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13 February 2011


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Where I live resistance to rescues coming in was far more about the animal control facility being afraid of the criticism from rescue groups than a desire to avoid hoarders. They seemed to think if they could just keep everyone out then everything would be O.K. --- for them.

We're fortunate to have new director who (fingers crossed) seems really open to moving in a more positive direction. With nearly 19,000 companion animals killed there last year, we need all the positive movement we can get.

Christie Keith

The "hoarding" thing is the reason they GIVE; I don't believe it's the real reason. I'd consider wanting to avoid criticism/whistleblowing to be a form of holding onto power, but perhaps I'll add a line to include that specifically. Thanks!

Mary Mary

We’re fortunate to have new director who (fingers crossed) seems really open to moving in a more positive direction. With nearly 19,000 companion animals killed there last year, we need all the positive movement we can get.

Comment by Vicky — February 12, 2011 @ 8:51 pm

Wow, Vicky, that number is unthinkable. How many animals made it out alive?


@Mary Mary - 10,132 companion animals made it out of the shelter through rescue, adoption, returned to owner or transfer versus the 18,811 who were killed. 80 percent of cats entering the shelter were killed, as were 50 percent of the dogs.

H. Houlahan

I've looked over the full text of this proposal, and while there are some significant attempts at addressing concerns about the qualifications of the rescues, there are also still significant problems with the bill.

The criteria for being able to pull an animal on-demand are:

1) 501(c)3

2) No directors/officers/staff/volunteers with cruelty convictions

3) An inspection by the releasing shelter or a designated third party, only if the releasing shelter has documented probable cause to believe that the animal would be kept in conditions that meet the legal definition of criminal neglect or cruelty to animals.

#1 Is irrelevant to an organization's animal care qualifications. Necessary, but not close to sufficient.

#2 Well, duh. But there is some major sloppy language in this provision, such that an employee with such conviction simply can't be a director or officer, as written. Also, a person is convicted of offenses, not "convicted of statutes." Seriously, do they not have an intern who can proofread in this rep's office? This stuff matters, and there are few places where rigorous, careful language matters more than in lawmaking.

#3 Certainly well-intentioned, but not well thought-out. My concern with this one is actually that there are no criteria for pass or fail of the "inspection." It could become the backdoor means by which shelters of ill-will torpedo the whole process. Either way, allowing for an "inspection" without specifying either criteria or some administrative process for developing criteria is just bad lawmaking.

This appears to be a way of mandating inspection and some sort of certification of rescues without appearing to have done so, and without being accused of creating a whole new state bureaucracy (always a hard sell, impossible in the current NYS budget situation and general economic climate.)

There are other holes that jump out on a first read. For example, a rescue may be required to post a spay-neuter deposit. What if the "rescue" decides to forfeit the deposit and sell the animal for breeding, or breed their own puppies for "adoption?" Guess what -- there are no provisions of this law that would DQ that "rescue" from pulling animals in the future and forfeiting all the deposits to get breeding stock. (If you don't believe that there are "rescues" that are mere puppymill fronts, hop on over to the Frogdog blog for some eye-opening stuff -- last month I think, or late December posts. Laundering expensive-breed puppies as "rescues" is the latest refuge of scoundrels.)

I'm frankly not crazy that this bill only covers pulling of animals on the kill list. In addition to other problems with that whole approach, it promotes a perception of rescues as only a last resort for the most difficult to place animals, instead of as useful specialists who may have the knowledge and communities to optimize placements for specific kinds of animals (breed-specific, disability-specific, ability-specific, particular types, sizes, ages of animals).

My own primary objections to this specific proposal still stand. They are not about hoarders who call themselves rescues and get a 501(c)3 tax designation, but about rescues who are bloody incompetent to rehabilitate and appropriately place challenging dogs (I'll take a pass on discussing cat behavior here), and are so bloody incompetent that they don't recognize or acknowledge their own limitations.

I'm known for joking about unicorn and fairy fart fantasies about animal behavior, but it is no joke when it is your neighbor -- or you -- who unwittingly adopts a dangerous animal, trusting to the "experts" at the rescue.

The dog that tried to kill me in group obedience class had been recently adopted from a breed rescue based in New York state. That dog did not become homicidal in the few weeks his new owners had him. Nor did he magically become safe when the rescue volunteer who was to hold him for his rabies quarantine before having him put down decided that he seemed okay, so they weren't going to put him down anyway (as they had promised the adopters when they returned the dog who terrified them.) There is absolutely nothing in this bill that would give anyone the power to prevent this exact rescue from pulling even more overtly vicious animals of their favorite "harmless" and "misunderstood" breed from every pound in the state.

With the result that unsafe animals are adopted to unprepared individuals.

Ah, you (hypothetical you) say, but the law has provisions covering dangerous animals.

No, not really.

