Tuesday, May 29, 2012

New York CAARA - Companion Animal Access and Rescue Act

This week the NY State Assembly Agriculture Committee will decide whether the CAARA  (Assembly number A.7312-A and Senate Bill S05363A) moves out of committee.  This is New York's version of CAPA.

Two states currently have rescue access legislation that is similar - California and Delaware.

California has the Hayden Act which was enacted back in 1998.  Despite the length of time this law has been on the books, California's euthanasia rate is still within the national average. It's also cost the state $23 million to fund their part of the mandate each year.  So despite the cost & overcrowded shelters, the number of animals being euthanized is no better than the rest of the country.  Also note that Governor Brown tried to get Hayden repealed due to California's large budget deficit this year, but due to the emotional outcry of citizens, the repeal was rejected.  So if you pass CAARA and your communities suffer the consequences of the higher costs, good luck trying to get it back off the books.  It's always more difficult making your way back down a bad road, than to avoid the bad road in the first place.

Delaware enacted CAPA in July of 2010.  It has been a nightmare ever since. Never ending investigations and complaints, including a state attorney general investigation of Department of Agriculture employees.  The law has cost the animal shelter handling animal control for our 3 counties an additional $2 million in the first year.  Our largest city, Wilmington, only has 32 days left to find a vendor to handle animal control after the shelter who has handled for 120 years made the decision to give up the contract.  So the city needs to find another vendor, or hire their own personnel and build an animal shelter.

I have read through the complete legislation and there are a host of issues with CAARA.  Here are just a few:
  • Adding certified mail requirements that require additional tracking to ensure receipts have been received back to show compliance with the law, in case a complaint is lodged (and they will be).  
  • Shelter employees already working in a fast paced environment where the triage of animals is imperative and it is important to keep the flow of animals under control, will will be saddled with having to determine what category within CAARA an animal falls under - 5 days, 9 days, 12 day, 2 days for transfers.  The confusion that will result from the constantly changing holding periods will result in more mistakes and errors, making shelters a more dangerous place for family pets.
  • Even though, CAARA allows inspections, it does not take into account the army of personnel, time, money and travel associated with doing the inspections of rescues.  It also has a number of limitations that make inspections more difficult, like a 48 hour window that the shelter must do the inspection in.  And a shelter must have "legally sufficient reasonable suspicion" that an animal should not be placed with a rescue before they can even do an inspection.  That should keep NY's court system busy.  In many cases these rescues are loosely organized rescues that are operated under a single individual transferring animals to various foster homes, and they may be operating in another state.  As we saw in DE, where shelters and rescues are unregulated, taking shelter judgment out of transfers to rescues is a mistake and harmful to animals.  
Reasons to Avoid CAARA.
  • If the committee does not want to see communities saddled with ever increasing costs associated with keeping animals longer and the animal overcrowding that results, committee members vote against this bill. 
  • If legislators don't want to be inundated with complaints by the vocal minority, with squabbles about animal custody cases and speculation about whether an animal was suffering before it was euthanized, then committee members should vote against CAARA.  
In fact if the committee cares about any of the above issues, they should kill the Companion Animal Access and Rescue Act (A07312). Once that has been done, they should quickly burn it, dispose of it by way of the nearest toilet to send it through the sewer system as far away from the legislature as quickly as possible, and then say a prayer that it doesn't find it's way back.

New York residents should let their agriculture committee know that CAARA is unacceptable and encourage them to work on creating real animal care standards that ensure the health and safety of animals, as stated by NY resident Mary Anne Kowalski in her OpEd article last month.  Animal care standards are needed in every state, as Delaware's experience clearly shows.


Fortunately, the NY agriculture committee showed they have much more wisdom than Delaware's legislature, and did not pass CAARA out of committee.

Committee Chair Assemblyman Magee should be commended for protecting New York communities and their taxpayers from the costs that would have resulted from CAARA. He not only made the right choice for the citizens of New York, but also for the animals of the state.

As he noted, similar legislation has been costly and bad for the animals in Delaware, and we wish that we had a legislator here in DE that did the research before passing the horrendous legislation called CAPA.

Thank you Assemblyman Magee and members of the committee that had the courage to vote against this legislation, despite the misinformation being presented by a very vocal minority.

