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  Also note that Governor Brown tried to get Hayden repealed due to California's large budget deficit this year, but due to the emotional outcry of citizens, the repeal was rejected.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