It has a provision covering animals that have been adjudicated dangerous by a court of law. This will be pretty much exclusively animals that have bitten someone and are in the shelter because of legal action against their owners or former owners. (starting line 3, page 4)

And it has a provision covering animals with a documented serious bite history prior to being impounded. (starting line 6, page 4)

Which means that when the ACO picks up the 200 pound mastiff that is bouncing off some random terrified family's front door with their dead cat in his mouth, and that dog spends the next two weeks in a kennel run trying to eat every employee and volunteer who passes by, breaks out at night and kills two dogs in adjacent runs, then bites the crap out of the shelter employee who tries to contain him again, that Molly's Molosser Rescue and Leprechaun Farm can still claim the dog "on demand," as it were. The dog didn't maul anyone before he was impounded, see? (As far as we know, anyway.)

The shelter could go to the courts and get the dog adjudicated dangerous, you (generic you) say?

When I was expressing layman's wonder at the slow pace of the courts in Montana to our attorney in NY state, she told me she was astonished at how fast they were. A suit was scheduled to go to trial about twelve months after it was served; she said that in NYS it would have been more like three years. Not counting appeals, of course.

However long it takes for a court to adjudicate the dog as dangerous, the shelter has to keep the dog alive for that long (and years of impoundment is SO humane), and its workers and other animals safe, while devoting public resources to legal wrangling that should be going to just about anything else.

Sound farfetched?

Does anyone have any doubt that Pets Alive would have litigated over the pit bull Oreo for as long as they could have kept getting attention for doing so? While the ASPCA may have the resources to keep going to court, and likely the ability to keep people safe from the dog they say was unpredictably aggressive, the Podunk County Pound does not.

H. Houlahan

Long comment went poof -- can you check the spam filter?

I kept a copy as a note because I had a feeling, but don't want to post twice.

Christie Keith

Heather, as I keep saying over and over, we have had this law in California now for TWELVE YEARS, without those "safeguards." None of these nightmare scenarios have come to pass, but the lives of tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of animals have been saved.

It's like being overly restrictive in your adoption policies (something far too many rescue groups are!)... it's all based on worst case scenarios that rarely really happen, while the endless killing of shelter pets happens all day, every day.

As to the dog in your obedience group, that dog was placed WITHOUT this law. There's nothing stopping such dogs from being placed RIGHT NOW, and this law won't change that.

The problems you outline are not problems of this law, but problems that exist TODAY. Have a problem with how potentially dangerous dogs are handled? Address that. Don't put a burden on rescue groups that suggests the SHELTERS are responsible and oh-so-careful, when you and I both know that's not true.

As to Oreo, you have absolutely no idea if she was "unpredictably aggressive" or not. Neither do I. I don't believe it should have been solely the A's call on that, because they had skin in the game. And even if I thought every word the A uttered came with a certificate of truth signed by ten angels, that's certainly not the case with a whole hell of a lot of other shelters.

Sabine Smith

I have seen Dog Trainers that are completely incompetent to work with a Dog other than a puppy or maybe a poodle, and I have seen Dog Trainers that are able to work with just about anything. There is a difference between teaching basic commands and being able to read the animal.


@ H. Houlahan

Ever hear of behavioral therapy? You do realize they killed Oreo after only like 4 months and judged her by a system that is designed to make dogs fail...? That dog was severely traumatized & to the shame of all us... aspca used her and then killed her when the donations dried up...

I'm sorry you got hurt... I have too.. a 90 pit/lab mix I rescued from a chain put me in the hospital 3x - another behaviorist took over and that same dog is now a therapy dog with zero incidents 2 years later... but the difference between us is that I didn't become afraid of dogs and support (via opposition) the mass killing of dogs by the "corporate" shelters because ONE person or ONE group misjudged a dog's temperament and was unable to handle him/her... I find it incredulous and embarrassing that any person that sounds as intelligent, rational as you do would make your arguments but I guess fear is powerful tool... fear and money together can be a deadly combination for our four-legged wards... if you cannot be a voice for them then at least have the decency to be silent and not doom thousands more innocent lives...

H. Houlahan

Christie, I think Oreo is a perfect litmus test for the possible consequences of this law. Just not in the way that Pets Alive believes.

I know that you and a lot of other people were outraged that ASPCA first used this abused dog as a fundraising icon and then killed her. I get that. It sits wrong with me, too. Maybe the exploitation of the sad-puppy-in-a-cast fundraising bothers me most, regardless of the dog's ultimate fate. (OH HOLY HELL THERE'S A NEW SAD-EYED PUPPEH AND KITTEH AD ON THE TEEVEE RIGHT THIS MINUTE. THEY WANT $18 A MONTH, AND THE MUSICAL GLURGE IS "THE FIRST TIME EVER I SAW YOUR FACE.")

But I honestly don't believe that ASPCA made a whimsical decision to kill the dog. I say that not because I "trust" them or take them at their word, but because such behavior is neither in their organizational self-interest (which they are pretty good at recognizing most of the time) nor consistent with their usual habits. They are not pit bull haters, and their "behaviorists" do not appear to be complete incompetents or shrinking violets. They seem to use temperament testing as a way to identify training and placement needs more than as a means to justify routine death sentences. I'm not nuts about the exact test protocols themselves, but I'm not the one responsible for doing them.

I think it is highly likely that Oreo was, indeed, unpredictably aggressive, unresponsive to training and conditioning, and posed a danger to an inexperienced, inattentive, or self-deluded handler. I don't know that, and cannot know it, but it's what I believe is most likely.