Below is a letter in which Assemblyman Magee provides his constituents with his well state reasoning for not supporting CAARA.  
To the Editor:
I am writing to you regarding the Companion Animal Access and Rescue Act (CAARA) legislation which is currently in the state Assembly's Agriculture Committee. This bill would require the release of shelter animals to any rescue groups upon their request (A.7312-C). While this bill has goodintentions, there are flaws that would potentially do more harm than good toour animals and the safety of our communities and severely burden property taxpayers and shelters. As chair of the Agriculture Committee, this is why I have been hesitant to pass the legislation on to its next step.
I care deeply about animals. As the proud owner of my pet Simon, a shelter-adopted cat, I know how important it is to protect and rescue every animal we can. Just two years ago, I voted to pass a law that specifically allows shelters to legally partner with rescues, giving them a meaningful opportunity to choose which rescue organization to work with before euthanizing animals in their care, helping prevent animal abuse and neglect.(Ch. 419 of 2010). 
One of the many concerns I have about CAARA is that the act would require shelters to turn animals over to rescue organizations on demand, removing any sort of the meaningful discretion shelters have in choosing which rescue organizations to partner with. Currently, all animal shelters are regulated by the state to ensure the humane treatment of all animals. Rescue organizations are not state-regulated, meaning that there is no oversight over any of them. In fact, this legislation specifically states that rescues can refuse to be inspected by shelters. That's simply wrong. Because rescue organizations are not defined, almost anyone could become a rescue organization simply by filing for a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit status. The potential danger to shelter animals that this creates is enormous. It could potentially place animals in hoarder situations or under circumstances of severe animal abuse and neglect. They could also end up right back where they were before being taken in by the shelter - on the streets, abused, indanger and alone.
We often read horrific stories in the paper about rescues that are 501(c)(3)s and get in over their heads. A prime example is the case of Mallory Paetow, a woman who was arrested in 2009 and is facing more than 90 charges for hoarding over 30 dogs and puppies in Salina, NY. The dogs lived in filthy conditions, many of them severely malnourished and suffering from serious infections. In 2010, she was arrested once again near Albany for similar charges of animal cruelty and neglect, including failing to provide proper shelter, food or medical care. Without adequate regulations, this is what could happen to the shelter animals we are trying to save.
Additionally, CAARA does not include funding, and would impose an unfunded mandate on municipalities and shelters. In Delaware, an act similar to CAARA was implemented without additional funding. Now, the state's shelters face$2 million in unfunded mandates and capital improvements. And in California, the governor has proposed to repeal a law similar to CAARA, potentially saving the state more than $46 million in the next fiscal year.
As the owner of a beloved shelter pet, I know first hand how important it isto protect and care for shelter animals. We can learn from the experiences of other states and build on what they have tried. As stated earlier, NewYork State does not regulate rescue organizations. The lack of regulations leads to hoarding, extensive liabilities and other dangerous, unsanitary situations for our shelter animals. By developing proper guidelines forthese organizations, we can help make sure animals are housed in shelters and rescue organizations that are safely run, sanitary and respectable.
I will continue fighting to protect shelter animals through safe and thorough legislation. I encourage you to visit my website atassembly.state.ny.us/mem/William-Magee for more information.
Bill Magee, Member of Assembly
New York State Assembly

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Austin - The Reality Check

Much has been said about Austin and their pursuit of the no-kill agenda in recent days after some animals had to be euthanized due to overcrowding.  The most amusing of which was the story Tragedy in Austin and particularly the commentary about the subject is below:
"Naysayers who are committed to a paradigm of killing will argue that No Kill is not sustainable. Naysayers who want it to fail will argue that No Kill inevitably leads to overcrowding. Naysayers who want animals to be killed will argue that there are too many animals, not enough homes. You can practically see them salivating, privately celebrating the deaths of dogs. They want animals to die and they are going to exploit Austin’s missteps to advance their pro-killing, killing-apologia agenda. But they are wrong on all counts." - Nathan Winograd - Tragedy in Austin
Let's be clear, no one is "celebrating" or "salivating" seeing animals animal die.  Yes, I've questioned whether Austin's plan is fiscally responsible to the taxpayers of Austin as their Animal Services budget grows year after year, while they give up other services.  And I've also questioned whether it's sustainable without even larger budget increases in years to come, to cover an ever expanding foster network.   But let's be honest, no one would say a parent was celebrating or salivating to see their child tragically die while drunk driving just because they warned the child it could happen, so the insinuation is just ludicrous and juvenile.  Keep in mind that I'm not the one making up derogatory names and calling anyone a killer like the no-kill movement does so readily, so I have no doubt about who the adult in the room is.  If there wasn't a concern that we were right, there wouldn't have been the previous blog post setting up the excuse making to come for Austin, and we wouldn't be seeing all the references in recent months on various no-kill movement pages using some of my favorite terms fiscally responsible, cost effective, sustainable, etc.  

