Oswald’s Long Road to Our Home

Or, How to Save 46,413 Animals a Year


After a long day of squirrel patrol – four miles of walking hills, scanning trees, and alerting the neighborhood whenever he sees one – a tuckered Oswald wraps himself into a little ball and takes a nap on the couch. Tomorrow, he goes back on patrol.

Last December, we adopted Oswald from a group which rescued him from a local pound. Although he is only three years old, his long road to us — and that of 46,412 other rescued animals –started in the early 1990s…

  • 1993: The San Francisco SPCA asks the city shelter to give them every healthy and thousands of treatable dogs and cats on death row. The city pound refuses.
  • 1994: The SPCA threatens a public initiative to force the shelter to do so by law. The city pound backs down and signs an Adoption Pact to guarantee those animals a home. The deaths of animals in San Francisco plummets.
  • 1997: 12,526 animals are transferred from shelters to rescue groups throughout the state of California; tens of thousands more are denied to rescue groups by shelters unwilling to work collaboratively with them to save lives.
  • 1998: Modeled after the Adoption Pact, California Sen. Tom Hayden writes legislation to make it illegal for shelters in California to kill animals if qualified rescue groups were willing to save them. I help work on that law and it passes.
  • 1999: The first year after the law’s passage, 58,939 animals are transferred from shelters to rescue groups; 46,413 more than the year before the law was introduced.
  • 2004: One California county shelter continues to flout the law six years after its passage, refusing to send any animals to rescue and killing them instead. Not a single animal is sent to rescue groups year after year. Sen. Hayden’s former chief of staff, an attorney, contacts the No Kill Advocacy Center, my group, about suing the shelter. I agree to be the expert witness. We win.
  • 2005: The county begins sending animals to rescue, a vibrant rescue network grows, and about 4,000 animals a year are being transferred from that shelter alone.
  • 2014: Oswald is picked up as a stray by that very shelter, he is skinny, traumatized, has kennel cough, and a cherry eye. He is scheduled to be killed and on his last day. A rescue group takes him, nurses him back to health, and my family adopts him.
  • 2014: He is one of over 46,000 additional animals who are being saved every year in California, instead of killed as he and others would have been before the law.
  • 2015: Oswald barks at squirrels, plays with squeaky toys, and zooms around a house where he is deeply loved.

The lesson? We need rescue access laws in every state. Throughout the nation, animals are being killed because shelters are holding them hostage, refusing to give them to rescue groups and other shelters who want to save their lives.  Today only two states – California and Delaware – and one city – Austin, TX – have laws guaranteeing rescue groups right of access. If you do not live in either of those states or that city, you can work to pass rescue access legislation in your state or hometown:

The No Kill Advocacy Center has model legislation by clicking here.

And a guide to getting it introduced and passed here.


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