Best Friends' feedback on California Sheltering Report

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been looking over the California Sheltering Report, and discussing various pieces of the stakeholder group’s work. If you missed the first three posts, you can check out part one, part two and part three.

The California Sheltering Report, which was published in September, drew attention from the animal welfare community across the United States. To my knowledge, it’s a first-of-its-kind analysis of the impact of a state sheltering law, especially one as iconic and transformative as the Hayden Act, which was passed in 1998 with the overarching policy goal "that no adoptable (or treatable) animal should be euthanized if it can be adopted into a suitable home."

Today is the deadline for feedback on the California Sheltering Report. We’ve compiled our thoughts for all 23 recommendations, and sent them along to the stakeholder group. If you’d like to see the full document, you can check it out here.

The stakeholder group initiative was begun in response to a decision by California’s governor who was seeking to permanently eliminate selected state laws that cost local municipalities money by way of unfunded mandates. California’s laws dictate that the state must reimburse that money to those local communities, and well, with no money in the coffers, both Governor Schwarzenegger and Governor Brown have suspended those portions of laws that constitute unfunded mandates, including the Hayden Act, some five times since its implementation in 1998.

Spurred by a desire to get shelter policy off the unfunded mandate roller coaster and to evaluate the actual impact of the first 15 years of the Hayden Act, the stakeholder group analyzed statewide shelter data and has not only recommended solutions that in many cases will save shelters money; it has also put forward a set of ideals that will bring California into the next era of animal sheltering.

Overall, we support the work of the group, and we’re happy to see a largely sensible set of recommendations put forward to realize the vision of the Hayden Act, while mitigating the seemingly routine suspension of certain elements of the law.

For example, appointment-based surrender policies, improved standards for animal care in shelters, implementation and support of trap/neuter/return programs, and streamlining shelter access for rescue organizations are all greatly welcomed. Likewise, with a return-to-owner rate for cats of just 2%, we’re happy to see the recommendation of shelter/neuter/return as a proposed policy to keep cats out of shelters. There’s simply no reason to sentence rounded-up stray and free-roaming cats to a 98% likelihood of death.

Best Friends doesn’t support all of the report’s recommendations. We have concerns over the property rights questions and the issue of fairness raised by the report’s recommendation regarding unidentified stray animals. Also, unless it is implemented properly, we believe the aggressive licensing program that is suggested could cause shelter intake, and hence shelter killing, to increase.

Finally, we feel that the implementation of the report’s non-legislative recommendations need to be more than voluntary best practices and require some force of law behind them.

Best Friends’ team is looking forward to working alongside our peers on the next phase of this process to help craft a viable and comprehensive final product.

In the final analysis, this report signifies a potentially positive shift for California, and elsewhere, and brings fresh ideas and current best practices to state sheltering policy. It also clearly states that shelters bear lifesaving responsibility, and that collaboration between the public and private sectors is critical for success.

Gregory Castle