So maybe it's worthwhile to go down the list of excuses to see what we learn from the experience.

New Location With Less Kennels
"One of the major factors contributing to the overcrowding situation is the city’s decision, made several years ago, to move the shelter to a new location which is very difficult to reach and contains 60 fewer kennels." - YesBiscuit! - Austin in Crisis
The fact is, Town Lake Center is still handling overflow from Austin Animal Center, and part of the facility is being used by Austin Pets Alive.  So in fact there is more capacity now than before the new shelter opened.  In fact, the original plan didn't include the continued use of Town Lake Center, so as a result there is actually more capacity to house animals than ever before.

"As of shelter opening Tuesday, the facility housed 1,046 with no more space to place homeless pets. There were 581 animals at the Austin Animal Center, which is over capacity by 130.
Town Lake Animal Center, used for overflow, is also at capacity, and 412 dogs, cats, and kittens are in foster homes." - KXAN
Hopefully that clears up any misconception that Austin officials have not continued to try and support the no-kill agenda despite the fact that it was costing them from all ends.

AustinPetsAlive Choice to Take San Antonio Animals
"But both are also importing dogs from San Antonio and other communities and at least some of the dogs are tying up foster homes and kennel space. And while both have agreed to a moratorium on doing so until the current crisis is resolved, it won’t bring those dogs back." - Nathan Winograd, Tragedy In Austin
As I've previously discussed, APA's decision to take animals was a 2 part decision.  It allowed them to bring in the cut and fluffy animals to encourage foot traffic in their adoption center, but it was also likely a means to shift the cost burden to San Antonio under a contract that provided them with much needed funding as a result of the ever increasing costs associated with the no-kill agenda in Austin.   Yes, they could have used those spaces for the Austin animals, but as Mr. Winograd stated later in the article, there are even more costs associated with treating sick, injured, unweaned, and traumatized treatable dogs and cats.  Those costs were most likely beyond the means of the organization.  Treatment is not free, and despite the argument that the no-kill agenda isn't more costly, I think Austin has made it clear to everyone that it is very costly.

No-Kills Suggestions For the Future

Offsite Adoptions
"I’ve always said the buck stops with the shelter and shelter leadership. Austin Animal Services does not do offsite adoptions and that is not acceptable, especially since many of the other No Kill communities which exist across the country also have shelters in a remote location, which they compensate for by doing so." - Nathan Winograd, Tragedy In Austin
 Note the word compensate.  Should I say cha-ching as the bills keep adding onto the Austin budget.

Provide More Incentives to Adopt

For goodness sake, Austin is handing out animals for free now.  What's next, start out with giving a toaster with each animal adopted, and maybe work their way up to a Lexus.  Again cha-ching.

Move Back To Old Facility
"in what would be an act of supreme courage—admitting they made the mistake and moving back to the location of the old facility. There is no doubt that the old facility needed capitalization, but better a scruffy looking cage for a dog, than a body bag." - Nathan Winograd, Tragedy In Austin
What can be said about that one other than a monster CHA-CHING.  Forget the fact that APA is currently trying to work out an agreement to use that facility.  I'm not sure if the suggestion is to walk away from the $12 million facility that the city paid to have the new shelter built, or if it is to fix Town Lake Center and keep them both open.  Both options include the cost of fixing up the old facility, but the latter also includes the additional cost of staffing a second location, which adds another cha-ching.

If these suggestions are what the no-kill movement considers fiscally responsible and sustainable, they are clearly using different definitions of those words than I am.

What Does This Mean For Other Communities?

