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Patti Strand: More regulations needed for animal shelters and rescues

Patti Strand: More regulations needed for animal shelters and rescues

Jul 23, 2017

DOG LOVERS, especially parents hoping to give their children a lesson in compassion, find it nearly impossible to resist the heart-wrenching television ads and graphic photos on social media urging them to save a shelter dog’s life by adopting. But they should resist, at least long enough to do their homework, because their children’s lives could depend on it.

Many modern-day shelters do outstanding work. They are professionally operated institutions that provide expert care for their animals and follow ethical and expert-based placement practices. Others, unfortunately, are fly-by-night operations exploiting the public’s love of animals to raise money by whatever means necessary.

Over the past 30 years, shelters have done an extraordinary job of ending dog overpopulation in many parts of the United States. Their success has created some empty spaces at shelters, which has led the people who run those organizations to scramble for pet inventory or risk going out of business.

Many shelters keep their doors open by importing dogs from wherever they can find them. This brings in dogs with health and temperament problems, such as rabies and a history of biting. Dogs that never would have been accepted for adoption just a decade ago are adopted out daily to unsuspecting members of the public.

Many people don’t yet realize that shelter standards have dramatically changed. Prospective adopters are seldom aware of a pet’s background. Did it come from down the street or off the streets of Cairo? Was it “rescued” from a nearby neighborhood or from a kill shelter in the South where it was impounded for attacking someone? Adopters also are unaware that they have little to no recourse if they adopt a sick or dangerous dog, even one with a known history of biting.

This has become an issue in Virginia. Over the past year, dogs that should never have been offered for adoption have mauled, maimed and killed people. The Pilot has covered the tragedy of a Virginia Beach resident who was recently killed by a dog that a relative had just brought home. In Fairfax, a television report profiled a shelter after adopting families and shelter employees suffered multiple injuries.

These tragic outcomes highlight the shocking lack of shelter and rescue oversight by federal, state and local governments. Shelters and rescue organizations are putting public health and safety at risk, and they are getting away with it because their nonprofit status exempts them from many state laws. The risk to the public is grave. We need legislation to fix the problem.

Virginia’s consumer protection laws apply to everyone in the pet marketplace except for organizations whose primary purpose is to find permanent adoptive homes for animals. This is an extraordinary exemption. Shelters and rescues now are the biggest source of dogs in the pet marketplace. By calling a sale an “adoption,” these retail shelters and rescues can avoid most pet-related state laws.

 The National Animal Interest Alliance supports sheltering animals in need and finding homes for them when they can become safe and suitable family pets. Regardless of whether an organization is a nonprofit shelter or commercial enterprise, it should care for animals humanely while protecting consumers from harm.

NAIA also believes it is time to impose reasonable regulations on animal shelters and rescue organizations to ensure that their practices are in line with those of the regulated pet marketplace. The many shelters and rescues that operate responsibly should welcome the opportunity to distinguish themselves from the shifty ones. We must move past the feel-good rhetoric and propaganda that places greater value on the life of a dog than on protecting an adoptive family from a dangerous or sick animal.

It’s time for shelters and rescue organizations to join with the rest of the pet industry. The reality is that fundraising goals and “no-kill” ideology are driving irresponsible shelter practices and putting lives at risk. Regulations would help protect the public from the unscrupulous operators in the shelter ranks. There are black sheep in every human activity, and the sheltering industry is no different.

Regulating shelters and rescue organizations is the essential next step in making the lives of our pets and pet owners better and safer.

Patti Strand is president of the National Animal Interest Alliance.

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