New York legislation: Old school vs new

By Francis Battista

 We have been covering the unfolding events surrounding two competing animal shelter bills in the New York State Assembly and will continue to do so until the final bell. For background, I suggest our CEO Gregory Castle’s blog post from last week.

Both the Companion Animal Access and Rescue Act (CAARA) and Assemblywoman Amy Paulin’s bill, A5449, saw the light of day a little over a year ago. Both bills purport to offer some measure of shelter reform and ensure rescue organizations access to animals scheduled for euthanasia. Best Friends Animal Society contacted the authors and sponsors of both bills and made extensive and detailed recommendations to fix what we saw as problems in their respective approaches.

We met and debated extensively with the team that authored Paulin’s bill, went back and forth on alternate language, but in the end, they rejected our input. They are now dealing with public outrage over the same points they blew off when we identified them and offered positive solutions a year ago.

By contrast, New York Assemblyman Micah Kellner, the CAARA sponsor, welcomed our input, and together we developed language that made CAARA stronger.

This is old school versus new — the traditional shelter world that has its roots in rabies control and public health (Paulin bill) versus progressive shelter thinking that is focused on saving lives through aggressive adoptions and the active engagement of rescue partners (CAARA).

These two bills represent two very different points of view. The Paulin bill, A5449, was drafted by the animal shelter community and looks at the issue from within the shelter looking out. It is an attempt to address the public clamor for shelter reform and rescue access to shelter animals in terms that are easily incorporated into existing shelter operations and hence acceptable to the sheltering community. Where it goes wrong, and why it is being so vehemently attacked, is because it sacrifices the interests of the animals on key issues in deference to the operational concerns of shelter managers. It is overly solicitous towards the institution that needs reforming. Rather than asking, “What do shelter animals need and how can we provide it?,” the traditional sheltering interests are saying, “This is all that we are prepared to do to improve services for the animals and the community.”

CAARA is written from the perspective of the public and a rescue community that is trying to move the system away from the old status quo and toward a more animal-centric view of sheltering. It asks, “What do the animals need and how can the shelter system better meet those needs?”

To be clear, there are many New York shelter managers for whom the passage of CAARA would make little difference because their operations already meet the requirements laid out there. Sadly, though, there are also many shelter managers who just don’t want to be bothered — don’t want to work with rescues, don’t want to promote adoptions, and don’t seem to mind killing shelter pets who land in the system through no fault of their own.

And that’s the problem with the Paulin bill.

It makes it too easy for these bad actors to step through one of the many loopholes in A5449 and keep their operations planted firmly in the dark ages. There is just too much noncompliance wiggle room in the Paulin bill for anyone who is focused on the welfare of shelter animals to feel comfortable with. It also contains an alarming provision that has earned it the nickname “Quick Kill Bill” among some advocates because it would allow for a stray pet to be killed upon intake or in the field for the indefinable condition of “psychological pain” as determined by an animal control officer and confirmed by two reputable citizens. Would a terrified Chihuahua get the axe for just being frightened? How about a feral cat? There is nothing in the law to prevent that because the law allows for an entirely subjective decision. Such language makes the Paulin bill too easy to abuse.

CAARA is solid, and we support it. It says what it means without wiggle room or ambiguity. It sets clear standards with no conditional language that can be interpreted otherwise. It is also reasonable with regard to compliance and enforcement.

CAARA represents the future, not the past, and it has Best Friends’ enthusiastic support.

P.S. Join the Best Friends Legislative Action Center for updates on animal issues that are important to you. We'll be sending out an alert early next week as the legislature gears back into session from their break.

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society