No Kill: Hayden Law, Overcrowding California Animal Shelters (Graphic Video)


(Part 1) This is the first in a series on the "No Kill" movement in animal sheltering. This examines the impact of the Hayden Bill (1998) and provides a graphic video filmed in California animal shelters one year after the law went into effect. The extended holding periods for shelter animals mandated by the Hayden Bill were, mercifully, suspended in 2009 by the California Legislature.

It is shocking that after the unconscionable suffering and painful injuries/deaths of animals crammed into overcrowded shelters and the dismal budgetary failure of former CA Senator Tom Hayden’s “No Kill” Bill in California, other states are now considering passing similar legislation without a close look at the Hayden Bill’s track record. “NO-KILL” SHELTERS POLL

An October 2011 poll of pet owners regarding “no-kill shelters” was recently released. AP reports that pet owners (only) were contacted by telephone and asked, “Which more closely mirrors your opinion: (1)” Animal shelters should only be allowed to euthanize animals when they are too sick to be treated or too aggressive to be adopted” or (2) “Sometimes animal shelters should be allowed to euthanize animals as a necessary way of controlling the population of animals.” A small probability sample of 1,118 pet owners is presented as nationally representative.

AP does not disclose the source of its polling list; and there is no logical follow-up question for the first response; e.g., “What would your solution be for 6 to 8 million surplus/unwanted animals taken into shelters every year but not adopted by the public?”

Not surprisingly, 71 percent of AP responders said “No” to euthanasia for population control, with most being under 30 years of age. Still, overall only 25% picked option 2, according to their report.

A disturbing aspect of these questions is the wording, “should animal shelters be allowed…” Allowed by whom? Should laws or courts prohibit shelter professionals from making difficult but merciful decisions when euthanasia is necessary for health and safety in overcrowded shelters where animals are packed into too little space and are suffering and dying from contagious diseases or killing each other in kennel fights? Or should that decision be made by politicians with no sheltering or animal-control experience, as happened with the 1998 California Hayden Law (SB 1785)?

Whether or not the AP poll reflects the opinion of the general public, no one wants to think about animals being euthanized because there are not enough homes, so the question of “what will happen to the surplus” is omitted, and the easy answer is probably, “take them to a no-kill shelter.”


According to Maddie’s Fund, “no kill” means, “…all healthy and treatable animals are saved” and only “unhealthy and untreatable animals are euthanized.” So, “no kill” really doesn’t mean no animals are killed and it doesn’t mean that all are saved. So, it would seem the basic requirement for a shelter to claim it is “No Kill,” would be by admitting only those animals which are “healthy and treatable.”

“No Kill” shelters are mostly private, donor-funded organizations and often are humane societies. They usually admit only pets which they believe will be adopted quickly. Accepting behaviorally or physically challenged animals can result in hoarding and keeping unadopted or unadoptable animals in cages for months or even years, which is costly and inhumane.

Those pets that do not meet the standards for acceptance at a “No Kill” shelter are turned away and/or often directed to an open-admission municipal shelter which does not refuse them regardless of health, injury, age or aggression. Public, open-entry shelters take the animals that are not “healthy and treatable” as well as those that are, in order to assure that the “untreatable” will not suffer.

Thus, in reality, rather than saving all animals from death, "no kill” is really a matter of letting someone else do the killing (if necessary) so that the “no kill” shelter maintains a public reputation of only nurturing and rehoming?


Animal-control agencies maintaining public shelters are formed for public safety and rabies control and are essential to public health because zoonotic disease epidemics can ravage entire populations quickly—both animals and human. These are called open-entry shelters, meaning that all animals are accepted. Animal control is funded by tax dollars and required to pick up and impound stray animals, regardless of condition or behavior.

Most animal-control agencies also take in unwanted owner-relinquished pets, realizing that they are in danger of being abandoned or dumped in the streets if turned away. It is also more cost-effective for these animals to be admitted directly to shelters. Due to pet overpopulation and the volume of admissions to municipal shelters, they must humanely euthanize some animals in order to make room for others that are coming in the door needing help and safety and because thousands of animals cannot be warehoused forever. But does differing in this way from a private shelter justify condemning the public agency as “just wanting to kill animals?” Some “no-kill” proponents seem to think so!

It is important to remember that animal shelters are not the cause, but the visible symptom of a segment of society that believes pets are disposable. Animal-control agencies and humane societies with animal-control contracts also enforce laws to hold owners responsible for the humane care of animals and to address and educate the public on issues that result in animals being impounded.

So, why this inflammatory statement in No Kill Sheltering Issue II2007?

Despite animal control’s dysfunction and overkill, animal activists continue to ignore and apologize for the shelters’ failures by blaming the public, rather than those who are directly responsible: the very staff and administrators who fail every time they inject an animal with an overdose of barbiturates…”

The article then mentions fostering, offsite adoptions and rescue groups as solutions. But these after-the-fact options do not address the source of the problem—the public--and do not stop the influx.


