Valley which boasts some of the highest killing rates in the nation, or any of the other California shelters that kill animals before they can be reclaimed by their families or adopted into new homes, would know this is nonsense. And, I suspect, so does Fearing. But, in the end, whether she does or she doesn’t matters little. Regardless of whether her motivation is uncaring or ignorance, the fact remains that she has offered the Governor the political cover he needs to ensure that progress for shelter animals will never occur in California. By contrast, when former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to repeal the provisions in 2004, animal lovers across the state flooded his office with telephone calls, shutting down the switchboard until he relented.

Perhaps Fearing is trying to win him over for her own California bill, AB 1279, which would do nothing more than change California’s animal shelter laws to replace the word “pound” to “animal shelter,” “poundkeeper” to “animal shelter director,” and “destroy” to “humanely euthanize.” She is fighting for that law even though it wasn’t designed to help animals at all. In fact, it has the opposite intent: to excuse and exonerate those who harm them by codifying euphemisms that are designed to obscure the gravity of what we are doing to animals as a society, and thus make the task of killing easier. That bill has been held since last year. Whether that figures into her calculations or not, her position on the Hayden Law is unconscionable. And, once again, where HSUS refuses to protect shelter animals, California’s animal lovers must step up to the plate in their place. (See the call to action below.)

Here is what is at stake: Over ten years ago, then-Senator Tom Hayden, from the greater Los Angeles area, wanted to reform animal control shelters around the state, particularly those shelters in his home district of Los Angeles. His legislation had the potential to become the most significant piece of companion animal protection legislation in years. As one of its supporters noted:

With some notable exceptions, shelters have failed to provide hours the working public can visit the shelters for adoptions or redemptions of their companion animals. They have failed to provide adequate lost/found services. They have failed to keep records adequate to find pets within the system. They have failed to use freely offered microchip scanning services. They have failed to provide adequate veterinary health care for many animals. They have resisted working with the rescue/adoption community. They have failed to raise funds aggressively to promote lifesaving methods to spare the lives of placeable companion animals. They have used tax dollars to kill animals they didn’t have to accept in the first place (“owner-relinquished” pets) and to kill animals whose companion humans never even had a chance to locate them.


Our shelters have a very bad track record when it comes to adoption. In California in 1997 with a statewide human population of close to 33 million, only 142,385 cats and dogs were adopted from our shelters. The vast majority—576,097—were killed.

The legislation required, among other things, that animal control shelters in California give animals to rescue groups and No Kill shelters instead of killing them; provided incentives for shelters to remain open at least some evening or weekend hours so that working people and families with children in school could get to the shelters to reclaim lost pets or adopt new ones; set a statewide preference for adoption rather than killing; and sought to end the practice where animals surrendered by their “owners,” including healthy and highly adoptable kittens and puppies, were killed within minutes of arriving. It also modestly increased the time shelters were required to hold stray animals before killing them so that lost animals had an opportunity to be reunited with their families.

Shelters mired in killing, afraid of public scrutiny, and unwilling to work with rescue groups predictably opposed the measure. In addition to their desire to avoid being held accountable, their main objection was that the law made it illegal to kill an animal if a rescue group or No Kill shelter was willing to guarantee that animal a home through its own adoption program. This threatened to open up shelter killing and other atrocities to public scrutiny. As frequent visitors to the shelters, rescuers saw systemic problems and inhumane treatment of animals, but their access to animals was tenuous and many times hinged on not publicly disclosing concerns. Under the 1998 Animal Shelter Law, their right to take these animals is no longer legally premised on silence as to shelter practices and violations of the law.

Despite the opposition of shelters and their allies like HSUS, it made no sense to state legislators that taxpayers were spending money on killing animals when No Kill shelters and other private rescue agencies were willing to spend their own money to save them. Legislators also found that public shelters did not reflect the humane values of their constituents. And with holding periods among the lowest in the nation, too many animals were needlessly being killed before their families had a chance to reclaim them. Not surprisingly, the proposed bill passed the legislature with overwhelmingly bipartisan support—ninety-six to twelve—and the state’s Republican governor signed the measure into law.

The reaction was strong and swift. The County of Los Angeles fought the measure through a regulatory challenge, replete with bloated figures and misleading claims. The County claimed the law would be too expensive to implement, a claim debunked by the California Department of Finance. In fact, financial analyses by the California State Legislature, the Governor’s Office, and the California Department of Finance showed that implementation of the Hayden Law would reduce sheltering costs because of cost-savings attributable to increased adoption and reduced killing.

Nonetheless, kill shelters claimed that the “longer” holding periods, which would give people a chance to find their lost pets or for the pets to be adopted into new homes, would lead to the increased killing of other animals. That argument was also a red herring: the law did increase the holding period from a paltry seventy-two hours from the time of impound to four days if the shelter was open one evening a week or one weekend day.

