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No Kill Advocates Working to Keep Animal Laws from Being Turned Upside Down

Updated: Jun 7, 2019

We first told you about a proposed law that would make it harder for Wisconsin residents to find their lost pets. AB487, would, among other things, cut time period that shelters must provide owners of lost pets to find them before killing the animals, giving them to rescue, or adopting them into new homes. Wisconsin currently requires animal shelters to hold found pets for seven days.

While some have suggested the seven-day period is excessive, a quick check of surrounding states shows it to be consistent with what others have been doing. For example, right next door in Minnesota, the stray holding period is described as five business days, not counting the day of impoundment, which, for all intents and purposes, is the same as a seven-day holding period.

Since we first wrote about this, several other No Kill advocates have weighed in, strongly opposing this provision in AB487, including the No Kill Advocacy Center, Lost Dogs of Wisconsin, No Kill Learning,, Wisconsin Watchdog and even the AKC.

One of the best commentaries came from Nathan Winograd, who pointed out that stray hold periods are laws that have been fought for by generations of prior animal advocates. He wrote:

Holding periods were passed by prior generations of animal activists to protect animals. Why? Because for many animals entering Wisconsin shelters, the holding period is the only thing standing between them and a lethal injection. Holding periods buy shelter animals the most precious of all commodities—time. Time for their families to reclaim them, time for them to be adopted, time for them to be saved by a rescue group.

Winograd is 100% correct. Most animal shelters are not yet No Kill shelters. Many are still downright regressive. Some shelters would happily walk a stray pet from the intake area and directly to the "euthanasia" room to be killed without hardly thinking about it. The only thing preventing them from doing so is the State law requiring them to be held.

Given all of that, it would seem irrational for animal advocates to support this proposed reduction in the Wisconsin stray hold period, unless they had rock-solid data that definitively proved shortening the hold periods will not needlessly cost animals their lives. After all, you would hope that people would not willingly destroy the accomplishments of the animal advocates that came before them. Unfortunately, some animal advocates are endorsing this proposal and have actually begun to adopt the language regressive shelters have used over the decades as excuses to kill. Even worse: the arguments they are making to support doing so appear to be based on, basically, nothing.

Best Friends Animal Society acctually told their members in a mass email they sent out that the bill would prevent pets from "languishing in shelters." According to this line of thinking, pets are better off dead than staying in a shelter for a few extra days to give their families time to find them.

Understandably, many of Best Friends' supporters were concerned or upset. Best Friends Founder, Francis Battista, recently wrote a blog post trying to explain their position. For most people, the blog only raised more questions. Best Friends then deployed Melissa Miller, their Social Media Community Manager, to try to do damage control in the comments on the blog and on their Facebook page.

Battista wrote:

According to MADACC, 74 percent of dogs and 52 percent of cats reclaimed at MADACC in 2014 went home in the first two days of their stray hold. Only 114 of the 11,221 dogs and cats entering MADACC in 2014 (just one percent) were reclaimed on days five through seven.

In other words, because at this one facility, only 1% of stray animals were reclaimed by their owners after 4 days, they believe it is OK to change the holding period for all strays in all shelters across Wisconsin. They did this, apparently, without bothering to consider whether or not there were efforts MADACC could implement to improve its overall RTO rate, or even to assess the efforts currently underway there or elsewhere.

Battista also did not address how many pets held longer got adopted or transferred to rescue, because they stayed at the shelter a little longer, or why any of these pets should be considered expendable. He did, however, go on to make his best argument in support of shortening stray hold periods: He said longer hold periods reduce shelter capacity, because, if you keep animals longer, the shelters get more full and they end up needing to kill them later. Battista wrote:

[People think] Those 114 animals deserve to go home just as any other, and the shelter should find a way to accommodate the longer hold time to ensure all lost pets make it home. The problem with that line of thinking is that longer hold times mean that the shelter population can easily balloon beyond the shelter’s capacity, which plays into the “euthanizing-for-space” rationale for shelter killing.

The biggest problem with this argument is that it is commonplace for shelters in Wisconsin to kill healthy or treatable pets while maintaining many empty kennels/cages and while also importing many animals from out-of-state. By most accounts, Wisconsin shelters don't have a capacity problem. They have a problem with regressive shelters that are too willing to use killing as a means of population control. They have a problem with excuse-making. And, they have a problem not understanding how to get to No Kill, something Best Friends should be prepared to help teach them. On that front, Battista failed again. He wrote:

How these levels of lifesaving can be achieved isn’t rocket science: Reduce the number of pets entering the shelter through aggressive, targeted spay/neuter programs, and on the other side, increase the number of animals leaving the shelter through adoptions.

While it is true that getting to No Kill is not rocket science, it takes a lot more than spay/neuter and adoption programs to achieve it. Battista should know that. What it actually takes, a list of 11 key factors, has been known and well-documented since at least 2001. For too long, agencies have focused too much on spay/neuter programs, while ignoring the other efforts needed. Proactive Redemption, Pet Retention, Rehabilitation, and all of the others are equally important. Best Friends, and other No Kill advocates would do animals a favor if they would focus on what is known to work, rather than pushing for shortened holding periods for stray pets.

Next thing you know, they will be telling us that up is down.

Note: Lost Dogs of Wisconsin has a petition online asking Wisconsin legislators to oppose or amend this bill. Sign it here.


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