I just hope that other communities like Hillsborough FL, who are currently considering going down this road, will take a good hard look at how this has worked out so far for Austin TX, and what this will potentially cost your community going forward.  While I realize there were some issues with your spay neuter program in the past, what was accomplished with the program was impressive, and there are many communities that would like to emulate your responsible approach.  So proceed with caution before going down the no-kill yellow brick road.

My Message to Austin

And to the various workers and volunteers in Austin, unlike some, I truly applaud you for your efforts.  While you cancel plans with your family to work long into the evening, you shouldn't have to be told that you "killed" animals, especially by those who sit behind a computer writing on their FB pages about Giant games with the son and veggie burgers.  While I believe the no-kill plan is shortsighted and takes away from resources that would be better spent preventing future animal population, I would never consider the great efforts extended by so many as a failure.  But I hope you also keep in mind that there are great efforts in other shelters that don't proclaim no-kill as well.  Shame on those that question others actions and efforts, especially when they've only been in your shoes for a sneeze in time.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Feral Cats - More Laws?

I couldn't resist the chance to discuss the recent fluff piece concerning feral cats in the Cape Gazette called Rehoboth resident wants help to solve cat problem - Seeks law to protect roaming felines .  In typical Delaware media form, we get reporting that has some local resident quotes and references to programs in other jurisdictions, but no real substance or research.

What drew my attention most of all was the subtitle about seeking a law to protect feral cats.  Just what Delaware residents need, another crazy law that does not solve the issues for it's residents.  As I've discussed previously, as a result of CAPA, the state no longer has an open access shelter for cats.  So when I read the following opening line of the article, it came as no surprise.
"Constance Smith of Midway Estates outside Rehoboth Beach has been feeding feral cats since 2010, when the number of cats in the neighborhood suddenly mushroomed." - Cape Gazette
Although Kent County SPCA, who handles animal control for all 3 counties in DE, did not limit cat intake by an appointment system in Kent County until 2011, it did limit intake from the other counties of Sussex and New Castle in 2010 when the CAPA legislation was passed.  For those unfamiliar with Delaware, Rehoboth Beach is in Sussex County.  So I have no doubt that the statement above is true regarding the number of cats mushrooming at that point.  As a result of CAPA, residents in all 3 counties are being inundated by cats.  Many of us are seeing more of their bodies on the roadways.  Property owners, that don't want to be caretakers, are having cats dumped onto their properties and in some cases in large numbers.  It's just  a sad situation for both residents and the cats.

So why is this an issue?  There are a number of reasons.
  • First and foremost is the public health danger considering Delaware is in the heart a rabies endemic zone on the East.  Note on the image below from the CDC that Delaware can't even be seen under a couple of those large yellow dots.  

