Position Statement on the proposed Colorado Saving Shelter Pets Act

Colorado Voters for Animals advocates on behalf of all Coloradans who share the goal of improving our society's treatment of animals. However, we recognize that there are strongly held differences of opinion among animal advocates.

One of the more divisive issues could be the subject of a statewide ballot initiative. The Colorado Saving Shelter Pets Act was submitted in January to the Colorado Legislative Council. We have been asked for our position on it.

While we share the proponents' goal of a Colorado in which we no longer end the lives of healthy or treatable companion animals in shelters, we believe that this initiative is not the solution. It is a blunt instrument that cannot possibly address the complexities of the homeless animal problem in our state.

The initiative would require that pet euthanasia could occur only when an animal is experiencing extreme pain and suffering or has a contagious disease that may spread if not contained, or is deemed irredeemably hostile or aggressive.

It would further require that when shelters or rescues have insufficient resources to house the animals in their care, they must make arrangements to transfer the animals to an approved shelter or rescue that does have resources and that requests said animals.

Lastly, the initiative would mandate that a veterinarian examine an animal slated for euthanasia and certify in writing as to its extreme pain and suffering or presence of a contagious disease. And, in the case of aggressive animals, a certified animal behaviorist, professional dog trainer, canine consultant, licensed veterinary behaviorist, or canine aggression expert must certify in writing that the animal is irredeemable.

The initiative would mandate the goal of "no kill" without considering the complex reasons animals become and remain homeless. We believe the initiative's passage would result in negative unintended consequences for homeless animals and the people who care about them.

Here are some specific objections to this initiative:

  1. Pet overpopulation is a problem most appropriately addressed at the individual-owner level. It is not effective to further pressure shelters and rescues to solve this problem, because it begins before the animals arrive at their doors.
  2. It is unreasonable to require veterinary diagnosis of pain and suffering or contagious disease before a shelter or rescue can make a euthanasia decision. Waiting for veterinary resources puts the shelter’s pet population at risk of contagion, which can be devastating even if the disease is not terminal. For instance, ringworm spreads quickly and easily in a shelter environment. A shelter that is full of infected cats would not be able to move those cats into homes and would remain full with no space to accept new cats. The shelter would be reduced to a hospital, warehousing perpetually sick animals instead of a temporary haven for animals quickly moving through to their new homes.
  3. It is unreasonable to require a behaviorist opinion that the animal is irredeemably hostile or aggressive. Shelters and rescues must have the authority to make euthanasia decisions when staff members are at risk of injury even if the animals’ could be redeemable. Further, rehabilitating an aggressive animal takes time, and shelters need the flexibility to determine if taking that time would require them to turn away numerous friendly animals that could move quickly through the shelter and into homes.

While we appreciate the contribution that certain organizations within the “no-kill” movement have made to animal advocacy, we do not think this initiative is a worthy addition to it.

We believe that the goal of reducing to zero the euthanasia of healthy and treatable animals can be achieved only by all factions of a community working together, not by mandating "no kill" without a thoughtful and workable plan to achieve it.

April 10, 2014



Petition threatens revisions that would increase suffering

The Gazette editorial • Published: January 17, 2014

Colorado Springs, Colo.

Americans welcome dogs, cats, iguanas and other pets into their homes and treat them like family. A minority are too irresponsible or mean to control pet reproduction and ensure that all pets enjoy loving homes. A nationwide network of mostly nonprofit animal shelters manages the problem with the most humane policies and procedures they can afford.

People who work at animal shelters loathe euthanizing nonadoptable pets. But they don't live in a perfect world.

Two lawyers from AnimalsVote.org refuse to accept this reality. They want public support in making Colorado the first "no-kill" state, where animal shelters could seldom euthanize stray or unwanted pets - even vicious animals that threaten public safety.

The lawyers seek government certification of a petition that calls for a statewide ballot initiative to revise Colorado's Pet Animal Care Facilities Act. The proposal strikes out portions of the law that give shelters discretion about the fate of stray and abandoned animals after they've been held for at least five days. It strikes provisions that allow a shelter to euthanize unwanted or stray animals on a basis of available resources. It removes wording that makes rescued animals the property of animal shelters until such time as they are retrieved by owners or placed in acceptable homes.

What's left is a law that forces animal shelters, most of which operate on shoestring budgets, to care for unwanted, stray or vicious animals until they die natural deaths. Some dogs and cats live for 15 years or more. Some pet birds can live 100 years or more.

The proposed law allows euthanasia under only one circumstance: The animal "is experiencing extreme pain or suffering." To euthanize a suffering animal, any shelter would need the written opinion of a veterinarian who had diagnosed "extreme pain or suffering."

The proposal provides a textbook example of the law of unintended consequences. It purports to protect animals, but mostly will cause them to suffer.

The revised law would quickly fill shelter cages with permanent residents in the form of animals that cannot be safely placed in adoptive homes. At that point, shelters would have no means of accepting animals roaming the streets. It would happen fast. The Human Society of the Pikes Peak Region takes in about 25,000 pets a year. If only a fraction could not be placed, the shelter would quickly become home to thousands of caged pets with no real prospects of freedom.

Shelters would become long-term care facilities, not animal rescues. To avoid filling every space with a permanent pet, as an unfunded and nonsustainable mandate of the state, shelters would have no choice but to refuse accepting strays.

"Animals would live in cages for the rest of their lives, which isn't humane," said Jan McHugh-Smith, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, a woman who has devoted her life to reducing euthanasia and improving conditions for pets.

These concerns are not based in speculation. Though Colorado would become the first "no-kill" state, communities throughout the country have attempted such laws and the results have been awful.

"Animal enforcement has stopped picking up strays in these communities because there is no place to take them after the shelters get full," McHugh-Smith said. "Citizens and abandoned pets are left with few resources to turn to. This proposal is misguided."

We need to change the culture, so far fewer pets suffer neglect. But let's not let our love of animals do more harm than good. We'll only cause more suffering and pain with an unrealistic law that makes unwanted pets nearly impossible to rescue from the streets.

If you see this petition, be humane. Refuse to sign it.

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