I am far more confident that the organization that also exploited Oreo and continues to exploit her for fundraising and notoriety was not qualified to accurately assess the level of danger she did or did not pose, nor qualified to rehabilitate an aggressive dog, nor to place her in an appropriately skilled home. I base that opinion not on what their many, often credible, detractors say about them, but on what they themselves choose to put out there -- on their website, in the media, and comments on other blogs and websites.

Or, short version, I think that if ASPCA had given Oreo to Pets Alive, someone would most likely have gotten very badly hurt. That's my opinion, and I try my best to base it on judgments from the facts available.

I don't see anything in this proposed legislation that would put safeguards in place to help prevent that outcome.

I care very much about giving shelter dogs a fair assessment and a fair chance to respond to well-considered behavior intervention. I am particularly adamant about that when the animal has been confiscated from an abusive owner.

I also care that dogs who truly pose a danger to people do not end up out in the community in inexperienced or unwitting hands. That's bad for people, and it's bad for dogs and dog owners. When the dog who causes harm is identified as a "rescue," that will reflect on all rescues in popular perception.

You are absolutely correct that some animals will still slip through and end up where they can cause harm, and that they currently do so. I give thanks every time I remember it that the dog who sent me to the hospital chose the time, place, circumstances and person that he did -- because of that happenstance, there was one robust adult moderately injured, instead of a child or less-prepared adult killed. I'm willing to believe that neither the dog pound nor the sunshine 'n' roses rescue group saw and understood his warning signs, or pushed his buttons in the specific way that triggered an attack (though I suspect that he conducted some experiments in his original home, and thence to the pound).

What about dogs that don't slip under the radar intended to screen for sane and safe behavior, but are positively identified as worrisome or clearly dangerous? The safeguards in this bill are quite specifically written so that Pets Alive could claim Oreo (see the requirement that the dog's aggression has to be actual attacks that took place prior to impoundment and have extensive documentation). It is still a revenge bill intended to gotcha the Big Bad A rather than a well-considered and positive attempt to codify the requirement that public pounds prioritize release to rescue above reflex euphemasia.

What I do know is that there is a rescue group out there that refused to euthanize a dog that attacked a human being unprovoked, from behind, and with deadly intent, after being very clearly provided with all the details. I have a pretty good idea of the mental gymnastics they cultivated to justify this decision. And under Oreo's law, this rescue group and others like it would have the absolute right remove such a dog -- one with a known history of aggression -- from any public shelter and do whatever they pleased with it -- including adopt him out tomorrow to someone who knows nothing of his history.

Finally, I will not let go of the criticism that this bill is badly-written. I don't ascribe its self-contradictions, etc. to malice, but to sloth and inattention, and to a legislator allowing an interested party to write the bill. But seriously -- when legislators pushing MSN in California promised to "clean up" language in their bills, that things would be "fixed in committee," they were blowing smoke, weren't they?

If a legislator really intends what he says he does with a proposed bill, then he will take the trouble to write it properly and carefully consider unintended consequences before submitting it.


Christie, I agree - it's just that I keep seeing that argument (OMG all the shelters and their employees are going to be SUED!) trotted out over and over again as an excuse NOT to pass this very beneficial law, and it seemed to me that there was an answer to dead-end that argument. No amount of pointing out that it HASN'T happened in CA will shut these folks up, because it is a straw argument. You shut up a straw argument with, "Here - what's the next excuse?"

Personally, I don't think 501(c)(3) means diddly squat - THAT is a provision that lards up the law. It ties up personnel and resources in paperwork and does NOTHING to ensure the well-being of the dogs or the soundness of their adoption procedures. As pointed out in the discussion of this same topic on the Yesbiscuit! blog, this is all about egos and control - pro-kill shelter coordinators who bristle at their judgment being questioned, their record being shown up, and the "better off dead - it's all the public's fault" philosophy being challenged.

Christie Keith

Laura, there are probably as many responses to that as there are shelters and rescue groups, LOL.

Openness, transparency and accountability are the hallmarks of good business practices everywhere. Third party evaluation and certification, whether it's informal and crowd-sourced like Yelp, or formal and instituational, like the Good Housekeeping Seal or CCOF certification, can provide valuable information as long as the person accessing that information understands the limitations of the process from which it resulted.

Businesses, charities, organizations, etc. that would welcome what you propose most likely are already pretty transparent and doing a decent job, whereas most that are doing a terrible job would either fight you tooth and nail, or use their "good old boys" networks to make sure you went nowhere.

As for rescue groups, since I believe networks of home-based foster care is the best thing for the animals, and I'm extremely reluctant to propose inspecting people's HOMES on a routine (ie, without cause) basis, I would like to see some other kind of certification for foster homes, rather than periodic inspection. Certainly, I do believe that any shelter or rescue group that signs up a foster home should visit it, and I'd be highly suspicious as a foster coordinator if one of my homes seemed reluctant to welcome me there -- in fact, I'd expect a certain amount of "dropping by to see Susie" to be part of the deal -- again, I have a hard time seeing checking up on someone's house as being the same as scheduled inspections of a facility like a shelter or animal control building.

