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On the Heels of Defeat, a Great Victory

[Ed. Note: Also read Oreo: A Story of Tragedy and Betrayal.]

By Nathan J. Winograd, No Kill Advocacy Center

It is time to storm the state capitols with the power of our ideas, a belief in the righteousness of our cause, and the understanding that only through legal protections for shelter animals can we ever hope to end their needless killing, sustain it indefinitely, and finally build a truly humane society.

For the last several months, I’ve been like a little kid, bursting to tell a very exciting secret. Today, thankfully, I can let the cat out of the proverbial bag: This morning, July 23, 2010, the Governor of Delaware signed into law the most sweeping, progressive companion animal protection legislation in the United States. The law was modeled on the No Kill Advocacy Center’s Companion Animal Protection Act and spearheaded by the non-profit No Kill shelter Faithful Friends, in Wilmington, Delaware.

Like Oreo’s Law sought to do, the Delaware Companion Animal Protection Act mandates collaboration between shelters and rescue groups. A shelter cannot kill an animal if a rescue group is willing to save that animal’s life. But that is just the beginning. It also makes convenience killing illegal—shelters can no longer kill an animal when there are available cages or the animals can share a cage or kennel with another one. Specifically, the Delaware CAPA states:

Animal shelters shall ensure that the following conditions are met before an animal is euthanized:
(i) The holding period for the animal required by this chapter is expired;
(ii) There are no empty cages, kennels, or other living environments in the shelter that are suitable for the animal;
(iii) The animal cannot share a cage or kennel with appropriately sized primary living space with another animal;
(iv) A foster home is not available;
(v) Organizations on the registry developed pursuant to §8003(d) are not willing to accept the animal; and
(vi) The animal care/control manager certifies that the above conditions are met and that he/she has no other reasonable alternative.

The law also requires posting “all stray animals on the Internet with sufficient detail to allow them to be recognized and claimed by their owners,” requires shelters to maintain registries of rescue groups willing to save lives, and requires shelters to post statistics (intake, adoption, reclaim, transfer and killing rate).

It is groundbreaking, revolutionary legislation which will save the lives of thousands of animals every year. And not only proves that No Kill advocates can successfully legislate shelter reform, but that we can do so without a single large animal protection organization being involved, a fact which begs the next logical question: why haven’t I talked about this important legislation before?

While the No Kill Advocacy Center worked with supporters on the language of the bill, we did not discuss it publicly, fearing that the large animal protection groups would work to undermine its passage, just as they did in New York, just as they did in San Francisco, just as they tried to do in California in 1998 (Hayden), and just as they try to do everywhere reform advocates are trying to end the systematic killing of animals in their communities.

We knew that the merits of the bill would be immediately obvious, in fact, common sense, to Delaware legislators, who would be inclined to pass it were there not supposed “animal protection leaders” insisting that saving animals rather than killing them is a bad idea. And we were right: because the Delaware Companion Animal Protection Act passed the legislature unanimously. I repeat: there was not a single vote in opposition, not one. Why?

To legislators, to the Delaware animal loving public, to the shelters and rescue groups who participated in the passing of this bill, there was nothing controversial about it. No fear mongering about hoarders, no fear mongering about dog fighting, no fear mongering about overcrowding, no fear mongering about costs, no fear mongering about notice requirements being unfair to small rural shelters, no fear mongering about anything. The bill mandates that animals be given every opportunity for life, and no one thought that would be a bad or controversial idea. In other words, there was no HSUS, no ASPCA, and no Best Friends. It seems that in order for shelter reform legislation to be allowed to pass, the supposed leaders of the animal protection movement itself can’t be involved.

While the law is now the most progressive companion animal protection legislation on record in this country, and can only be considered an unqualified victory for the No Kill movement, some of the No Kill Advocacy Center’s recommendations were not accepted. Nonetheless, Delaware, the first state to ratify our nation’s constitution, continues to lead the way in embracing the legislative framework necessary to ensure justice. And we will build upon this framework in the coming years to strengthen protections for animals even more.

Kudos to you, Faithful Friends, for being true to your name, and our deepest gratitude to the animal loving citizens and legislators of the great state of Delaware. One down, 49 to go.
To arms, my fellow activists, to arms! It is time to storm the state capitols with the power of our ideas, a belief in the righteousness of our cause, and the understanding that only through legal protections for shelter animals can we ever hope to end their needless killing, sustain it indefinitely, and finally build a truly humane society.