I was talking to a colleague today about the condition and care of shelter animals and whether it has improved, worsened or stayed the same over the past 10 years. She asked me, what law I would pass to improve the plight of shelter animals if I had a magic wand. Notwithstanding my personal opinion that we already have too many redundant, ineffective and poorly written laws, I don’t believe there is such a legal fix. I would rather use a wand to make everyone a humane, responsible pet caretaker and a model of good citizenship. Common sense, morality, and empathy can’t be legislated, forced or enforced.
People, shelter managers and civic leaders will either understand the need to feed, clean and provide necessary veterinary services to animals in their care, or they won’t. They will either see it as morally right, or they won’t.
They will understand that once assuming the responsibility of caring for animals, they must provide the basics no matter what, or they won’t. They will ensure that animals are free from suffering, an essential mandate, not to be sacrificed to budget cuts and bean counter manipulations. They will know with absolute certainty that a pet in their care will still be hungry when the stock market tanks, will still ache from broken bones when the city can’t pay its debts, and will still grieve for lost loved ones when municipal budgets are cut.
Government animal control services are usually always at the bottom of the list of city, county and state priorities.
It is customarily the first budget cut and the last to be restored. Public shelters are overcrowded, understaffed and lack the resources to provide even the minimum of care, but are expected to perform as if money was no object, and private shelters are fighting to stay alive in these disastrous economic times. But animals get hungry and need doctors whether or not budgets are properly funded or donations received.
My wand would awaken the realization in government officials that if they are going to assume responsibility for animal control they must act responsibly and fund it so there are sufficient resources to go around. Omitting to care for an animal that there is a duty to care for is a crime in California and most states.
My colleague pointed out that the Supreme Court just ordered 46,000 prisoners to be freed from California jails as the overcrowded conditions are not suitable for the criminals. Either the prisons need to be expanded and funded or the inmates must be let out. It is an interesting thought. If an entity can’t properly care for a living thing they need to allow someone else to do so. Unfortunately, animals are considered property and can’t compel such action, unless, of course shelters simply refused to take in any more than they could care for. How would that play out? My colleague and I agree that the onus of affording proper services should be placed on the government entities responsible rather than constantly blaming shelters for things beyond their control. Would animals gather in packs on the street scrounging for food? Would rabies and other zoonotic diseases become a public health danger? Would feces and injured animals in the streets become part of the California landscape? Would dog fights occur for survival rather than for profit?
My wand would scribe a “no vacancy” sign on all the shelters that were at a capacity after which the standard of care would be compromised if more pets were accepted (not necessarily equal to the number of cages) and shout the question – what would happen if every shelter united in this kind of strike?