What thoughts do you have on this?

Laura Sterner

@Christie and Rosemary: What is to stop a group of concerned pet advocates from organizing to perform such inspections and awarding points to those that pass? Sort of like a Good Housekeeping Seal for rescues and shelters. Then it wouldn't be a matter of compliance to remain right with the law, but compliance to avoid bad publicity. In this day and age, this might be a stronger motivator.

Nathan J. Winograd

I disagree with Heather’s comments on a number of fronts. First, that a 501(c)(3) delegation is “irrelevant” to care and qualifications. A 501(c)(3) requires a certain level of organizational development. It requires a board of directors. It requires annual filings. In NYS, these organizations are also under the oversight of the NYS Attorney General. Once again, say what you want, that was the only requirement in California and it has worked.

We don’t have the problems Heather fears will occur from the NYS bill. Experience, not personal belief, is how we should look at this bill. These same arguments were made in California as the 1998 Animal Shelter Law was moving through the legislature and, despite these alleged “concerns,” they have not been borne out by experience.

Thankfully, the legislature was also not impressed by these theoretical concerns as the bill overwhelmingly passed by a huge margin: 96 to 12, about as close as we will ever get to unanimity in a state as large as California. In Delaware, the law passed unanimously.

And because shelters can charge rescue groups an adoption fee, this also protects against hoarding, as hoarders are less likely to pay for animals than getting them from free sources.

She further writes: “My concern with this one is actually that there are no criteria for pass or fail of the “inspection.” It could become the backdoor means by which shelters of ill-will torpedo the whole process. Either way, allowing for an “inspection” without specifying either criteria or some administrative process for developing criteria is just bad lawmaking.”

In fact, that is not true. It is narrowly written to remove the discretion shelters would have to “torpedo the whole process.” It specifically states that the filing of neglect or cruelty charges constitutes a failed inspection. If a shelter does not believe an animal is being taken care of properly, file charges, rather than just look away, allow the neglect to continue, and on top of that, continue to kill other animals. The law is the benchmark for a legislative determination of proper care. The benchmark cannot be what the ASPCA thinks, what an individual shelter thinks, what Heather thinks, or even what I think. The law sets the bar and this new law follows that bar. As those laws change, by default so will the inspection criteria.

I should add that this was added because groups like Best Friends insisted on it. They lauded the Delaware Law which included rescue access because it included an inspection ability. California has no such provision. And once again, rather than fear monger about what someone believes will happen, let’s go with over 10 years of experience in the nation’s largest state.

The rest of it is just reads to me again like a more nuanced version of “they are better off dead because we can’t trust some rescue groups.” Underpinning those arguments is the belief that killing is not the ultimate harm, that since we can’t trust every rescue group and since Oreo’s Law does not set up more extensive, rigid qualifications for certification, the default should be shelters can continue killing. And in setting that bar, it avoids the biggest harm facing animals in NYS. Today, in New York State as elsewhere, the leading killer of healthy dogs and cats in the U.S. is the local animal shelter. That is the single, greatest source of harm, of violence, or neglect and abuse. And every year in New York State, rescue groups are trying to prevent that harm. But 71% of them reported being turned away from shelters and then those shelters killed the very animals they offer to save. By contrast, Oreo’s Law says the presumption should be for lifesaving, absent evidence to the contrary. That is good policy. That means life to animals, not death as the norm.

But, more than all of this, as Christie notes: the law would not compel any shelter to give any animal to any rescue group. They can give the animal to a rescue group they want. Or they can adopt the animal themselves. What they cannot do is kill the animal in the face of a rescue alternative. That is what they have now. And that is why too many animals are losing their lives. And nothing trumps that for bad policy.

Christie Keith

Heather, re: Oreo, again: ASPCA had options for her even under this law, including going through the legal process of having her declared dangerous, or going through the process of determining she was suffering and couldn't be helped, or placing her in a rehab/sanctuary program with someone OTHER THAN Pets Alive if they had issues with them -- they just couldn't have killed her if a qualified (per this law) rescue group was willing to take her.

I understand you have concerns with the ease with which you perceive dangerous dogs can be placed, but they can be placed TODAY. This law doesn't change that. You're asserting that "shelters" do a better job of this than "rescue groups," but I'd ask you: Cite, please. Because while I can't prove you're wrong, my personal observations over 12 years of having this law in place in California WITHOUT even the safeguards you think are so badly-written and ineffective, are that it's simply not the case.

Dogs slip through now. They'll slip through under this law. Certainly that issue can and should be addressed, but I don't think it's an issue that needs to be addressed in the context of a shelter access law. And if you're going to assert shelters will do a better (if still not perfect) job of this than rescue groups -- shelters like the one that posed the kittens with knives and cigarettes while they were drugged, for instance, or any of the "don't give a damn" shelters that Shirley Thistlewaite or Brent Toellner write about all the time, or any of the shelters I've dealt with over the years that will adopt out to anyone who shows up with the fee -- then you're going to have to bring some data, because I don't see it.


What about rescues who DON'T have 501c3? I think we can all safely say we know plenty of folks out there doing right by the animals who haven't gone that route.

