Assemblymember Amy Paulin On The Shelter Access Bill

In response to longtime concerns over how shelters and rescues treat animals, Assemblymember Amy Paulin (D-Westchester) has sponsored the Shelter Access Bill.

The proposed legislation has been in the works for several years. After intense debate -- including outcry from some "no-kill" animal rights and welfare groups -- a revamped version recently got the OK from the Assembly's agriculture committee, and will soon go before the codes committee. If it succeeds there, the bill will go before the entire Assembly.

Though key elements of the revisited measure seem pretty straightforward -- one of the requirements is that shelters would have to reach out to stray animals' owners, for example -- it continues to generate controversy.

One organization, the Shelter Reform Action Committee, has called it "defective" and says it will lead to more euthanasia in a statement released last night. They back a bill introduced by Assemblymember Micah Kellner (D-Manhattan) instead. (Runnin' Scared reached out to him and will update when we hear back.)

These groups say that the bill would allow for animals to be killed instantly if they showed evidence of "psychological pain." But Paulin says that this element has been removed from the new version.

Runnin' Scared caught up with Paulin to talk about the proposed law.

Runnin' Scared: You have sponsored a lot of legislation dealing with animal welfare. What prompted this particular measure?

Amy Paulin: I have done many, many bills on animal welfare. So when animal rights groups come to me with concerns, I usually try to work with them to address them. This has been an example of concerns raised by the Animal Law Center, the ASPCA, the New York City Bar, and Best friends about the relationship among shelters and rescues -- and the need for some shelter reform and shelter access. So we started to put a bill together working with Assembly staff both in the agriculture committee and in the codes committee and with the advocate groups. So we came up with the first version. We have an amended bill that we filed last week.

Runnin' Scared: What are some of the amendments?

Paulin: It's always a negotiation of ideas. Some of the elements in the bill reflected those negotiations.There was a concern that we needed to have in the law a provision that required shelters to take advantage of the identification on strays -- dogs and cats' collars, tags, electronic chips, as to reunite the owner with the stray. So we put in the law the requirement that a shelter must, within 24 hours, post the identifying information and a photo of the animal on a website so it is easy for an owner to find their lost pet. The law also extends the holding period if the owner is found. At first, the holding period would be from the time of posting. Now, it would be extended even further if the owner was found.

Runnin' Scared: What is a holding period?

Paulin: In the current law, a shelter is allowed to euthanize an animal after five days. Not that many shelters do that, but if they're very overcrowded they might. We knew we needed to require shelters to try to reunite the owner with the stray by posting information online.

Runnin' Scared: What is another component of the law?

Paulin: The second thing was the need for prompt or immediate veterinary care if the animal was hurt or sick, so we put in the law a provision that allows shelters to promptly attend to those needs and get immediate veterinary care. And the third provision required the shelter to offer the animal to a rescue prior to euthanasia.

Runnin' Scared: Why this provision?

Paulin: Say there was a hoarder and they came in with100 dogs, many of which could be diseased and problematic to some of the animals in the shelters. Under the third provision, they must offer that animal to a rescue prior to euthanasia.

Runnin' Scared: So what about the "kill" portion of the bill?

Paulin: We omitted this last provision. The current definition in the law is that the animal can be euthanized if it is unfit for any purpose. But when we tried to fix this definition, the truth was that it became very controversial with how to word it. Though 'unfit for any purpose' is too vague and doesn't mean anything, clearly people thought the proposed change needed work, so I withdrew that part of the bill. We're now floating out the three ideas I mentioned to see what kind of reaction it gets.

Follow Victoria Bekiempis @vicbekiempis.

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