  • The danger to resident's pets is also a concern.  As a dog owner, I've had a couple incidents with my dog almost having altercations with free roaming cats in the neighborhood.   As a responsible pet owner, I get my dog the necessary rabies vaccinations and paid to have my yard fenced to provide my dog with a proper environment.  On one occasion, the cat was up on it's haunches and ready to swat the dog if he came any closer.  Fortunately my dog stayed a couple feet away, but how many dogs end up in that fight and as a result ends up with injuries and being punished by a 45 day quarantine as a result.  While I'm sure the no-kill groups will claim there is that danger with raccoons and other wild animals, but lets be honest, I don't think many of my neighbors are feeding the raccoons and skunks, so the wild animal incidents occur far less often.  
§ 8207. Disposition of animals exposed to rabies.
(a) If the owner of a dog, cat or ferret which is exposed to an animal suspected or known to be rabid can provide proof of a currently valid rabies vaccination, that dog, cat or ferret shall be revaccinated immediately and quarantined for 45 days.
  • And to the No-Kill Delaware Facebook frequent poster that placed the following quote on a national no-kill page, the following statement was entirely incorrect. -  "In all of my years I have never heard of a feral cat colony spreading disease. The couple of rabies cases I have heard of in this state involved a raccoon and a fox. A lot of these "facts" I believe originate from theories that some person has written down with no facts to back them up yet somehow they become hard evidence."
The fact is, cats made up nearly half of the animals that tested positive in 2010 for rabies according to CDC statistics for Delaware, so there is hard evidence contrary to her comment, but it takes a few minutes and some additional effort to go out an find the "facts".
2002- All Animals 55 - Cats 1 - Cat Percentage 2%
2003- All Animals 65 - Cats 6 - Cat Percentage 9%
2004- All Animals 59 - Cats 9 - Cat Percentage 15%
2005- All Animals 38 - Cats 1 - Cat Percentage 3%
2006- All Animals 24 - Cats 3 - Cat Percentage 13%
2007- All Animals 11 - Cats 3 - Cat Percentage 27%
2008- All Animals 21 - Cats 6 - Cat Percentage 29%
2009- All Animals 15 - Cats 4 - Cat Percentage 27%
2010- All Animals 11 - Cats 5 - Cat Percentage 45%
So taking that stray kitten home to "play with your child" is not something I would recommend to a responsible parent.
  • Besides the rabies concerns, residents that are having cats dumped onto their properties and are burdened with the expenses of getting the cats spayed and neutered.  That's their only alternative to not let the situation get even more out of hand, since there are no shelters to take them in.  So not only will CAPA result in higher costs to taxpayers for county dog control costs, some residents will have an additional tax placed on them to deal with the cats that are dumped onto their properties, and in many cases they will be low income rural residents.  The buck has been passed from the shelters to the unlucky resident that has to deal with these drop-offs.
  • In more densely populated areas, a resident taking on a colony impacts their neighbors.  Whether it be issues of ruining of landscaping, cats tearing up screens to try and get to another residents indoor cats, or cats tearing up insulation under a home trying to find a warm place to sleep, neighbors have to be considered in urban and suburban locations.  Using the term "community cats" doesn't it make it so.  The amount of cats in a densely populated area needs to be limited to ensure neighbors are not impacted.  And these colonies have to be re-vaccinated on a regular basis to ensure the safety of the children in these neighborhoods.

A Law?

While I was glad to see that Governor Markell's office stated "that the governor is not pursuing legislation to protect cats this year", it does concern me that it says "this year".

The article also mentioned the following:
South Carolina law 
The Charleston Animal Society and the ASPCA in South Carolina partnered with legislators there to protect free-roaming cats. The legislation allowed the state to trap-neuter-return thousands of feral cats, paid for through the state budget. 
According to the program website, “One of the most important lessons learned is that most citizens want to help sustain free-roaming cats, but don't want to self-identify as the custodian of the cats, rather treating them as community cats.”  -  Cape Gazette
I thought it was worthwhile to include the following links for those that read the article above and wanted more information.



What stands out about the above program, is the fact that, unlike in Delaware where the no-kill groups use political influence to get at taxpayer funds, the Charleston program was about the dirty word that our no-kill movement doesn't believe in - collaboration to obtain grant funds.  In Charleston, yes there were laws passed, but lets be honest, there have been no attempts at the kind of collaboration that would be necessary to get collaborative funding from an organization like Charleston did with the ASPCA, so what would a law accomplish?  Their laws established microchip identification, which the no-kill community has fought against here for as long as I can remember here.  The Charleston program appears to be more successful than most because it took a more balance approach to the issue as well.  They didn't stop taking cats overnight as happened in Delaware.  In fact the ASPCA sheet notes:
"some concerns have been observed in communities attempting to replicate the program "overnight." - ASPCA
Since it began over 4,836 feral cats have been returned to the field instead of being euthanized.  Saving these cats has been the major factor for the increase in the live release rate (the number of animals who come into county shelters and leave alive) in Charleston County from 37% to 65% in three years.

So I find it amusing that this idea is even being discussed here in Delaware by the Cape Gazette.  The lack of collaboration, the lack of effort for collaborative grant funding, the lack of caretaker accepting responsibility for their colonies with microchip identification, and the lack of patience to have a balanced approach which means a certain amount of cats would need to continue to be euthanized, are some of the many reasons this program would not be successful here.  And the most unfortunate part about it is that cats and residents will continue to suffer as a result.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Hillsborough Animal Services Director Named

