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Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget seeks to tighten noose around neck of shelter animals

In 1998, California passed what has become widely known as the Hayden Bill after its sponsor, State Senator Tom Hayden. The language of the bill, which was largely crafted by law professor and no-kill advocate Taimie Bryant, constituted a re-envisioning of the role and responsibilities of animal shelters and control agencies, both municipal and private. Hayden represented a significant step out of the dark ages of animal sheltering, which is sadly still evident in many jurisdictions around the country.

In the last few years, the Hayden Law has become identified as a model for shelter access bills, but in fact it was much more than that. It constituted thorough shelter reform legislation that didn’t simply mandate rescue access to shelter animals, but amounted to a significant shift toward more humane management standards for California shelters and, by example, the rest of the country. For example, it required prompt and necessary veterinary care for shelter animals, extended stray hold time from 72 hours to six days (four days if certain conditions were met), and obligated shelters to keep accurate records of all animals taken in, including data about medical care and final outcome (the name of the adopter or the name of the individual conducting euthanasia). It also mandated a more proactive role on the part of shelters in reuniting lost pets with their families. And, of course, Hayden required the release of any animal scheduled for death to a 501(c)3 rescue organization that requested it. This last provision is the only significant element of the law that Governor Jerry Brown does not seek to undo.

The repeal would set the dog holding time back to 72 hours, the standard of shelter care in 1921 when that hold time was established. It would eliminate the requirement to provide necessary and prompt veterinary care. It would end any transparency in shelter operations by dropping the need for shelters to keep public records of the care and outcomes of the animals they take in. The repeal would also make it easy for shelters to arbitrarily declare a cat feral and kill the feline and would completely wipe away any consideration for rabbits, birds, guinea pigs, potbellied pigs and reptiles.

The proposed gutting of the Hayden Law is tucked into what is known as a budget trailer bill along with proposed revisions to a variety of laws unrelated to animals, but which, like Hayden, have unfunded mandate provisions or obligate the state to reimburse local municipalities for cost-incurring compliance.

The trailer bill is an attempt to shave state expenditures at the expense of shelter animals and other constituencies perceived to be easy targets. Elder abuse training for law enforcement, SIDS training for firefighters, AIDS testing for prison inmates, and so on are also being targeted.

The obvious conclusion is that it’s easier for the governor to propose killing more homeless pets and further marginalizing weaker interests than establish the needed legislative consensus to balance the state’s budget legitimately — not what I would call a profile in courage.

These same provisions in the Hayden Law have been temporarily suspended in the past to help with budget crisis. Gov. Schwarzenegger once proposed a repeal, but ultimately did the right thing, supposedly at his daughter’s urging. He later suspended many of Hayden’s provisions but did not attempt another repeal.

Gov. Brown could likewise suspend the cost-incurring provisions of Hayden, but instead has opted for a permanent repeal — an action that would require a massive effort to undo.

The consequences of the repeal of Hayden would be disastrous for shelter animals. It would also degrade shelter operations, as well as the morale and ultimately the character of shelter workers, by altering the mandated focus of animal control agencies from lifesaving back to the failed catch-and-kill orientation of the bad old days.

The trailer has gone from the governor to the Assembly and Senate Budget Committees simultaneously for review, where any revision will be made before it is sent back to the governor.

If you are a California resident, your voice needs to heard to save our shelter animals from this devastating blow. Take action now.

To read a joint press release from animal welfare organizations, click here.

Francis Battista, Co-founder, Best Friends Animal Society Francis Battista
Co-founder
Best Friends Animal Society