Recently there have been assertions that “No Kill” should be legislated in other states, using the 1998 CA Hayden Bill as the model. Here are quotes by one proponent:

“In 1998, as part of a comprehensive shelter reform bill known as the “Hayden Law” after its Senate sponsor, California increased the state mandated holding period from a paltry 72 hours to four or six business days, not including the day of impoundment. Groups mired in killing, like the Humane Society of the United States, opposed the measure, arguing that increasing the holding period would cost other animals their lives because it would reduce available kennel space.” ; and

“CAARA [Companion Animal Access and Rescue Act ] puts New York State Law on par with the most progressive states in the country.

"CAARA is based on a similar law in California which was passed in 1998 with overwhelming bipartisan support in California. In addition, Delaware recently passed similar legislation unanimously."


No Kill –Hayden Bill. The Reality of Shelter Overcrowding



(California Legislative Analyst’s 2008-2009 excerpts on suspending the Hayden Animal Mandates appear below.)

The Hayden Bill was crafted by legislative aides and attorneys with no experience in animal sheltering. It mandated that animal control agencies and humane societies (1) hold animals four to seven days for owner redemption before they could be available for adoption and (2) provide medical care for any animal with a “treatable” condition, among many other provisions.

One fallacy that gained passage of the Hayden Bill was the repeated statement by Hayden’s assistant, Kate Neiswender, “We think about one-fourth of the animals…are being turned in by non-owners,” implying that thousands of animals are stolen and then impounded or were brought into the shelter by a disgruntled spouse. This assertion was without foundation, but like much political persuasion, when repeated often enough by an impassioned advocate, major inaccuracies are accepted as truths by legislators who become afraid to question or disagree.

The Hayden Bill (SB 1785) did not address spay/neuter nor mention any method of controlling/reducing pet overpopulation or widespread owner irresponsibility that results in increasing shelter impounds. Concurrent with Hayden’s Law, Assemblyman Edward Vincent introduced AB 1856 which mandated spay/neuter of shelter animals prior to release and initiated the use of early-age sterilization to reduce the breeding of surplus dogs and cats. Both bills passed in 1998.

Before the Hayden Bill, California shelters held animals for 72 hours and then made them available for adoption. Shelters had the authority to euthanize injured/sick animals to stop suffering and the spread of contagious diseases to healthy animals in the kennels or if the animal was so aggressive that it posed a threat to other animals, shelter staff or the public. They also could euthanize for time and space in order to allocate their limited resources to give the most adoptable pets the longest time in the shelter while still taking in all strays and owner relinquishments.

Under the Hayden law, shelters were required to hold pets relinquished by owners for two full days before adoption (not including the day of impoundment)—in case the owner changed his/her mind. Prior to that, an animal could be adopted directly to a new, loving home after an owner left it at the shelter. Of course, as shelter employees know, it is rare for an owner to have remorse once they have relieved themselves of the responsibility for an unwanted pet. So the Hayden mandate actually added to the likelihood that an adoptable pet would become diseased or injured.

Another aspect of the Hayden Bill that proved inadvisable was the mandatory release to a rescue group of ANY animal scheduled for euthanasia. This removed all discretion for the shelters to declare a vicious animal unsuitable/dangerous for adoption and required that it be released to a group so it could be adopted to the public regardless of condition or behavior.

Some attorneys opined that this opened the shelters to third-party liability even if the rescue group signed a waiver. There were numerous reports of people’s pets being mauled; and, in one media report, a Boxer attacked both a husband and wife who adopted him from the rescuer. This provision is still in effect and forces shelters to sometimes keep animals for rescues for excessive periods of time after they place a “hold” on them. Shelters report having to keep pets up to two weeks before the rescue comes to pick them up, which also imposes an onerous budgetary burden. One shelter director laments that 20% of the entire shelter was recently filled with pit bulls put on “hold” by a rescue organization, and adoptable pets were being killed because he didn’t have room to keep them.

The emotional toll of the Hayden Bill on shelter staff, including veterinarians, has been devastating. Watching animals suffer and fight—often dying from the injuries—without being able to help and with no safe space to which they could be moved caused many compassionate volunteers and experienced workers to leave California agencies. One shelter worker wrote a poignant article on "no kill" and overcrowding sheltering facilities in "Living with the Failure of No Kill."

In Los Angeles radical “No Kill” activists staged protests to “stop the killing” at press conferences and other events held by elected officials, and they vandalized the homes of Los Angeles Animal Services managers and shelter staff. The tires of animal collection vehicles at one shelter were slashed and a group declared as “domestic terrorists” took credit.

Additionally, the Hayden Bill was a financial nightmare which did not accomplish its goals. The tragedies that would result were forecast by the media and professionals in the animal-sheltering field. Now many other states are considering instituting these same provisions. The graphic truths in the video filmed one year after implementation of the Hayden Bill in California and the following documentation tells the real story of the Hayden Bill.

Any state or jurisdiction considering adopting similar provisions should be forewarned and not swayed by emotional rhetoric and claims that all it takes to be "No Kill" is to prohibit shelters from performing humane euthanasia to control shelter overcrowding. This is especially important in this era where often impounded populations are 60-70 percent aggressive dog breeds, including pit bulls.

