Society

AB 2343 California Animal Sheltering Disaster: The Animals and Shelters Deserve Better

| by Phyllis M Daugherty

AB 2343, a California bill by The Humane Society of the U.S. is the outcome of a “white paper,” entitled, “Charting a Path Forward: Reaching California’s policy to save all adoptable and treatable animals,” which was a joint project by HSUS, Found Animals Foundation, and a nebulous stakeholders group.

Some of the major animal shelters in California were not involved in developing the “white paper” or were initially invited but dropped out after realizing the philosophy governing the proposal to regulate California animal shelters was not workable—and in some cases violated property rights of pet owners--and their input on the realities of the law and the demands of sheltering thousands of animals were disregarded.

In a rebuttal to the stakeholder’s group “white paper,” a Coalition of Public and Private Animal Welfare Agencies responded, “While the document states that it reached out to ‘one hundred eleven leaders from 63 animal care agencies (both public and nonprofit)’, the concerns relayed by these professionals are not reflected in the actual document; they may have been heard, but they were in fact dismissed.”

Another divisive factor was that the underlying premise of the “white paper” was that animal shelters are evil and only want to kill animals.

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Best Friends blog by Francis Batista on September 17, regarding the “white paper”, affirms, “The topline conclusion that I drew from the white paper should be no surprise. The California state shelter system fails homeless pets on almost every front.”

FROM “WHITE PAPER” TO AB 2343

AB 2343 has been called ‘elitist,’ ‘wilful deceit,’ ‘profound ignorance,’ ‘problematic,’ ‘half-baked,’ ‘self-serving,’ ‘backdoor,’ and ‘misleading,’ (not all in the same sentence or the same document and by those other than shelter directors). It has received criticism by animal-welfare observers such as Nathan Winograd (No Kill Movement) and UCLA Law School Professor Taimie Bryant. Best Friends wrote, “As it stands, we cannot support this bill.”

Some of the critics with no sheltering experience have appointed themselves as the experts who can fix it—as long as the “fix” serves their interests.

One of the main and most obvious factors in the white paper and also in AB 2343 is that both were written by those with no actual shelter-management experience. HSUS has never run a California shelter and, to our knowledge, neither has Found Animals Foundation, which may explain some of the fatal flaws in the Assembly Bill that is being carried by a legislator who is a very caring man, but not a sheltering expert. He undoubtedly trusted that this disguised attempt to destroy the state’s animal-sheltering system is a positive step.

However, Assemblyman Gatto’s staff was warned as early as last November that introducing AB 2343 (as written) was inadvisable. Several “real” experts who have experience with shelter management and the legal ramifications of the bill’s provisions advised top staff members of the dangers to the entire California animal-sheltering system and the political pitfalls.

AB 2343’s GOAL IS TO VILIFY ANIMAL SHELTERS

There is no question that the main goal of AB 2343 is to vilify animal shelters. It is especially significant that concerns for the reality of implementing the complex and incongruous measures in this bill and the safety and welfare of animals have been ignored, in favor of “special interest” provisions and the “special interests within special interests” that merely want animals out of shelters, regardless of the consequences to the animal, such as immediately releasing cats without identification to “rescuers” without a holding period. Not only does that violate personal property rights but it also denies the animal the opportunity to be reunited with its owner. If the cat is believed to be feral (a free-roaming stray) it would undoubtedly be neutered and released back into the streets (re-abandoned.)

HAS WAYNE PACELLE READ AB 2343?

Some have asked if Wayne Pacelle of HSUS is personally aware of the content of AB 2343. If he is not, it is not because the issue has not been brought to his personal attention. On April 8, I sent Wayne a list of the most serious problems that had been prepared by animal control and humane society directors and advised him that we had all voiced similar concerns at the town-hall meetings that were held on the “white paper.” On April 9, I received a return e-mail that asked, “Which aspects are you concerned about, Phyllis?” Did he read the issues presented by the animal control directors—the group which AB 2343 seeks to regulate? I don’t know. But I do know that he had a chance to do so.

