Saturday, February 23, 2013

Animal Welfare Task Force - A Farce

You my recall that I addressed the fact that our Animal Welfare Task Force was a joke in it's slanted composition, lack of transparency, the glaring membership omissions, as well as being regionally biased.  I knew this task force was farce the day I saw the Senate Resolution creating it was enacted, and to watch it accomplish what was predicted  ("Most likely just more of the same drama and chaos that CAPA brought us") is not surprising at all.

Composition and Omissions Had A Purpose

At Thursday's task force meeting, Senator Patricia Blevins revealed an outline of her recommendations that would be recommended to the Governor.  This was not a collaborative recommendation by the task force. Everyone was well aware of the fact that it was a recommendation brought forth by the 2 members of the task force that brought us CAPA in the first place, the sponsor and the writer of the legislation.  It was discussed that a new Animal Welfare section would be setup under the Division of Public Health.  As I noted, it was odd that Public Health was not included on the task force, but there was  reason for that -  Public Health can't object to the recommendation if they don't have a seat at the table on the task force ;)  Below is the outline of the new section that was provided to the task force members.

Animal Welfare Office
Department of Health and Social Services
Division of Public Health

• Executive Director
     o Represent office to the public
     o Oversee staff and overall office function
     o Research and make recommendations regarding:
           • Making licenses easier to obtain and beneficial to owners
           • Possible revenue streams (licensing, grants, license plates)
           • Animal control contracts and how best to structure
           • Animal cruelty statute
           • TNR
           • Requirements for rescue organizations
     o Public education regarding spay/neuter, licensing, proper care, etc.
     o Arrange training for prosecutors

 • Deputy Director
     o Shelter standards investi gation and oversight
     o Inspection of shelters (and licensed retai lers?)
     o Rabies calls and follow-up

• Spay/neuter oversight
     o Run state spay/neuter program

• Animal Control Officer
     o Oversee training and certification for animal control officers
     o Handle complaints
     o Dangerous dog panel

• Administrative Position:
     o Operate statewide database, with all shelters participating
     o Oversee lost and found database
     o Provide administrative support for entire office

There had already been talk of this scenario when the writer of CAPA and our HSUS representative, who are both on the task force, made the rounds with various parties (shelters, rescues, etc), discussing claims that such an agency would be created and talk of $6 million to assist animal welfare in the state of Delaware.  Lobbying at it's best, with half truths that accomplish nothing for the animals.

Well part of the scenario they discussed was apparently truthful - the new section.  But from the discussion at the task force meeting, it was discussed that this new scenario would only have a $500,000 budget for the state.  Basically the $500,000 would cover salaries, benefits, and expenses for the new agency.  Not one additional dime to actually help an animal.  Now this truly is animal welfare "the Delaware Way".  It's just shameful.

Slap In The Face

It's not only a slap to the very animals that suffer as the result of CAPA, it was also a slap in the face to other members of the Animal Welfare Task Force.  To sit through meetings month after month and listen to issue after issue, and then have a recommendation that was most likely hatched well before they even started meeting, shows the lack of respect the politicians have for the time spent by their fellow task force members, and that of the the constituents that bothered to make public statements to this committee.  It also shows how cowardly they are to use the cover of a task force to merely create an Executive Director to make the recommendations that the task force thought they would take part in making.

I hope Delaware's press, some of which I know read this blog, keep an eye on this development.  I personally wonder whether this subterfuge was merely a way to create a job for the person that wrote CAPA.  I've thought that from the beginning, and even if I'm wrong, I have no doubt that the person will be someone hand picked by our Senate President.  And I have no doubt that the person will continue to make CAPA even worse than it already is.

What's even stranger about this development is the fact that our Division of Public Health doesn't have a veterinarian on staff like other states.  So instead of a State Veterinarian examining shelter medical records, we could possibly have an attorney or simply a government administrator determining whether a euthanasia procedure was warranted.  Maybe we should allow the state Attorney General's office employees to be cross trained to do human autopsies for cases they prosecute to help offset the additional $500,000 to the budget that isn't going to help animals (head shake & eyeroll).

Rewarding Failure

While I continue to defend HSUS, PETA, and ASPCA, and the various works they perform on behalf of animals, I will say I'm disappointed that HSUS would reward the very people that brought us CAPA and the unenforceable tether bill.

"Blevins led the initiative for Delaware’s low-cost spay/neuter law, which funds those services for income-eligible pet owners. It is funded through a $3 rabies vaccination surcharge. She also led the effort to define standards of care for animals in shelters, and procedures to ensure animals receive every opportunity to be adopted. Most recently she was the primary sponsor of legislation, signed into law in August, that defines continuous dog tethering as a crime of animal cruelty. She also established and chairs the state’s Animal Welfare Task Force, which convened last year." - Widener Law page
Does that mean I agree with Nathan Winograd's continual blasting of these organizations?  Absolutely not.  I know HSUS provides alot of services that benefit animals (disaster relief, large scale rescues, protecting research animals, etc).  Certainly more services than no-kill advocacy groups or CAPA does.  And to be honest, the whole no-kill hate crusade reminds me of communist countries where officials coerce donations, and I have to wonder why any politician would want anything to do with the no-kill hate movement.

And even though I realize this alliance between the no-kill movement and HSUS probably has more to do with the fact that we're a small state, which allows them an easier outlet to get example legislation passed, and they probably have another agenda here that relates to factory farming, I hope they understand that participating with the no-kill movement in Delaware will make them just as complicit in the horror that continues to occur to animals.  And that it will worsen under the proposed recommendations at the top.  It's not that I don't have compassion for livestock and other species, but I just don't think it's appropriate to throw Delaware's companion animals under the bus to accomplish other reforms.

What Happens Next?

It should be interesting to see what will happen next.  The counties should understand that this will not be a good thing for their budgets.  If CAPA is made even worse, allowing complaints and lawsuits to dominate animal welfare, our shelters will continue to lose money, and this negative atmosphere will threaten the viability of all our animal shelters.  If this recommendation being proposed is enacted, I have no doubt that nonprofit shelters will pull out of animal control contracts rather than deal with the litigation friendly world that CAPA has created.  It's no wonder that The Delaware Trial Lawyers Association supported the politicians that brought us CAPA.  

Even though I think the counties do see where this is going, the question will be whether or not they have sufficient backbone to stop the next layer of unfunded mandates that will place an additional strain on their budgets. County officials need to make their opposition clear, or they have nobody but themselves to blame. 

Veterinarians and pet owners in Delaware should also be concerned, because it's just a matter of time before the no-kill movement begins to question your choices on euthansia, and we're already seeing the movement fight to change animal status under the law that may increase veterinarian malpractice costs, and those costs will be passed onto consumers.

If this does play out, it will be interesting to watch as the counties become the ones under fire and dealing with the lawsuits.  And while they may be able to ignore nuisance cat calls now that they have nonprofit shelters as their buffers, it will be interesting to see what happens when a county has it's own dog control and constituents are calling their commissioners directly.  So it may not turn out to be the nirvana that rescuers who believe in no-kill had hoped for.