California’s Budget Crisis Shortening Lives Of Shelter Pets

on September 10, 2009
Posted in News

Every pet owner is afraid that their pet might end up in their local shelter should they escape from their house or yard whilst the owner is away. But, most pet owners find solace in the fact that shelter pets are usually kept safe and sound until they are reunited with each other.

However, this may all change in California due to the budget crisis that they state is facing, at least according to Humane Society officials.

When California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and other legislative leaders negotiated the State’s budget to cut the $26 billion deficit, they decided to include proviso that would make it legal to lessen the amount of the mandatory holding period for stray pets from six days down to only three days. These same legislative leaders forgot to mention this to the California public!

This basically boils down to the fact that a lost pet that is picked up by Animal Control will only have three days to be reunited with his owners before being put to sleep. If an owner goes away for a week’s vacation and leaves their pet in the care of a pet sitter, who accidently leaves the gate open and the dog escapes, the owner will probably not even know what happened to their pet until they return.

Cindy Machado of the Marin Humane Society, a facility that does not euthanize animals that can be adopted but instead rescues pets that are facing death at other shelters, explains the new law:

“It makes a difference because for some animals every day counts. The new law will affect a lot of the shelters that we rescue animals from because, especially in this economy, they are bursting at the seams.”

In fact, the majority of the animal shelter in California’s Bay Area, do not kill stray animals unless it is found that the animal has a ve’y serious health problem or behavioral problem which could make it harder for them to be adopted out.

However, there are other smaller shelters like the rural one in Central Valley as well as in parts of northern California that just do not have the space available to hold onto pets longer than required by state law. Sadly, most of these shelters are brimming over with pets that have been relinquished by their owners as a result of losing their jobs, or having their homes foreclosed upon.

Vice president of the Peninsula Humane Society, Scott Delucchi, explains:

“The places that are overrun with animals don’t have many resources, and now the law will essentially allow them to euthanize animals more quickly. Probably those shelters were euthanizing animals anyway. It will just be earlier.”

Mandatory Stay

The new bill was aimed at revising existing legislation known as the Hayden Bill which was passed in 1997. This bill is also referred to as the Animal Adoption Mandate.

Under this bill, California animal shelters were required to keep abandoned animals for a minimum of four days, but in some situations, six days. These time frames varied depending on whether or not the shelter was closed during anytime during the holding period.

The objective of this plan was to provide ample time for pet owners to search for and claim their pets from the animal shelters. On the flip side, this plan also provided shelters and other rescue groups a distinctive time frame within which they could relocate unclaimed pets to no-kill animal shelters or to another rescue organization.

President of the San Francisco SPCA, Jan McHugh-Smith, understand a pet owners frustration in trying to locate their lost pet, particularly when there are quite a few animal shelters in the area:

“People should have the opportunity and the time to properly search for a lost pet and be reunited. This law minimizes the amount of time a guardian has to find their lost pet, and that is a concern.”

However, saving animals also costs the local county as well in terms of food, grooming, training and medical treatment.


In 2008, 400,000 cats and dogs were euthanized in California which, according to the California Department of Public Health statistics, is approximately 15% higher than in 2004. More than 9.6 million pets are euthanized nationwide each year, states the American Humane Association.

The deputy director of San Francisco Animal Care and Control, Kat Brown, believes that because Bay Area residents are pet friendly, 86% of pets get out of the San Francisco shelter alive.

“Our mission is to try to save as many lives as possible,” she said. “But if our budget takes a hit, the pocket pets, rats, hamsters, birds and guinea pigs, will probably be the ones that feel the brunt of it.”

Photo Credit: mylerdude

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Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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