A very insightful Sutter’s Friend posting on Facebook responded to the question of whether Wayne Pacelle had read the bill before sending out an e-blast asking for support. This should be read in its entirety by everyone involved with AB 2343. (The link is at the end of this article.)

“Those confused people should consider the possibility that Wayne Pacelle had not actually read AB 2343 before he sent the alert and that he was instead relying on someone else’s judgment about AB 2343. Look at the alert and ask yourself if there is any indication that he read it. Certainly he does not encourage YOU to read AB 2343. He appears to expect blind reliance, perhaps just like his own. A scary possibility is that no one at HSUS other than Jennifer Fearing actually read AB 2343 before that alert went out. And even scarier is the possibility that Assemblymember Mike Gatto has not read AB 2343, either. Similarly, people ask why Tom Hayden would support AB 2343. Yet, there is no indication that Tom Hayden has read or understands AB 2343.”

“… animals deserve better than that. Animals cannot read; they cannot write letters objecting to the terrible laws that can be enacted too easily…We have to be extra conscientious on behalf of animals because people who claim to act on animals’ behalf often betray them, intend to harm them, or are well-intentioned but clueless about how they are harming animals. Every single one of us needs to put his butt in a chair and patiently read legislation and think about it. Animals deserve our conscientious attention.”

DID MIKE GATTO’S STAFF REALLY UNDERSTAND THIS BILL?

Many who know and respect him regret that Assemblyman Mike Gatto is urging passage of a measure which he believes has merit, but one with which he undoubtedly has little familiarity. He has not served on a City Council where animal issues and sheltering are among the most contentious and often micro-managed by politicians whose qualification list begins and ends with merely “loving animals.” There is inference in political circles that this is Gatto’s penance for failing to more actively support prior animal legislation.

Is AB 2343 symbolic of the chasm in the animal community created by the “have’s” against the “have nots”? The bill was written by multi-million dollar organizations that benefit financially from their distance from animal shelters and are considered the “white hats,” in a 1999 article by Merritt Clifton (now of Animals 24/7). The open-admission animal shelters--the real “rescuers” of abandoned, abused, neglected animals--are portrayed as the “black hats with blood-stained hands.” There is ample reason to do this: To which would you donate? Thus, the animal-sheltering professionals have reason to be suspect of the hidden agenda which permeates this legislation.

Many critics of AB 2343 (myself included) have worked closely with HSUS on many matters and share deep regard for the legislative work they have done in such areas as factory farming, illegal animal fighting and other animal cruelty issues. I am also very fond of Assemblyman Mike Gatto and his family (with whom I share an Italian-American heritage.)

Nothing in this article is a personal commentary on any individual—but I, along with many others, believe AB 2343 will undo years of progress in sheltering animals and result in streets that are filled with stray dogs and cats, the return of epidemic diseases, a potential resurgence of rabies because of the recommendation to refuse relinquished animals--meaning many will then be dumped in the streets. There is also righteous widespread concern about attacks on humans and animals by dog packs and the resultant poisoning and other horrific ways people rid a neighborhood of nuisance animals—which cannot help but increase under the provisions of this bill.

AB 2343 allows the release of animals to “for profit” organizations, which can mean a return to pound seizure—pets being taken for laboratory experimentation--and pit bulls being released directly into the hands of dog fighters.

THE MECHANICS OF AB 2343

AB 2343 promises a one-year $10 million block grant to be shared by all the shelter in the entire state of California, but only if they qualify. I asked an attorney to explain the actual mechanism by which this “dangling carrot”— would be attainable. Here’s his amusing portrayal of his quandary:

Govt. Code 17581.8 (a)

The limited funds available through the block grant—no matter how inadequate—will constitute ‘payment in full’ for legal reimbursement purposes. This means there is no way to ask/sue for more money. An agency spends millions of dollars in order to be in full compliance, and is paid only pennies in return—but MUST comply FULLY with ALL requirements of ALL of the related statutes.

