AB 595 is Bad for Animals
This piece of legislation is well-intentioned and sounds good, but the reality of implementation is not good at all and here’s why:
AB 595 will increase euthanasia of California’s shelter animals. The average length of stay of an animal in a shelter is more than 20 days at this time. During that time shelters are aggressively reaching out to rescue organizations, partner shelters in the state, and promoting reduced fee and fee waived adoptions. If a shelter reaches a point where they are out of options and have to euthanize for space, that means there is literally no space available. A shelter cannot then keep the animal for an additional 72 hours. As such, in order to manage these posting requirements, shelters will have to reduce capacity to keep space available for legally obligated intakes. To do that, they will need to euthanize animals sooner, an outcome no one wants.
AB 595 creates a reimbursable state mandate which would require reimbursement by the State for all funds expended in response to this bill. By requiring animals to be held an additional 72 hours, the state would be required by California law to compensate every shelter complying with the law for any monies expended because of the bill’s requirements. In 2001, the Commission on State Mandates determined that large portions of the 1998 Hayden Act needed to be suspended because the state was not reimbursing shelters for the additional cost of holding animals longer than current law allowed. This bill will trigger the same requirements and therefore must be re-evaluated to include fiscal impact. There are hundreds of public and nonprofit shelters in California, and the vast majority are government entities or shelters with government contracts that will unquestionably incur additional costs under the bill’s requirements.
AB 595 threatens shelter animals’ greatest allies with jail time for caring. Our animal control and humane law enforcement officers bring multiple lost, stray animals in daily. Shelter staff members and volunteers conduct extensive outreach to rescue organizations to encourage transfers and agencies run frequent adoption promotions and have robust foster programs to get animals out safely. Sadly, when outreach efforts fail, there are days when shelter staff have to make the single most difficult decision in their job – to euthanize any animal. Though many people want to minimize the emotional impact these euthanasia decisions have on our staff, imagine caring for dogs and cats for weeks, trying to find them homes or other options just to then have to euthanize. It is highly distressing for animal shelter workers to euthanize animals; particularly those that are healthy and adoptable. The threat of criminal sanctions will almost surely drive these humane workers from their jobs for fear of being jailed for their best efforts at saving animals who end up in shelters.
AB 595’s criminal provisions make no sense. The matter of criminal charges in this bill is unconstitutionally vague. Who is held criminally liable? The person that posted a list of animals, or a person who inadvertently does not list one? The professional who euthanizes an animal? The supervisor? The shelter director? The municipal authorities (town or city councilmembers) who oversee the operation of the shelters? Those who choose careers in animal welfare do so because they care deeply about animals. These jobs are hard and emotionally difficult, rarely well-paid, and subject to easy burn-out. These individuals who work in shelters will have jobs that become threats to their freedom if faced with legislation that potentially holds them criminally liable – for caring.
This bill perpetuates the idea that shelters are bad players in animal welfare. Though the state trusts our organizations to uphold the law, we are often treated as evil professionals that don't care about animals. Death threats, restraining orders, and social media hate campaigns have become commonplace for animal shelters both public and private – by fringe groups without any appreciation of the reality of running a shelter. Given the legislature’s affirmative grant of faith, respect, and funding to California shelters through the California for All Dogs and Cats program, it would be entirely contrary to that sentiment to have the legislature now reinforce these false and hateful ideas with legislation like AB 595.
This bill does not address the cause of shelter overcrowding, or of euthanasia, in California. Animal shelters do not contribute to the proliferation of homeless animals in our state. The reasons that animals end up in shelters are caused by societal factors. Government and non-profit shelters are a safe haven for animals, but when societal problems place an overwhelming burden on existing systems, we are stretched beyond our lifesaving capacity. Insurance limitations, rental barriers, job loss, inflation, and a severe and statewide lack of access to affordable veterinary care are all contributing factors in California animal shelter intake. These factors also impact the public’s ability to adopt. Animal shelters receive no federal or state funding to operate, but are expected to provide industry leading care with inadequate support. Most government animal shelters are significantly underfunded to serve the animals and meet community expectations.
We appreciate your interest in animal welfare. Unfortunately, this bill is not the mechanism to increase lifesaving. It does not align with how animal shelters have to lawfully function and fails to address the underlying issues that are causing animals to land in our shelters to begin with. Please support one of the other great bills presented this term that will help keep people and their pets together such as AB 240 (spay/neuter), AB 703 (insurance – dog breeds), AB 781 (emergency shelters – people & pets), AB 1237 (veterinary debt relief), and AB 1399 (veterinary telemedicine).