I just wish the 501c3 restriction was more about a qualification about the work they were doing. That seemingly would make many happy and we could all move on.

On another note, I actually don't think this thing will pass no matter what. Not changing the name of the law was, again, a major faux pas. It looks more like a political hit job against the ASPCA versus actual legislation designed to pass. I've gotta think, with the influence the ASPCA has in NY, that at least attempting to get them on your side might be wise.

On the issue of self-regulation - It seems to me the arguments against regulation of rescues generally fall back to "we can take care of ourselves." Saying that rescues communicate and know if one isn't up to snuff and the word spreads. Just as bad an idea, in my opinion, than self-regulation of shelters. A verified list of requirements isn't *that* big of a hurdle. Let's put it in the bill and move on.

Christie Keith

I just liberated several posts not from the moderation queue but from the spam filter. I liberated a couple last night, too. Sometimes our spam filter gets a bit over-zealous. If you post something and don't see it right away, just be patient -- I'm checking often!

Dr. Nancy Kay

Hi Christie,

Great blog. We adopted our youngest dog Quinn from a rescue organization that retrieves dogs "on the chopping block" from shelters in the central California valley. They do a bang up job and we've ended up with one of the most insanely adorable dogs on the planet. I'm thankful there exists a cooperative and seemingly positive relationship between shelters and rescue organizations in this corner of the woods.

Mary Wilson

In defense of Rochester, NY's policies, they DO allow rescue groups to take the pit and pit mix puppies and they transfer many to Lollypop farm for 'adoption' (sorry, but the HSUS at Lollypop has an insanely high euth rate.)

Chris Fitzgerald has been working with rescue groups for years to get especially the baby animals out to rescue groups and into foster homes before they get sick.

I know this personally---I was (and still am) a foster for them.

Nathan J. Winograd

Hi Dr. Nancy, it wasn't always like that. In fact, the central valley has been very uncooperative with rescue historically. Kern County animal control had a policy of never working with rescues. In 1997, before the Hayden Law made it illegal for shelters to kill animals if rescue groups were willing to save them, KCAC sent zero animals to rescue. It has been as high as 2,500 a year ever since. Other shelters like Yolo, El Dorado, Sacramento, etc. all were similar. Your great comment is exactly why we need these laws in every state!

Gina Spadafori

I have nothing to add, really, except to say that this kind of thoughtful, engaged discussion is the reason why I love this blog.

Christie Keith

Heather, I don't mean to pile on, but something else came to mind when I had Rawley at the park, and I wanted to add it to the conversation.

You said that killing Oreo without good reason was not likely to be something the A would have done, because it would be against their own self-interest in a number of ways. I do understand that point, but I think there's another piece of the picture as regards this specific organization.

First, let me say I do not know whether or not Oreo was or wasn't dangerous and could or couldn't be rehabbed. I'm simply saying that the fact the A killed her doesn't necessarily mean their evaluation of her was accurate, because they have a well-known philosophy, called "The One vs the All," which states that they don't believe in spending a lot of resources on single difficult animals when, in their view, there are so many standing right behind them who could be helped with those same limited resources.

Here is a description of this from their ASPCA Pro site:

Again, not saying this is how they did the math on Oreo. I have no idea. But it's their institutional philosophy, and if they adhered to it in this case, they might have made the decision not to try to save Oreo simply because they felt it would be better to save ten other dogs with the same resources.

Personally I think that math is wrong, for a number of reasons, but that's another post for another day.


I'd say the best safeguard against animals being passed to rescues that have "gone bad" would be a requirement that someone external to the rescue (could simply be someone from another rescue close by) visits at least annually and is shown round the whole place, including inside any buildings.



Christie Keith

Sure, Rosemary. But what you have to realize is that you're putting that out into a context that includes the fact that many SHELTERS don't comply with that, nor welcome it, nor are they held to that standard, nor could they pass it. Hell, they not only won't let you in, and fire whistleblowers, they refuse to provide their statistics on their GOVERNMENT ANIMAL CONTROL CONTRACTS to citizens or journalists, unless forced to by the filing of a public records legal request.

Are there great shelters and terrible rescue groups? Of course. But the presumption of many seems to be that the reverse is never true, and it very frequently IS true.

Christie Keith

Susan, I think there are perfectly good arguments to be made about how to make the evaluation, rehabilitation and possible sanctuary of potentially or proven dangerous dogs safer, more effective and more humane.

I simply don't see why THIS LAW is getting larded up with all that baggage, when RIGHT NOW, any shelter that wants to can already pass those dogs on to rescue groups, or adopt them out.

It seems that the only piece of this issue that belongs to this law is one single situation, which I'd argue is QUITE RARE, based on our experiences here in California, and that is this: A dog is considered dangerous and unrehabilitatable by a shelter, but has not been found dangerous legally. The shelter thinks the dog should be killed, and a rescue group that meets the standards of the law disagrees.

It seems to me that regulating the handling of dogs that are, or may be, dangerous is a separate issue from the right of shelter access. Because with or without this law, this sitatuation can and does arise. And frankly, again based on our experiences here in California, most rescue groups I've worked with go way, way too far in the opposite direction, wanting to avoid any dogs who even remotely look like a liability to their organization, which is almost always less indemnified and less-well-funded than a private humane society or municipal shelter.

