As I type this letter, there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of lost, disoriented, and traumatized pets being admitted into municipal animal shelters. And if Assemblywoman Margaret Markey has her way, all of them can be killed on admittance if two people determine that they are in “psychological pain.”
Markey is the cosponsor of a notorious bill (A.5449) that, if passed, would legitimize what has been an open secret for animal lovers for years: that municipal shelters are understaffed, overcrowded, and generally unequal to the task of caring for the thousands upon thousands of animals who come in every year (40,000 a year in New York City alone).
Every single day, hundreds of cats and dogs are euthanized in New York State because there is no room to house them. Bill A.5449 would allow shelters across the state to further obscure their failings by bypassing the currently mandated 72-hour holding period for found animals and killing them on arrival if two people will attest that the animal is in psychological pain-even if the animal has tags, a microchip, is well groomed, and appears to be well fed.
In other words, bill A.5449 states that a shelter can kill a scared and traumatized animal on arrival even if there is every reason to believe that the animal belongs to someone.
That alone should be enough to rally significant opposition to the bill, but the outrage doesn’t end with a shelter’s open license to kill. A.5449’s primary sponsor, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin of Scarsdale, has repeatedly tried to intimidate citizens who exercise their right to engage legislators by claiming that the debate obsessively hinges on one term while ignoring the bill’s numerous improvements in sheltering standards.
Yet the “quick kill” aspect of A.5449 is only the most transparently deplorable of several terms in the bill worded for maximum discretion and minimal transparency. For example, although A.5449 recommends that shelters work with rescue groups to adopt out more animals, it doesn’t require that they do, and gives the “pound” the singular discretion to determine which groups they will work with and which will be locked out, silencing potential whistleblowers with the continual threat of expulsion.
It declares that a shelter will “take steps” to provide a photo of found animals to help reunite owners with pets and place information on the internet, but it concludes with the term “if practicable”, which is akin to my boss telling me that I should arrive to the office at 9:30 every morning “if I can.”
Even A.5449’s marginal improvements in animal care are redundant at best, because a far superior bill, the Companion Animal Access and Rescue Act (CAARA), was already drafted by Assemblyman Micah Kellner of Manhattan in 2011 and awaits committee action. While CAARA meticulously spells out requirements for shelters to offer psychological enrichment and medical attention to animals during the entirety of their stay, wisely recognizing that anything less than specifics will manifest as the bare minimum, A.5449 requires that shelters “prop- erly shelter, feed, and provide water” and immediate veterinary care for the redemption period only, with no guidelines for what is “proper.”
While CAARA recognizes that overcrowded shelters need sanitization standards to protect both animals and the people who adopt them, A.5449 doesn’t even acknowledge disease prevention as part of sheltering practices. While CAARA states that no animal may be euthanized if a 501(c)3 animal rescue group with good legal standing is willing to take them, A.5449 essentially says that it might be a good idea for a shelter to partner up with rescuers if they want to.
It’s a sham, an apologist manifesto in reformer’s clothing, and I am heartbroken that a long time representative from Maspeth, the town I am proud to have grown up in and a community of compassionate, loyal, salt of the earth people who cherish their pets as the family members they truly are, has thrown her good name behind such bad policy.
The time has come for Markey to read A.5449 closely so she can see the truck-sized loopholes and ineffectual posturing that plagues it. Her constituents may not know that they care about this issue now, but by the time they do-by the time lost companion animals are dismissed as garbage while heartbroken owners live with the trauma of arriving too late-the damage to her reputation will be done.