I recently watched this weeks Hillsborough County Commission meeting, and the previous Animal Advisory Committee meeting.  It was readily apparent that everyone, other the Commissioner Hagan and the cities Administrator, appeared to have been kept out of the loop in the shakeup taking place in animal services and the search for a new animal services director.  Friday the announcement was made that Ian Hallett, who is currently the Deputy Chief of Austin Animal Services in Texas was named as the new Animal Services Director for Hillsborough County Florida.  Based on the less than forthright manner in which the situation appeared to be handled, it does seem that the County Commission is about to be bombarded to get their checkbook out, especially if the budget trajectory in Austin is any indication.  Keep in mind that in the beginning of 2010 that the following was stated in an article:
The plan calls for hiring a nonprofit group to manage pet adoptions, expanding a pet foster program and offering more free sterilizations, among other things. City officials say the three dozen ideas contained in the plan will cost $1 million a year, though animal rescue groups dispute that estimate and say the plan will save the city money in the long run. The council isn't scheduled to commit money for the plan today.

The plan closely resembles so-called "no-kill" plans that have succeeded elsewhere, said Nathan Winograd of the California -based No Kill Advocacy Center , which helps cities nationwide improve their animal shelters.

"If Austin implements not just the letter but the spirit of the plan, it will be a success," he said. -

(1) Based on a recent article that stated that Austin would be asked for an additional million next year.

So as you can see, the city officials and the no-kill advocates both had it wrong by a bundle.  Who knows how much further Austin officials can rob Peter to pay Paul, but eventually there has to be some fiscal sanity.  Especially since Austin's ability to sustain their no-kill status means more and more foster homes, which means more and more costs for food, veterinary expenses, etc. 
The Austin Animal Center has been over capacity since it opened six months ago.

"I can't get overwhelmed," said AAC director Abigail Smith. "I think every day is a new challenge. Our shelter system, communitywide, is beginning to become overwhelmed."

The center will seek an additional $1 million next year on top of its present $7.8 million budget. The money would be used to hire more staff and maximize the center's capabilities. - KXAN.com
Unlike the no-kill activists who like to judge everyone, I won't assume that Mr. Hallett will take Hillsborough down this fiscally irresponsible path.  Maybe he's had the opportunity to see that it just leads to a shelter system constantly stressed to the breaking point, and year over year increases to the taxpayer's bill.  And hopefully the Hillsborough County Commission will ensure that all taxpayers are represented, not just the vocal minority, especially if they understand that an ever expanding foster network will mean an ever expanding budget.  Here are the Hillsborough numbers for the same periods as Austin above:

Only time will tell.  While I hope that Hillsborough restores part of the budget to continue the progress that they are known for in spay neuter, I think their County Commission needs to make sure that the funds don't end up being used to support more and more animals in the shelter and in foster care, as that path is not sustainable without throwing more funds out year after year.  One of the commission members asked for the various programs being proposed to be presented with a price tag, but the commissioners need to use some common sense as well.   Remember, Austin was told it was going to save them money and you can see how well that's worked out.  It's simple, more animals under various forms of care (shelter, foster) means more costs (food, veterinary care, etc.).  Considering the hit that Florida homeowners have taken in the home market prices, can Hillsborough afford increases like those seen in Austin?

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Danger of Mandating Transfers to Rescues

Laws like CAPA (Companion Animal Protection Act) typically include sections requiring shelters to transfer animals to rescues. Some include requirements such as simple as a 501c3 tax status, while other like New York's CAARA even include a provision that allows a shelter to inspect the premises of a rescue. The story below provides just a glimpse into why mandating transfers is so dangerous.


While I'm sure "no-kill" activists will claim that this case would not apply because the organization mentioned is not a 501c3, but Delaware saw a similar situation with a rescue that was a 501c3 within months of CAPA being enacted.

Even if the shelter is allowed to inspect as allowed under the CAARA legislation in New York, they would need an army to follow these rescues through various states.  This is another case of where funds will be spent on a bunch of investigators, rather than more productive programs like spay neuter and promoting adoption.

It's also further evidence that legislating transfers, rather than allowing shelters to make informed decisions, is costly to taxpayers, harmful to public confidence in adopting rescue animals, and costly to the animals who end up dumped on unsuspecting fosters and kennels.  This isn't an isolated case.  These types of cases are becoming more common every day.  I'm not saying shelters shouldn't work with rescues, because they should.  But they need to be allowed to make a professional assessment and be able to proceed cautiously with unknown rescues to ensure they're not sending animals into a worse situation.