Are there exceptions? Sure. But again, that's not inherently an issue of THIS LAW, and can and should be dealt with outside this law.


For all the complaints that this law will expose shelters or shelter employees to lawsuits if animals transferred to rescue groups injure some member of the public down the road, there is a simple legislative solution: add a provision immunizing such shelters providing they have disclosed known information regarding bite history (before or after the dog came to the shelter) to the rescue group. In writing. Upon such disclosure, the rescue group takes all legal responsibility.

If a dog has been "eating" shelter employees or adjudicated dangerous, or even reported as having a bite history by the individual who brought the dog in, this information gets sent on.

While you're at it, why not make ANY organization, shelter or rescue, disclose to an adopter the same information. This has the potential to limit liability for all players, based on a doctrine called assumption of the risk. Whether or not a court would apply it I cannot say for sure, but if you were adopting a dog, and it had been adjudicated a dangerous dog, or bitten 5 shelter employees, isn't that information you would want to know?

Laura Sterner

Christie, I'd have to think about it a bit, and ideas are welcome. My gut says that the ones that would balk at some form of independent certification are the best argument for its need. I also believe that for anything like this to be effective it has to be publicized broadly and effectively to the point at which just about any joe-blow walking into a shelter would be aware that this rating or certification exists and buy into its meaningfulness. I further think that, with regard to inspection, one would have to separate out what a rescue is supposed to be doing (i.e. not hoarding, rehabilitating) vs. what a shelter is supposed to be doing.

I agree it's not a very friendly situation to have inspectors in rescue foster homes but I'm also concerned about the very things you mention-- self-policing tends to lead to abuses of all sorts. How often have we heard about the well-meaning informal rescuer that gets in over his or her head?

It's probably all a bit off topic here, and is by no means anything other than a germ of an idea, but I think it may be something to think about.

Gina Spadafori

I simply don’t see why THIS LAW is getting larded up with all that baggage, when RIGHT NOW, any shelter that wants to can already pass those dogs on to rescue groups, or adopt them out.

Comment by Christie Keith — February 13, 2011

I absolutely CAN see why THIS LAW has all the baggage of dealing with dangerous dogs, and it's why I was so reluctant to jump on the Oreo train that last time it came down the track.

From a purely political move, Oreo was the wrong face to put on a piece of legislation. While we have no word but the ASPCA's for it, it's not that far-fetched to think that, as they said, she had the potential to hurt someone very badly. And that legacy, as much as the picture of her with her bandaged legs, is one that endures.

Christie Keith

I'm not proposing self-policing, I'm saying, we have to make sure foster homes are doing a good job without turning into the bedroom police. I'm not saying they shouldn't be regulated -- I just think that regulation has to be reflective of the difference between a foster home and a boarding kennel, shelter, pound, training kennel, etc.

For instance, the organization that coordinates the foster homes should have good documentation on the animals in foster care -- health visits, weights, reports on how they're doing, bringing the animals out to adoption events, numbers of pets in each home, when they go in, when they come out, how the animals seem when they come out -- and THOSE documents should be public, and the organizations should be responsible for their accuracy and for noticing and following up on discrepancies, red flags, problems, etc.

I have no issue with regulation of the organizations, their record-keeping, etc. I have a problem with saying that if someone's going to foster a dog, a third party organization or local animal control can walk into their bedroom or kitchen any time they want as our way of saying, "Thank you for volunteering!"

Christie Keith

@Gina, I understand that from a PR/communications point of view, from a messaging point of view. I don't understand it from a Heather point of view...

Laura Sterner

Christie, I agree. The last thing we need is anything that discourages those that are doing it right and making a difference from continuing to do that. I would not be in favor of unannounced home inspections, either.


@Christie Unless the A's behavior dept has changed drastically from 2005-6 ish (I think that's when I was there, lol!~), they didn't seem to have a strong one vs all mentality. And what you linked to sounds like she was referring to the CACC. Wasn't Oreo at the A for an extended period of time? That would fit what I saw go on there as far as working with/rehabbing dogs. And testing and retesting etc.

As far as the 501(c)3 goes, I think that's limiting rescue resources. I knew some mighty fine individual rescuers(/trainers in some cases), and some rather sketchy (but well meaning!) 501's as far as whether they should be rescuing certain dogs (OY!) etc.

Christie Keith

Straybaby, "Many vs one" IS their stated philosophy; Dr. Weiss is the ASPCA's director of shelter behavior. She writes about this REGULARLY on their ASPCA Pro website, which is where they educate and interact with shelter workers. I just linked to that one post to give you an idea of what "many vs one" means.

I think it's extremely important to understand this philosophy, because it's being used to justify killing a great deal. It's essentially the argument that we should "triage" the pets we care for and deal with the easier and least expensive ones first, because we can save more of them. It's kind of "the status quo, only with a justifying philosophy."

Like I said, it's another post for another day, but to dismiss this as just being some passing random comment is not accurate.

