Holding Period Legislation

From the  No Kill Advocacy Center:


In September 2013, the No Kill Advocacy Center issued a position paper in response to the California Sheltering Report written by the Humane Society of the United States, the ASPCA, and other shelter lobbying organizations and shelters, warning of the dangers associated with many of those recommendations: That report, while at long last finally admitting to the efficacy of various lifesaving programs which these organizations opposed for many years, stated that whether or not shelters chose to implement alternatives to killing should be left up to the discretion of the individual shelters; in their own words: they “remain at the discretion of each community to choose whether and how to implement.”

At the same time, these groups made several recommended changes to current, widespread shelter policies such as the reduction and, in some cases, elimination of holding periods which, without the lifesaving infrastructure and philosophical reorientation of shelters away from killing in favor of lifesaving, would prove deadly. We predicted that many shelters would cherry pick which recommendations issued in the report to follow, choosing to implement those which expand their powers and discretion to kill while entirely ignoring those which would save lives. Specifically, we wrote,

Communities are not free to cherry pick some while ignoring others, as to do so leaves particular groups of animals entering shelters with no protections or alternatives to killing: As a result, regressive shelters are likely to adopt only those provisions, like the licensing scheme, which empower them to impound even more animals. After being told they need not also implement the programs that provide an alternative to killing for the additional impounded animals, this proposal has the potential to exacerbate, rather than lessen, shelter killing; while shielding shelters from public scrutiny as they acted within the guidelines of the stakeholder group.

Tragically, this dire prediction has come to pass.

Right now, and as a direct result of the California Sheltering Report, shelters nationwide are seeking to eliminate or reduce holding periods for cats, one of the report’s recommendations, even though holding periods are often the one and only protection cats have in shelters. Ignoring those parts of the report which suggest the implementation of lifesaving policies and procedures, shelters are seeking not to include them, as we describe in a subsequent report:

Although billed as an effort to get cats adopted faster, experience proves it would have the opposite effect: allowing more cats to be killed and to be killed quicker. In fact, cats would be killed before their families actually begin looking for them; in some cases, before a family even knows he/she is missing. Nothing in the proposal requires shelters to make cats available for adoption after the shortened (and in some cases eliminated) holding period, but it will give the shelters full authority to kill them and that is what it will do. How do we know they will do this? Because that is what these shelters are already doing to animals who are not subject or no longer are on holding periods such as cats surrendered by their families and stray cats after their holding periods expire. Eliminating this protection would not only seriously limit and even eliminate the opportunity for people to reclaim their lost animals, for many animals, it would mean quicker and often immediate killing the moment they enter a shelter. This is not only a betrayal to animals, but to their families and to the taxpayers who fund these institutions in order to provide a safety net of care for stray and lost animals.

Holding periods are important. They allow people the opportunity to reclaim their missing animals, one of the primary purposes of shelters. Nationwide, animal lovers are seeking to lengthen, not reduce, their state’s mandated holding periods, on the understanding that doing so is vitally important to protect lost pets. Indeed, it is a fundamental precept that holding periods should never be shortened. To the contrary, they need to be longer in many states. However, we can address the professed rationale of quicker adoptions by making holding periods more flexible without simultaneously placing cats in greater mortal peril. By bifurcating holding periods, cats can be adopted out more quickly, without eviscerating the minimal protections cats and their human families have in holding periods.

We also suggest additional language that would give shelters the discretion to transfer animals to a rescue group immediately upon impound, with the same rights of reclamation for the “owner” as if the animal was still in the shelter. This frees up scarce kennel space, without giving pounds a “quick kill” provision as current proposals do. It also shifts the cost of care from taxpayer to private philanthropy. In other words, the animals would remain in the “constructive” custody of the pound while being held in a foster home, private shelter, or rescue group during the reclaim portion of the state mandated holding period; but taxpayers would incur none of the cost.  Finally, we suggest that the holding period not come into play in cases where cats are taken in for purposes of sterilization and are then returned.

Excluding laws imposed by health departments regarding the use of controlled substances, the disposition of rabid and potentially aggressive animals and mandated holding periods, shelter directors in this country have essentially unlimited discretion as to how they operate their facilities. If a shelter director decides to kill each and every animal even if there are empty cages, it is legal for him to do so. If a non-profit rescue organization wants to save an animal on death row at a shelter, the shelter director has the authority to deny the group the ability to do so, and they frequently do. Likewise, shelter directors can kill orphaned kittens and puppies rather than work with volunteers who want to provide foster care. They can ban volunteers from walking dogs and socializing cats. And they can limit the number of hours they are open to the public for adoptions, or have hours that make it difficult for working people to reclaim their lost animals or adopt new ones. In short, there are very few checks and balances to ensure that our shelters are run in line with the most up-to-date sheltering policies and procedures. Instead, our shelters are run on the honor system, and it is a discretion shelter directors abuse time and again by failing to implement readily available lifesaving alternatives or to work cooperatively with those who want to help them save lives. To shorten holding periods in this environment is a death sentence. In many shelters, holding periods are often the only thing standing between life and death for an animal.

A mandated, bifurcated holding period, by contrast, will help increase reclaims, rescues, and adoptions. Combined with a very narrow exception for irremediably suffering animals, rigorously defined, it will accomplish the stated goals, without also imperiling the lives of animals. In fact, it would save lives and it would save money—a “win” for taxpayers and a “win” for the animals. In other words, it would solve problems rather than just create new ones.

That these shelters are rejecting these compromises suggests that they are not sincere in their desire to save more cats. Without protective language, these proposals should be opposed.


The required holding period for stray animals shall be five business days, not including the day of impoundment: animals shall be held for owner redemption during the first two days of the holding period and shall be available for owner redemption, transfer, and adoption for the remainder of the holding period. The holding period expires once the animal is redeemed, transferred or adopted, except as follows:
(a) The requirements of this provision do not apply to cats who are impounded for purposes of sterilization and are then returned.
(b) Shelters may transfer animals at any time after impound to a non-profit rescue group, a private shelter, or an organization formed for the prevention of cruelty to animals as long as potential owners are afforded the same rights of reclamation as if the animal was still in the shelter.

The required holding period for an owner relinquished animal impounded by public or private sheltering agencies shall be the same as that for stray animals. The holding period expires once the animal is redeemed, transferred or adopted as follows:
(a) The animals shall be available for owner redemption, transfer, and adoption for the entirety of the holding period.
(b) The requirements of this provision do not apply to cats who are impounded for purposes of sterilization and are then returned.

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