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February 7, 2012 > Ohlone Humane Society: State to cut shelter animal lifeline?

Ohlone Humane Society: State to cut shelter animal lifeline?

By Nancy Lyon

There's no disputing that California is in a huge budgetary crisis and has been for some time. Looking for ways to address the state shortfall, Governor Brown's administration has targeted a list of 30 state mandated programs and eliminating assistance to some the state's most needy inhabitants. Included in the grim edict is the elimination of a legal safety net aimed at giving innocent shelter animals a greater chance at survival.

Even with current protections, shelter animals have very limited time for an owner to reclaim them or a chance at adoption before they may be put to death. Any repeal of current legal protections would be a death sentence for many animals.

Before 1998, animals unfortunate enough to end up in kill shelters were given only a minimum 72 hours after their initial impoundment before they could be killed; hours that were counted whether the shelter was open or not.

In 1998, then-Senator Tom Hayden introduced Senate Bill 1785 that was to become the "Hayden Law." This major piece of animal welfare legislation provided animals in shelters a greater chance of survival than ever before.

The 72-hour holding period was replaced with a requirement to hold animals 4-6 working days based on the number of hours the public had shelter access to reclaim their companion animals; lost and found lists were mandated so people desperately searching for their missing animals had a decent chance of locating them. Traumatized domestic cats received greater protection by establishing standardized testing that helped shelter staff to identify them rather than just declaring them feral - meaning speedy euthanization.

It mandated care and maintenance for the same period for impounded rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, pot-bellied pigs, birds, lizards, snakes, turtles, or tortoises legally allowed as personal property that were often euthanized.

It directed that when impounded, "necessary and prompt veterinary care" be provided for stray or abandoned injured cats and dogs and emergency treatment be given even though they might ultimately be euthanized. It also directed animal shelters to maintain records on animals that were not medically treated by a veterinarian, but were taken in, then euthanized after the holding period.

The Hayden Law originally included reimbursement to cities or counties for costs that were incurred from implementing the law's mandates. However, for several years now, due to the budget crisis, the Hayden Law has been in partial suspension; while all other sections of it are still in effect, the state has not been issuing reimbursements to the cities or counties. Since no financial loss from the law has recently impacted California's budget why is there now a move to repeal it entirely? Why not still leave it on the books with its mandated protections for the shelter animals?

Even though the Hayden Law reimbursements have been in suspension since 2009, Brown's administration still states that it is a budget issue because repayment is part of the Hayden Law and directs the state to pay animal shelters for the costs incurred from those extra days they keep animals alive. Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer stated that the law costs the state approximately $23 million a year. This would be true only if reimbursements were still being made; but they are not!

In 2008 a report by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office, recommended eliminating the law because it did not find that it resulted in an increased demand for adoptions. This erroneous information was arrived at by bureaucrats seeking to justify not allowing shelter animals a decent chance at survival while theoretically saving a few bucks. Those working in the trenches, working to save shelter animals as I am, know the inaccuracy of the report. How can bean-counters translate the lives of living, feeling beings into numbers? Sadly, it seems all too easy.

As an animal shelter volunteer and regional rescue networker for more than 20 years, I've seen the tough reality of what it was like before the Hayden Law came into effect and the increase in adoptions, owner redemptions and rescues since its inception. This reaches far beyond local findings. Obviously, the bureaucrats have been talking to the wrong people and it has led the Governor and his advisors down the wrong path.

If repealed, protections mentioned will be history. Reportedly, left in the gutted bill will be the important non-revenue impacting provision that allows non-profit rescues special opportunity to pull animals before they are killed. Unfortunately, rescues are overburdened and each additional day an animal has gives them time to find re-homing options for them.

Several years ago, then Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger attempted to repeal sections of the Hayden Law only to be faced with such an overwhelming public outcry that he backed down. Governor Brown now needs to listen to the current huge chorus of disapproval and drop all consideration of repealing any part of the Hayden Law. As a dog lover, he may be attempting to be objective but these are animals whose lives are just as precious as that of his own dog... not impersonal statistics removed from the reality of looming death. It's in our hands - so request that he choose to be humane and find others means to balance the budget.

Moves to repeal the Hayden Law are also being considered in State Assembly and Senate budgetary committees. TAKE ACTION NOW and contact the committee members backing repeal and tell them this move is not acceptable:

Governor Brown: (916) 445-2841 (9 am to 5 pm); Fax (916) 558-3177
Senator Mark Leno, Chair, Senate Budget Committee: (916) 651-4003
Assemblymember Bob Blumenfield, Chair, Assembly Budget Committee: (916) 319-2040

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