Rob McMillin

I disagree with Heather’s comments on a number of fronts. First, that a 501(c)(3) delegation is “irrelevant” to care and qualifications. A 501(c)(3) requires a certain level of organizational development. It requires a board of directors. It requires annual filings.

Yet, what it does not require is scruples, viz the Humane Society of the United States.

Christie, I was in no way dismissing it as a passing random comment. I was saying my hands on experience at the time in the behav dept there was different. I thought that was clear . . .

Laura Sterner

Anyone with enough money, tenacity and a modicum of organization can trudge through the paperwork to become a 501(c)(3). It in no way confers anything more than this.


Comment by Christie Keith — February 13, 2011 @ 3:30 pm:

"It’s essentially the argument that we should 'triage' the pets we care for and deal with the easier and least expensive ones first, because we can save more of them."

And it's pretty much the underpinning philosophy of the need for the whole Sue Sternberg behavioral analysis thing used for deciding which dogs get to live. She pretty much feels that shelter's should not "waste" resources on dogs unless they are "bombproof".

Mary Wilson

You have to pick your battles, whether you are a shelter or a haven home. It sounds heartless, but there are limits to anyone's abilities, time, and money. Exceeding those is to court disaster.


But Mary, the point of this law is to allow rescues to take these animals off the hands of the shelters. This frees the shelter's resources up just as much as a shot of "Fatal Plus," yet gives the animal a chance at life. What disaster are you talking about?

And go ahead - take the 501(c)(3) requirement out. There will always be a segment of donors who will only give if they get a tax deduction. So if the rescues are merely state-sanctioned NFPs, and not 501(c)(3), the shelters and big organizations will probably not lose a dime.


And then there are people like me, who would flush my money down the drain before I gave it to HSUS, ASPCA or PETA - but I give to breed rescue and local shelters instead...especially shelters genuinely striving to reduce their killing rate.

Mary Wilson

You've been talking about 'choosing' which animals can be rescued. People can only do so much. *I* am not able to take the more difficult dogs; I'm not trained, I don't have the space, and I have others in my household. They are beyond my abilities.

I *can* take the smaller breeds and work with them, but with my household, I can only take one at a time. Yes, it's cherry-picking, but at this stage of my life, it is all I can do.

I guess in some ways, I'm spoiled up here, because even though I've changed rescue groups, if I pop into the local shelter, I'm liable to come out with a tiny furry who needs to be fostered being transferred to our group. (We foster the bottle feeders.)


With all due respect, I don't believe the discussion has been about choosing which animals can be rescued (i.e. saved, kept alive, etc.) so much as it has been about the fact that the need to make such choices is greatly reduced if shelters are open to the idea of releasing their more "difficult cases" to rescues that are ready and willing to take them. In fact, the need to make such choices is ALSO greatly reduced if shelters are open to the idea of releasing their more "easy cases" to rescues that are ready and willing to take them.

However, shelters have traditionally resisted releasing the "easy cases" because they tend to see that as "cherry picking" by rescues, and they have resisted releasing the "difficult cases" for many of the reasons being discussed here. None of which is consistent with the overall vision of a "No-Kill Community".

In general, if shelters are more willing to release dogs - ANY dogs - to rescues that are ready and willing to take them, it is going to greatly reduce their "need" to decide which animals to kill when space starts running out. And that leaves shelters better able to do what they are SUPPOSED to do - be there to *shelter* animals in need.


But nobody asked you to do anything but what you can do. There's nothing wrong with that. I can't foster; I give donations when I can and do other things. But the issue here was whether a shelter which is going to destroy a healthy animal can go ahead and kill it when a rescue which WANTS to take it in is at the ready. That doesn't belittle the work you do, in my eyes.

If other people can and want to take on the harder cases, let them. You are still keeping dogs alive.

Christie Keith

Mary Wilson wrote:

You have to pick your battles, whether you are a shelter or a haven home. It sounds heartless, but there are limits to anyone’s abilities, time, and money. Exceeding those is to court disaster.

Ah, but there is no limit to the resources of ALL OF US TOGETHER.

Let me give you an example. A few years ago, I was involved in helping a rescue group with some fundraising appeals for a rescue effort involving around 20 adult dogs and a litter of orphaned puppies. They did the poop scooping, the vet-visiting and the puppy-feeding; I helped them write descriptions of their animals to generate support. I realize that my part of the job was much easier than theirs. Nonetheless, what I saw in them was this constant self-editing that they "couldn't" treat this dog because she needed costly surgery, and they "couldn't" pay for this dog to get the rehab he needed, because their group lacked the financial and person-power resources to do it.

"Well," I said, "let's ask the community for help."

Silence, then, "Huh?"

They were so used to being stopped by their own limitations that it had simply ceased to occur to them, if it ever had, that they were not actually bound by their own limitations if they would ask people outside of them for help.

Two days posting on a few emails lists and a couple of blogs, they had the money for the surgery and a trainer in a nearby county who agreed to rehab the dog, no charge. It took me about ten minutes to write the language they used.

This is one example of why, although obviously each of us individually has limits, I reject the idea that we have to sacrifice the one so we can save the many due to resource limitations. Yes, you or I can get burned out, need a break, lack the skill set or finances to deal with a specific problem -- but we can still reach out beyond our immediate circle and bring in fresh people and those with different skills.

