Lifesaving legislative wins are good reason to celebrate 2020

By Julie Castle

2020. At this point, I think that’s all you need to say sometimes. If someone asks “How are you?” you just say “2020,” and they know exactly what you mean. 2020 has become an adjective.

That said, although it might be tempting to write 2020 off as a time when little or nothing good happened, I’m grateful to say that this isn’t true in the animal welfare world. For one thing, as you've probably heard in the news, almost as soon as the pandemic hit, people in communities all over the country stepped up in record numbers to foster and adopt pets, saving hundreds of thousands of lives in the process.

Depending on what state you live in, you may have also learned of important lifesaving legislation being passed. These legal wins are largely the result of our incredible legislative team, who work tirelessly behind the scenes, fighting to ensure that our laws protect America’s homeless pets. And since community cats are the most at-risk animals in shelters across the country, their welfare is at the top of our list.

After Best Friends worked with local partners and the shelter director in Chatham County, Georgia, there are now new provisions that opened the way for a community cat grant in the county. Thanks to changing trap-neuter-return (TNR) ordinances and adding programs throughout the state, Georgia has had the largest overall lifesaving increase in the country, according to our data. In Iowa, House Bill 737 was adopted, which exempts cats who have been part of a TNR program from abandonment provisions, allowing community members to engage in TNR and return-to-field programs. And Bowling Green, Kentucky, passed a trap-neuter-vaccinate-return municipal order, authorizing the implementation of a pilot program.

2020 has also brought incredible advancement in the fight against puppy mills. Our puppy mill initiatives team helped enact 13 local ordinances to ban retail sales of dogs and cats from commercial breeding mills. As a result, there are now more than 360 local retail sales bans across the country! And not only was a statewide ban on retail sales of milled pets enacted in Maine, we helped defeat a dangerous bill sponsored by the pet industry that would’ve prohibited local governments from enacting similar retail sales bans in Florida.

Trend-setting California went one step further, closing a loophole in the existing law and strengthening its statewide ban of dogs and cats sold in pet stores. This hallmark legislation was signed by Governor Gavin Newsom just one day after National Puppy Mill Day, and it can be emulated around the country to curb puppy mills completely.

Along with other local and state animal protection organizations, as well as the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program, Best Friends also led a successful effort to ensure that the California legislature approved $5 million in state funding proposed by Governor Newsom to help California animal shelters increase lifesaving. This was especially important, considering the pandemic nearly decimated the state’s budget.

Veterinary care is another area that needs to be addressed to get to our no-kill goal. For example, New Mexico passed SB 57, a bill that will add a tax to pet foods to fund greater access to vet care for pet owners who need it most.

And when it comes to legislation, public support is crucial to getting a lot of these bills passed. One great example this year was the push to expand telehealth services from humans to pets in California, since many veterinarians in that state were prohibited from seeing clients once the pandemic broke out.

As the California Veterinary Medical Board prepared for their routine meeting in May, Best Friends (along with fellow lifesaving organizations like the San Francisco SPCA, San Diego Humane Society, the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association and the ASPCA) joined with members of the veterinary telemedicine community to rally veterinarians and ordinary citizens to call in to the public comment period during that meeting.

Community members voicing their thoughts about telemedicine went on for nearly two hours. The result? Within two weeks, a critical telemedicine expansion was authorized that would stay in effect for the duration of the COVID-19 statewide emergency, probably saving both pet and human lives.

Animal lovers participating in the regulatory process was also pivotal for the recent U.S. Department of Transportation ruling that airlines can no longer discriminate against service animals based on their breed. After the department asked for comments on the proposal earlier this year, the Best Friends advocacy team organized a grassroots effort and 1,200-plus individual comments were sent in — all supporting the rule to prohibit breed discrimination. Those comments from Best Friends supporters represented nearly 12% of all the comments received by the department throughout the year, which is absolutely amazing and inspiring.

Exponentially more lives will be saved because of each and every voice that was heard in making these wins happen — from our legislative team to the regional, programmatic and advocacy teams. And, so critically, from pet lovers just like you.

So, the next time someone says that nothing good happened in 2020, share this blog post with them. And perhaps create a 2021 resolution to stand up for the pets in your community.  But whether you had a resolution or not, I have to tell you that you did amazing things this year.

It all just proves that no matter what obstacles are thrown at us, by working together, we will Save Them All.

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society