Legislating Our Way to No Kill

Delaware Companion Animal Protection Act Proves a Resounding Success, Reducing Shelter Killing in That State by 78%

Gov. Markell signs CAPA in 2010. Since then, deaths have declined by two-thirds.

Part one in a three-part series on the No Kill Advocacy Center’s Companion Animal Protection Act  (by Nathan & Jennifer Winograd)

In 2010, the state of Delaware passed a modified version of the Companion Animal Protection Act (CAPA), a shelter reform law written by my organization, the No Kill Advocacy Center. Recently released statistics indicate that since that time, killing in Delaware shelters has declined 78%.Yes, you read that right, an astounding 78%. How can one law have such a profound and unprecedented effect reducing the death rate in shelters statewide? Because the law drives a stake into the heart of the central reason so many animals are dying in our nation’s shelters: convenience killing.

And Delaware is not alone. Recently, the head of the animal control shelter in St. Paul, Minnesota, stated that by putting in place the programs and policies of CAPA, she’s been able to save 90% of the animals, working in earnest to return the term “euthanasia” to its dictionary definition. The same occurred in Austin, Texas after it passed a local ordinance modeled on CAPA. And in California, similar legislative reforms are saving tens of thousands of animals previously killed for lack of the changes mandated by progressive shelter reform laws. As a result of a provision similar to CAPA mandating that shelters must transfer animals they are planning to kill to other non-profits which want to save them, the number of animals transferred to rescue groups rather than killed in California went from 12,526 to 58,939-a 370% increase, all at no cost to taxpayers.*

What does the success of laws targeting shelter policies prove? Despite decades of assurances from groups like HSUS, the ASPCA and PETA that the reason animals are dying in shelters is because shelters are doing the “dirty work” of an uncaring American public, laws such as Delaware CAPA prove that, in fact, quite the opposite is true. Animals are dying in shelters not because of the choices made by people outside of shelters, but because of the choices made by the people inside them. To end the killing, we need to regulate shelters and mandate how they operate in the same way we regulate hospitals and other agencies which hold the power over life and death.

Today, an animal entering a shelter in this country has a one in two chance of being killed, with millions of animals—the vast majority of whom are healthy or treatable—losing their lives every year. The reason for this statistic is as shocking as the statistic itself: in the typical American animal shelter, animals are killed out of habit and convenience, even when there are empty cages, sometimes within minutes of being walked in the door, with rescue groups ready, willing and able to save them, and despite a whole host of programs and services that would provide those shelters alternatives to killing if only shelters would implement them. Unfortunately, most now simply refuse to do so. Many animals entering our nation’s shelters are immediately taken from the front counter to a back room and injected with a lethal dose of poison, without ever being offered for adoption. Other animals find themselves at shelters which afford them far too little time to find a new home or lack the most basic programs to respond to their individual needs such as foster care, medical and behavior rehabilitation or, in the case of community cats, neuter and release. In most American shelters today, killing is easy, killing is convenient, and killing has therefore become the default. To change this, we must regulate how shelters operate through laws that ensure procedures and standards that in most American shelters are essentially non-existent.

This is precisely what CAPA does and why it has proven so breathtakingly successful.  By mandating that shelters in that state embrace the programs and services which have already proved successful at hundreds of shelters across the country which have implemented them, CAPA provides a lifesaving infrastructure to replace one based on killing. The bill sets minimum standards for shelters, including a modest holding period, a ban on the gas chamber, a ban on heart sticking, a ban on killing with empty cages, a ban on killing when rescue groups are willing to save those animals and an end to the practice of killing “owner surrendered” animals within minutes without ever giving them a chance at adoption. By doing so, it seeks to change the culture of killing in American shelters by forcing them to operate in a humane, life-affirming way.

This approach and its lifesaving results are nothing short of revolutionary. And we should be working fervently to pass CAPA in every state in the country to move our nation one giant step forward toward ending the needless killing of millions of shelter animals every year. Tragically, the opposite is occurring.

