New York: Competing shelter reform bills not created equal

By Gregory Castle

There are two bills currently in the New York State Assembly that call themselves progressive shelter reform bills. One is, but the other, not so much.

The Companion Animal Access and Rescue Act (CAARA) - NY A7312C – is the real McCoy. It would require New York State shelters, humane societies, and SPCAs to provide improved in-shelter care. It would require those same groups to make reasonable efforts to identify owners of strays, and in turn reunite pets with their families. And maybe most importantly, it would require shelters to work with qualified rescue organizations to proactively make unclaimed shelter pets available to rescue prior to their scheduled euthanasia date. The Best Friends legislative team worked with the bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Micah Kellner, to craft a bill that would not only protect shelter animals but one that would be practical to implement.

CAARA is a strong pro-animal bill and Best Friends strongly supports it.

The other bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Paulin, NY A5449, has so many loopholes. It contains language that is ambiguous at best, and subjective to the point of providing no sure protection for shelter animals.

For example, if passed as written, the Paulin bill would:

• Allow for the killing of a frightened or panicked animal on the basis of "psychological pain," which is too vague and subjective to be meaningful criteria for euthanasia.

• Allow animals to be killed to prevent shelter contagion for unspecified and undiagnosed "deadly and contagious" diseases. Such decisions should only be allowed in the case of defined diseases, such as parvo or distemper, that have been diagnosed by a qualified veterinarian or vet tech and then only when a rescue group is not available to remove the animal from the shelter environment for treatment. Too often shelter animals are killed because they contract transient or easily treatable conditions while in the shelter, such as kennel cough in dogs or upper respiratory issues in cats. Both conditions, along with a variety of common shelter health issues, are easily treated and managed and should never be used to justify killing shelter pets on a whim.

• Not clearly define the requirements for a rescue organization to be maintained on a shelter's registry of approved rescue organizations, which opens the door for arbitrary requirements subject to change without notice. So rather than setting a uniform standard, this allows shelters that are not inclined to work with rescues to arbitrarily set and change the requirements that rescues need to meet to be notified of animals awaiting euthanasia.

• Allow shelters to remove rescues from their registry of approved groups if a group is publicly critical of the shelter or its staff, regardless of the merit of such criticism. This would essentially have a chilling effect on the public scrutiny and discussion of shelter operations.  This is the age of transparency, and everyone must be held accountable.

• Remove all protection for an animal who is surrendered to a shelter with an owner request that the animal be euthanized even if the animal is healthy and could be placed in a new adoptive home or with a rescue group. It is not uncommon for people to bring a healthy pet to a shelter (rather than their own vet) and turn them in with the instruction that the animal be euthanized for non-health or behavior-related – often personal – reasons. This is not the role of a shelter and animals surrendered on such terms should not be denied the protections afforded any other animal surrendered to a shelter.

• Not require shelters to include rescue organizations located in adjoining counties in New York state on the shelter's registry of qualified rescue organizations. In rural communities in any state, it is quite possible that there may be few if any rescue organizations in the same county as the shelter. By making it optional for shelters to work with rescue organizations in adjoining counties, the Paulin bill nullifies its own purported intent. This work towards no-kill cannot be solved without collaboration, and animals don't know of county lines.

In short, Assemblywoman Paulin’s bill is too concerned about accommodating the interests of the lowest performing shelters rather than accommodating the interests of New York state’s shelter animals.

Best Friends opposes Paulin’s bill – A5449 – unless these issues are addressed. If they are not, Assemblywoman Paulin should do the right thing and withdraw A5449.

If you're in New York state, you can take action on this right now.

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society