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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Why shelters say ‘no’ to rescue groups, and why it has to stop

Why shelters say ‘no’ to rescue groups, and why it has to stop | PetConnection.com

By Christie Keith




Are shelters that close their doors to rescue groups protecting animals, or their own power?

The battle over New York State’s proposed law to prohibit shelters from killing animals if qualified rescue groups are willing to take them has heated up again with the bill’s reintroduction.

Now, the reason the big shelters give for opposing this law is that they believe “hoarders” and unqualified rescue groups will come get animals, and they want to hold onto the right to approve or disapprove whether a rescue group can take their “death row” pets.

However, since if the bill passes there will be significant restrictions on who can and can’t take animals, and what animals can be rescued, I don’t think that’s the real issue. I believe what’s really eating at shelters opposing this bill is that it will be the law, not the shelters themselves, that controls access to those animals. I think they resist the loss of power, and in some cases, the possible exposure to criticism and whistleblowing on conditions in their facilities they fear access could bring.

One of the reasons I believe the whole “hoarder/bad rescuer” objection is just an excuse is that we’ve had a right of shelter access — known as The Hayden Law — here in California for more than a decade now. While there have been a few (a very few) times when there were bad outcomes from rescuers taking pets who would otherwise have been killed, the opposite problem is extremely common.

Hardly a week goes by that I don’t hear from a rescuer being denied access illegally — and despite my telling them their rights and in some cases offering to help them get pro bono legal representation, they’re afraid to do anything about it because they believe the shelters will retaliate by cutting off their access to the animals entirely.

That is why it is completely unacceptable to let the very shelters these laws are meant to regulate be the gatekeepers of access for rescue groups.

The shelter industry is essentially arguing it should be allowed to regulate itself, and that anyone who suggests otherwise is being “divisive” or attacking them. But no industry should self-regulate; not agriculture, not drug companies, not restaurants, not donation-soliciting charities, not hair salons, not Wall Street. The more we have relied on self-regulation in these industries, the more catastrophic have been the outcomes. Witness what’s just happened to our economy.

The shelter industry, frankly, is sounding more like agribusiness to me on this issue than like an animal welfare organization.

Furthermore, their concerns are misplaced. The proposed New York law has far more restrictions placed on rescue groups than the California law. It has exemptions for dogs who have been found to be dangerous, and those with serious illnesses and injuries. And of course, if a shelter doesn’t want a “death row” pet to go with the rescuer for some reason, all they have to do is not kill that pet — this law is only for animals who would otherwise be killed.

But that’s not enough. By opposing this law, they’re saying they don’t want shelter access to be a right, but at their discretion. They want to say who can save an animal, and who can’t. And they’ll frighten you with the specter of hoarding, propelled by the profit-hungry television machine that’s currently gorging on hoarder-mania, and the far-fringe of the animal rights movement that thinks animals are better off dead than in the care of human beings. Great company to hang out with, guys. Seriously.

This law is not just good for New York, it’s good for every state. And this obsession with holding onto power is particularly chilling considering that so many “shelters” all over the country are nothing more than hellholes and death factories, and yet they still insist they have the right to decide who is a “good” rescuer and who is a “bad” rescuer.

That’s true in Toledo, Ohio, where animal control warden Tom Skeldon was forced to resign over his unwillingness to let even puppies go to another humane society or rescue group, and insisted on killing them instead.

It’s true in Dallas, N.C., where rescuers begged and pleaded fruitlessly to be allowed to take sick dogs for veterinary care and potential adoption, instead of seeing them killed in the animal control facility’s antiquated gas chamber.

It’s true in Rochester, N.Y., where the New York State assembly member sponsoring the bill, Micah Kellner, told me that qualified rescue groups are prevented from taking pit bulls out of the city shelter because the agency doesn’t allow pit bulls, not even puppies, to leave its facility alive.

It’s true in a thousand places, where volunteers keep silent about abuses out of fear of being prevented from transferring animals to rescue groups or even providing basic care to animals.

Animal advocates need to understand that codifying a right that saves animal lives — and, by the way, saves shelters money — in a responsible manner is not a threat to them.

I understand that there are symbolic issues here; the law, dubbed “Oreo’s Law,” was named after a pit bull killed by New York City’s ASCPA despite the fact that a rescue group was willing to take her. As a human being with feelings, I can understand that the ASPCA feels attacked by this law; it is, indeed, meant to prevent them from doing anything like that again.

But they fought the law to a standstill last year. They’ve made their point. They should admit that laws like this are good for animals and good for shelters — something they clearly already know, given that when current head of the ASPCA Ed Sayres was head of a shelter here in California, he supported the Hayden Law, despite the fact that it has far fewer safeguards than the New York law includes.

I call on all New York State shelters to embrace this law. If the name really bothers you that much, promise to support the law if the name’s changed.

But if you’ve got nothing more than a desire to hold onto power and a bruised ego over a name? Get over it. It’s time.



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