17581.8 (b)(2)

The block grant is managed by the State dept. of Public Health. A govt. agency that will skim untold millions off of the top of the block grant amount ($10m the first year, but perhaps next to nothing in subsequent years). It is possible that the cost of maintaining the grant program could exceed the available funds, so that complying agencies get absolutely nothing!

17581.8 (c)(1-2)

These sections require that the request for reimbursement be received by the state no later than August 30 of the fiscal year in which the grant is effective. At best that is a few months before the year ends, and at worst is two months into the fiscal year. It should be for the PREVIOUS fiscal year. Likewise, the payment is made on November 30 of the same fiscal year. How is that possible?

17581.8 (c)(3)

Reiterates that no participating agency can get any other money from any other State program/source to offset the costs of complying with these statutes.

17581.8 (d)

Participating agencies must also submit to expensive audits to get the pennies on the dollar they spend. We have seen (with Hayden) how onerous and expensive those audits can be. The State is notorious for using them to discourage agencies from submitting requests for reimbursement.

“RESCUES” ARE NOT MONITORED AND HAVE NO LEGAL REQUIREMENTS

AB 2343 suggests repeatedly that unidentified or unclaimed animals can just be turned over to “rescues,” including those that are “for profit.” Although many rescues are extremely diligent, the responsible ones are the first to admit that, unfortunately, “rescue” of animals has also become an industry and there are those for whom profit seems the compelling force. Valid, responsible rescuers lament frequently that animals are being adopted out by relatively unknown persons, calling themselves “rescues” but not spaying or neutering before release. And hoarding of animals in California (and other states) by purported rescuers is one of the most widespread and rapidly increasing forms of animal cruelty.

While seeking to regulate animal shelters, AB 2343 fails to provide a path to placing restrictions, licensing, monitoring, required training or expertise, housing inspections, and proper reporting of income for what has—for some—become a profitable untaxed at-home business enterprise. Those who are members of the Los Angeles “No Kill LA” (NKLA, a Best Friends’ trademark) program also receive from Best Friends a $150 payment (not “donation” says Executive Director Mark Peralta) per adoption that exceeds the number adopted out the year before.

SHOULD “RESCUES” HAVE SPECIAL RIGHTS?

Apparently there is serious unrest—at least in the Los Angeles “rescue” community--that caused the following e-mail to be sent out recently:

From: <[email protected]>
Date: April 7, 2014 at 9:19:53 PM PDT

Subject: XXXXXX XXXXXX calling everyone/

coalitionofrescues.org is up and running]

“XXXXXX XXXXXX calling everyone/coalitionofrescues.org is up and running

“We can retain an attorney to make sure we are represented as a group at commission meetings, why is it the city employees are protected by their union and get away with everything but we are not together as a group let's do it, this will be our union of sorts

“Rescues, volunteers, independents, activists

“All Southern California shelters will be covered by this including county, La animal services and any shelter in Southern California

“Your $10.00 monthly membership fee will be used to promote the objectives of COR and to create a collective voice for the rescue community in furtherance of the health and welfare of shelter animals by assuring us legal representation when needed. A panel of five will vote to agree that an issue is of importance or an COR members rights have violated.

“SIGN UP. Don't Forget to show up downtown they need 100 people representing the rescue community for that meeting tomorrow at City Hall at 10 o'clock."

AB 2343 IS A DISASTER THAT MUST BE STOPPED

A campaign promising that e-mails flooding the Capital will save animals lives cannot be allowed to blind the public or sway the legislators. Assemblyman Mike Gatto, a true friend to animals, should withdraw this bill, take an accurate survey of whether there really is a problem with animal shelters or a deficiency in funding for spay/neuter to reduce the need for shelters. The more the public is deceived that California is becoming “no kill” and that rescuers have a home for every animal, the easier it is to dump unwanted pets.

Animal shelters are not the problem. They are the visible symptom of a society that considers pets disposable. This is the issue that must be addressed. AB 2343 seeks to punish the messenger. The animals and the shelters deserve better.

Sources: (1), California State Humane, CA Sheltering Report, Best Friends