Susan Fox

Laura@comment 36- Having been on a 501(c)3 board for an historic preservation organization and also volunteered for four years at our country shelter, one of the important things that non-profit status does is create a legal entity that provides a shield for the individuals running it.

Perhaps most importantly, it means they can get Officers and Directors Insurance, which will protect their personal assets in the event of a lawsuit. Given the nature of animal rescue, that is no small thing.

Yes, there are reporting requirements that are a pain and that use up time and resources that people would rather spend directly saving animals.

But, knowing quite a few people who do rescue "bare" as individuals, I think they are taking a risk that some of them might not really appreciate and I say this as someone who has done a few personal, direct rescues myself (the tethered for over a year 90 lb. Rottweiler comes to mind; happy ending).

When an individual or group takes legal ownership of a shelter dog (I'm in California and Hayden's Law applies), they take on the legal liability for that dog. The shelter director was always very strict on following the sign-over protocol so that who "owned" the dog was never in question if something went wrong.

This is not to say that I think that a rescue must be a non-profit to pull dogs. I can see both sides of that one, but just to point out that there are definite advantages to non-profit status, beyond being able to offer the tax deduction on donations.

Mary Wilson

While I'd rather see trusting relationships be formed so that each side of this knows that the other side is working toward the same end of rehoming pets, if people won't do that, then a law is necessary. Start with a basic law (this seems pretty basic to me, but I'm sick with the flu, so I'm not a good judge right now) and if more is needed, get right back to the legislators. But get started.

H. Houlahan

I did not state that 501(c)3 was organizationally irrelevant. I view it as a necessary but not nearly sufficient condition for being granted a certain kind of preferred legal status. There is at least the potential for public accountability that is not available for an individual or an informal group. (Not that both aren't capable of good work for animals.) It is absolutely irrelevant to the question of whether the organization has the animal skills to be entrusted with any given kind of special needs or challenging animal.

Christie, I think I was very clear that I don't think that "shelters" as such "do a better job" of evaluating animals than "rescues" as such.

(I do believe that the ASPCA is infinitely more qualified to identify dangerous and intractable aggression than is Pets Alive.)

But once an animal does show dangerous proclivities while in a shelter, I'm not cool with "just anyone" being able to "rescue" on demand and potentially turn the beast over to an unwitting adopter tomorrow.

Just about everyone here is very clear on why legislation that makes us feel as if we are helping without being actually well-considered, sound -- for Chrissakes, grammatical and proofread -- and engineered to actually produce the intended results. Clear on these principles when the crummy bill is, say, back-door MSN in California. But

So I'm a shelter director who hates rescue. I want to keep killing the pitbull dogs and black cats, but the rescues keep demanding them under this new law.

So I just incorporate my own 501(c)3 "rescue," release the undesirables to them, and have that entity kill them. (And the "charity" doesn't have to account for its live-release rate, so it makes the shelter look great.) Problem solved.

That's the kind of thing that proposals like this have to at least acknowledge, think about, and safeguard against to the extent practicable. Because "Things are bad, doing something must be better" is not a reason to refrain from criticizing a poor bill.

I don't have the time to devote to this tonight that I wish I did -- for one thing, the two foster hyena beasts are rioting after a day of boredom while I was teaching and need a pasture walk, or I will be the one eaten in my sleep tonight. (And they're small, so it will be slow and painful.)

I would like to say that I appreciate the civil tone of most of the disagreement here, even if we are not on the same page about what makes good law.

Except for Caprice, who would be well-advised to acquaint herself with the hominem whose ad she is attempting to attack before calling for the wee timorous beastie to silence itself. Thank you, be sure to play again.

Christie Keith

Heather wrote:

But once an animal does show dangerous proclivities while in a shelter, I’m not cool with “just anyone” being able to “rescue” on demand and potentially turn the beast over to an unwitting adopter tomorrow.

Then the shelter can find someone else to take the dog. For instance, they could have asked Best Friends to take Oreo, to prevent Pets Alive from taking her, if they believed that was a better fit/safer. They just couldn't have killed her without actually demonstrating she was, indeed, a dangerous dog, if a qualified rescue group was willing to take her.

But again, I'm really tired of having to make this law, which is already far more detailed than the law in California which has NOT resulted in canines of mass destruction being adopted out everywhere, be held up as having to literally cover EVERY contingency that could happen -- contingencies that are ALREADY happening, as your own experience demonstrated.

Like I said, I understand you want better regulation to protect people from dangerous dogs. Why not just do that, then, instead of expecting this law to do it?

Laura Sterner

@ Susan Fox: all valid and legitimate points, and I agree with them. The only point I was making is merely that 501(3)(c) status doesn't convey a greater legitimacy in the sense that we shouldn't get too comfortable as donors just because an organization has that status. There may be many sound reasons an organization would and should obtain it, but it's not analogous to a physician being board certified, and it doesn't mean that a particular organization is doing it right.

Susan Fox

And I absolutely, based on personal experience, agree with you. Which puts us ahead of Christie and Heather at the moment. ;0)

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