When California’s holding period was 72 hours, there was only one state with a shorter holding period—Hawaii—with a 48-hour holding period. When California increased the holding period, it joined the bottom six states in the country in terms of holding period. By national standards, California’s new holding period was far from generous. Nonetheless, HSUS joined the chorus of killing shelters against the longer periods, even though the four day holding period was less than their own recommendation of five days it had long suggested shelters voluntary follow.

Tragically and illegally, some shelters simply refused to implement either the letter or spirit of the new law. Kern County’s municipal animal control shelter, an agency tasked with enforcing animal-related laws, for example, chose to ignore and violate the law. There, killing illegally continued until a local activist filed a lawsuit to stop it in 2004, six years after passage of the 1998 Animal Shelter Law. Unfortunately, Kern County does not appear to be an isolated incident. Sacramento County animal control was also the target of a lawsuit for illegally killing animals before their caretakers could find them, for not making them available for adoption, and for failing to keep records on thousands of others. And the County of Los Angeles signed a stipulation in a lawsuit against it that it would no longer thwart it. Since some shelters had to be sued to follow the provisions when they had the force of law, how can HSUS claim that shelters will continue to follow them even if they are repealed?

But it was the regulatory challenge filed by Los Angeles that may prove the law’s death knell. In California, the State Legislature cannot impose an unfunded mandate. Despite the analyses by the Legislature, Governor, and Department of Finance, the Commission on State Mandates ruled that some provisions of the law were not enforceable unless the State paid for them. While some of the provisions of Hayden survived the challenge (the provision making it illegal to kill animals if rescue groups are willing to save them is not at risk because it was found to be revenue-positive), other provisions did not.

And until the recent budget crisis, those provisions have been funded by the state, even though local shelters have been submitting bloated figures as part of a feeding frenzy of the public treasury for years. In 2009, the State suspended payments, making the provisions unenforceable during the current budget crisis. Citing a report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office recommending repeal, those are the provisions which the Governor now seeks to actually repeal, and do so with HSUS’ blessing.

But the LAO analysis favoring repeal is based on a fundamentally flawed premise. It says the provisions relating to the increased holding period are not necessary because holding animals longer does not lead to increased adoption because of pet overpopulation. Specifically, it says “Throughout the United States, there are many more animals in shelters than there are households looking to adopt pets. Partly because of this imbalance between supply and demand, roughly one-half of the animals entering shelters are euthanized.” Why hold animals if there are no homes available to adopt them?

The problem, of course, is that the opposite is true. Over 23 million people are looking to adopt pets, while three million are killed but for a home. If there is a supply-demand imbalance, it runs in the other direction. Moreover, even if the LAO analysis was right, the longer holding periods were designed for other reasons as well. The modest increases would increase the number of owned animals reclaimed by their families since, for example, some cat owners do not start looking for their cats for several days and arrive at the shelter too late under the 72 hour rule. The lost and found lists would do the same. They also give rescue groups more time to find foster homes for their animals so they can take them into their own adoption programs. And, in practice, the LAO analysis is wrong notwithstanding their erroneous assumption. Longer holding periods do lead to more adoptions, as evidenced by a sample of over 1,000 shelters nationwide. (Moreover, medical care for sick and injured animals is basic decency for suffering animals and meet a shelter’s obligation to return animals to their families in reasonable condition. In fact, California shelters have been required to provide basic medical care to animals since 1969.) Nonetheless, there was HSUS again citing the analysis as incontrovertible proof that the law is not needed. Fearing also told the Sacramento Bee, “That LAO analysis, it’s hard to overcome, because I agree.” She could not be more wrong.

But what does it matter if the provisions are repealed, if they have been suspended since 2010 and are unenforceable? Quite simply, as Professor Taimie L. Byrant of UCLA Law School stated, “permanently removing the ability for animals to share in future brighter economic times in California is unconscionable.” In other words, suspension is temporary, repeal is permanent. The latter would remove any chance that California’s sheltered animals would ever have of improved care and conditions even when the economy improves. When things do get better, shouldn’t animals share in that? Why should the blood bath continue indefinitely?

If the Governor succeeds, he will rob these animals of any hope for a brighter future. That would be unconscionable. That HSUS is nodding in agreement on the sidelines is also unconscionable. But we can do something about it. While HSUS champions the demise of Hayden, we can stand up and be the animals’ voice they now only pretend to be. We succeeded once before when the former Governor tried to do it and we can do so again.

In 2004, then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger sought to repeal the provision, but was forced to relent. When the Los Angeles Times reported in 2004 that “The hectoring barks of animal lovers convinced Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to reverse himself : and keep California’s law protecting stray dogs and cats at shelters,” they were reporting on the power of the people. We must teach the current Governor the same lesson. This is our state, these are our shelters, these are our values, and this is our will.

Rise, Californians. Rise and be heard before it is too late. Because if you don’t, the animals won’t stand a chance.

CALL Governor Brown at (916) 445-2841 (9 am to 5 pm)

FAX your letter of opposition (916) 558-3177

EMAIL the governor’s office at (choose BUDGET as subject).

POST to his Facebook page at

CONTACT him through his Twitter page at @JerryBrownGov