My mother used to say, “Be careful what you wish for.” Experience had taught her that even the best of intentions sometimes resulted in unexpected consequences. That’s the case with the Companion Animal Protection Act introduced in the Texas Legislature last month.
In Dallas alone, 30,000 homeless animals were admitted to the City shelter last year. Each day, between 75 and 100 new animals arrive. There are 700 dog kennels, 90 cat kennels, and 135 employees. Dallas Animal Services is open for adoption 7 days a week and they do off-site adoptions on weekends as well. The City of Dallas even has a free spay/neuter fund for low-income residents. Strays and impounded animals with no identification are held three days. Animals with identification are held 7- 10 days. Even so, over 23,000 dogs and cats were euthanized last year because there are too many irresponsible pet owners, not enough space, and nowhere near enough people willing to adopt.
But HB 3450, ironically named the Companion Animal Protection Act, isn’t the answer. Simply saying we’re going to stop the killing and keep animals longer isn’t enough. It’s nice, and it’s what people want to hear, but it won’t stop the thousands of unwanted animals from being born each year. What it will do is dramatically reduce the quality of life for animals in shelters.
Legislating that shelters hold every impounded animal five days, whether there is room for them or not, will result in further over-crowding of our already over-stuffed, understaffed, and under-funded municipal shelters. The bill gives no time for cities and towns to build newer, larger shelters. No time or money for additional training. It gives no money to cities already struggling with budget issues to hire more people to care for the animals. In Dallas, animal services is already preparing for the likelihood they will be required to cut their budget this year by as much as 20% – that’s 1.4 million dollars less that can be spent sheltering homeless animals. And they’re not alone – cities are struggling across the state to balance budgets. And to be required to hold more animals longer on top of looming budget cuts is a disaster in the making. Educating residents on how to be responsible pet owners will be the first thing to go. No one will be left to handle adoptions and rescue transfers or work off-site events. The volunteer coordinator won’t have time to coordinate volunteers to help because she’ll be too busy helping care for all the animals. Even our animal control officers will have to be called in off the street to help care for the additional animals in the shelter. Then who will respond to the 60,000+ calls for animal services each year? There will be stray dogs everywhere – frightened, starving dogs on every street corner, darting through traffic and living in sewers. Abandoned pets will be stacked 4-high in small plastic crates lining the halls of animal shelters; pets in wire kennels on shelves in storage rooms and equipment rooms, and pets kept outside in makeshift shelters when there is no more room inside. Sick pets will be crammed in with healthy pets. Four, five, and even six dogs will be stuff in kennels designed for one. No matter how hard the employees try or how many hours they work, there won’t be time to walk them all, exercise them all, play with them all, bathe them all, clean up after them all, love on them all – there will barely be time to feed them all. If you think it’s hard now to go to the shelter and see all those homeless animals, can you imagine how hard it will be to see the horrid conditions that may result if this law passes? You’ve got the same space with less money, fewer staff and more animals! It makes no sense.
With 30,000 plus animals entering Dallas’ shelter each year, we have to consider not just whether an animal lives or dies, but their quality of life. A shelter full of stressed-out sick dogs and cats trapped in dirty, tiny cages for years on end with no human interaction, no chance to run and play, unhappy, uncomfortable, and unwanted is not a shelter. This bill feels right, but it’s wrong. We need to find a way to do everything this bill intends logically, realistically, and with the animals’ best interest at heart. We need to take a long, hard look at improving our municipal shelters, at holding them to higher standards, at more rigid inspections and better enforcement – at everything this bill was intended to do, but falls short of.
And there are other problems with this bill. Sections of it appear to contradict other sections, others contradict current laws, and conflict with local city and county laws. Some parts just don’t make sense. Neither the Texas Humane Legislation Network, the Texas Veterinary Medical Association, the Texas Animal Control Association, nor any of the professional animal sheltering organizations were consulted when the bill was drafted. The intent of this bill is fabulous and I don’t know anyone who would disagree, but it’s not right for all of Texas (and certainly not Dallas) right now.
Over the next few days, we’ll discuss some specifics about different provisions of this bill, so stay tuned!
And in the meantime, check out noharmnokill.com for a good alternative. Then if you’re angry about the killing and mad enough to do something about it, donate to a spay/neuter program like Metroplex Animal Coalition, support the Texas Humane Legislation Network, help educate your friends and neighbors, or volunteer for your local shelter or rescue group. Get involved and you’ll quickly see why the path to no-kill isn’t this bill, it’s spay/neuter and it’s education.
Please note: Feel free to discuss the pros and cons of this bill in the comments section. I’m sure there will be plenty of people who adamantly disagree with me, but let’s all try to stick to the facts, and please understand that comments soliciting sales of books and/or other goods and services will be deleted.
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Copyright Rebecca Poling 2011. All rights reserved. Email [email protected] if you have a story you’d like to share.