Since its passage in Delaware in 2010, several other states have attempted to pass their own versions of CAPA, only to find their efforts thwarted by the large, national non-profits, HSUS, the ASPCA and PETA. Alarmed at the passage of Delaware CAPA because it seeks to regulate shelter directors, increase accountability, set performance standards and raise the bar of public expectations, these organizations have gone on the attack, successfully defeating the efforts of animal lovers and legislators in states across the nation to pass their own versions of CAPA. Over the last few years in Texas, Georgia, New York, Florida, Virginia and elsewhere, the large, national non-profits have lobbied against these bills and have, in each instance, successfully defeated them, condemning to death hundreds of thousands of animals who would otherwise be alive today had those laws succeeded, as in Delaware. In fact, the only reason Delaware CAPA succeeded and its vast lifesaving potential could be realized was the lack of opposition to the bill by these very groups. This occurred not because they supported the bill, but because they had no knowledge it had been introduced. Wisely, the bill’s proponents knew that to announce its progress through the legislature would be to invite opposition from those out of state groups, and so they did not. As a result, the bill sailed effortlessly and unanimously through the Delaware legislature and was signed into law by the Governor all without a single vote in opposition.

Nor are these lobbying organizations for kill shelters alone in their efforts to derail shelter reform in other states as well. Naysayers working to malign Delaware CAPA as a “divisive” and “dangerous” bill despite its resounding success are spreading several misleading and deceitful claims about the law and its results. These concerns will be addressed in a subsequent article later this week. Of course, CAPA in general and Delaware’s version specifically, are not without their limitations But it is in not going far enough to protect animals, rather than going too far, that the only valid criticism of the law can be made. Nonetheless, by the most important measure of shelter performance—saving lives—CAPA is clearly a success. With a decline in killing of 78%, Delaware is on the verge of a monumental and historic achievement in the annals of the animal protection movement: ending the systematic killing of healthy and treatable shelter animals statewide.

The No Kill Advocacy Center will continue to seek these laws nationwide until their vital protections are extended to every animal in every shelter in America. To achieve this goal, we are partnering with animal lovers across the country to help ensure the passage of these laws against powerful, kill shelter lobbying organizations such as HSUS, the ASPCA and PETA, and we have put together the tools to help others do precisely that.

Are you interested in working to pass one of the most effective animal protection laws ever introduced in this country in your state? Download free guides to passing humane legislation and a copy of our model legislation upon which Delaware CAPA is based. No Kill Advocacy Center attorneys are available to provide expert advice and guidance to assist you. Together, we will bring an end to the systematic killing of animals by forcing our shelters, by law, to do their jobs with compassion, dedication, and integrity.

For a copy of CAPA, click here.

For a guide on how to pass humane legislation, click here.

Next Up, Part II: Publically, HSUS has stated that it is against the gas chamber, against heart sticking, for rescue rights, believes in transparency, supports bifurcated holding periods, and that all animals should be held for a period of time. But does that mean that HSUS practices those beliefs or will fight for them in order to protect animals? No. In addition to fighting these laws in the past, HSUS has demanded that CAPA, which is currently pending in Minnesota, be tabled even though it mandates all of these things for no other reason than it was asked to do so by a regressive shelter that wants to be able to continue killing with impunity.

Finally, Part III: Delaware is on the verge of ending the systematic killing of animals in all its shelters. But not everyone is happy. Delaware Naysayers are claiming CAPA is a failure despite the massive reduction in the kill rate. Why? One of their primary arguments is that shelters are no longer able to round up and kill cats. Yes, again, you read that right. I will explain why this and other criticisms of CAPA misrepresent the provisions of the bill and its outcomes.


*  In fact, it resulted in a potential cost savings of $1,856,520 statewide for killing and destruction of remains (these savings do not include additional savings relative to cost of care). In addition, partnering with rescue groups potentially brings in millions of dollars in additional adoption revenues.

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