Until breeding (backyard and professional) is strictly curtailed area wide, spay/neuter efforts maximized, and humane care laws enforced without exception, unwanted animals will come into shelters in far larger numbers than quality adopters. With these solutions put in place as a priority, shelter euthanasia will decrease automatically. It will not happen merely by a declaration of “No Kill.”


News agencies were not fooled about what would happen to shelter animals under the Hayden Bill, as shown in numerous articles and editorials., a few of which are listed below:

--Los Angeles Daily News, 12/13/98, Reality Bites: “New law creating standards for animal shelters will cost millions…”

--Los Angeles Times, 6/22/99, A Bill That Strayed: “Hayden’s law will cause great strain in cities like Los Angeles, whose shelters are already at 150% of capacity…Many nonprofit animal shelters have said they will stop accepting strays next month…”

--Animal Sheltering, Nov./Dec. 1999, New Law Leaves Little Leeway in California: “ Legislators in some states may try to mimic California’s ‘Hayden Law’ even as survey results suggest an increased incidence of overcrowding and disease in Golden State shelters.”

--North County Times, 8/5/99, Too Close for Comfort: New State Law is killing animals. “….the new law is increasing the number of animals destroyed and reducing adoptions…

--San Diego Union Tribune, 11/10/99, Head of County animal shelters blasts new laws. “County supervisors blasted the state for imposing new mandates on shelters without providing additional funding for staff or to expand kennel space…”

--Los Angeles Times, 7/22/2000, Law to Save More Strays, Pets, Flawed: “In Contra Costa…the year before Hayden, 2,048 adoptable dogs were killed. This past year, with the law in effect [it increased to] 2,532.

Los Angeles Times, 5/11/2001, Good Intentions Jam California Animal Shelters: “Mandated delays in euthanasia only prolong suffering in overloaded facilities.”

Los Angeles Times, 5/6/2000, Death is a Merciful Alternative, “Let’s put responsibility squarely where it belongs—on the politicians who passed a bill that looked good and sounded good, without regard to the ever-burgeoning overpopulation problem, or any thought for who is going to adopt all of these animals…As I passed the kennels, each cramped with too many dogs and puppies, many of them sick or diseased, I was reminded again that euthanasia is not the worst thing that can happen.”…


Animal Adoption


“Chapter 752, Statutes of 1998 (SB 1785, Hayden), changed state policy regarding shelter care for stray and abandoned animals. Most notably, Chapter 752 (1) declared, “It is the policy of the state that no adoptable animal should be euthanized if it can be adopted into a suitable home,” and (2) lengthened the time (generally from three days to six) that shelters must care for animals before euthanizing them….

“…In 2008–09, local governments are expected to claim $23 million for this mandate. Almost all of the cost is for the food, medical care, and space needed to keep animals alive for the longer period.


“Given the state’s interest in promoting animal adoptions, we examined whether Chapter 752’s longer holding period results in increased adoptions—either directly due to its requirement or indirectly through the mandate funding provided. Our review indicates that there is little reason to believe it does.

“Direct Impact of Longer Holding Period. Throughout the United States, there are many more animals in shelters than there are households looking to adopt pets. Partly because of this imbalance between supply and demand, roughly one–half of the animals entering shelters are euthanized. Chapter 752’s requirement that shelters keep animals alive longer increases the supply of animals in shelters on any specific day. It also gives animal rescue organizations more time to transfer animals to their facilities. This increased supply of adoptable animals (at shelters and rescue facilities) can give households greater choice in selecting a pet to adopt. It does not necessarily mean, however, that more households adopt pets. That is, the mandate does nothing to increase the demand for these animals.

“Indirect Effect of Shelter Funding. To increase the number of pets adopted, more households need to adopt pets rather than buy them from stores or breeders. Especially over the last decade, as concern regarding the treatment of animals has grown, many shelters, animal rescue, and humane groups have taken significant steps towards promoting animal adoption. Does the funding provided under Chapter 752 support these efforts? Our review finds no link between the funding provided under Chapter 752 and programs that encourage animal.


“Because the goals of Chapter 752 are not suited to implementation as a mandate, we recommend the Legislature repeal the elements of Chapter 752 that impose a mandate. We further recommend that the state pay the outstanding costs for this mandate over time. (Reduce Item 8885–295–0001 by $13 million and increase Item 8885–299–0001 by $3 million.)

“Increase Funding in Budget for Prior–Year Mandate Claims by $3 Million. Repealing the Animal Adoption mandate would not eliminate the state’s long–term obligation to pay outstanding costs incurred before the repeal. If the Legislature repealed this mandate at the time it enacted the 2008–09 budget, we estimate that it would owe local governments about $36 million for 2005–06 through 2007–08 activities. (That is, $13 million for outstanding 2005–06 and 2006–07 claims and $23 million for 2007–08.)”

Read full text

Read Analysis of Legislative Counsel Bureau, California Legislature, dated July 5, 2011:



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