Much is being said and written about Senate Bill 1381 which was passed in a landslide vote by the House of Delegates last week and has successfully returned to the Senate for approval of an amendment that was made in the House. Now it will go to the Governor for signing.
This bill corrected the definition of “private animal shelter” in the Virginia State Code so as to make clear that private shelters must have the purpose of adopting out animals to permanent homes. This is simply making clear what most people in Virginia would have already thought was true. But, until this change, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) interpreted the previous definition as saying it was not true.
There are many statements being made by the opponents of the bill now that it has passed the General Assembly to the effect that it accomplishes nothing and was a waste of time that changes nothing for animals. That is an interesting new take from the very people who spent a huge amount of time, money and hyperbolic language opposing it over the last few weeks. Back then, they said that it was going to cause PETA to have to close its shelter in Norfolk and that it was going to cause “a retreat to 1850, where you drown them in the creek, shoot them in the head or just let them starve to death.” Wow. And now it, according to them, is meaningless and was a waste of time.
PETA hired a professional lobbyist to represent them on it, and he put a large-scale effort into trying to kill it with no luck. Throughout the weeks that the bill worked its way through the General Assembly, they put out national email alerts urging people to call into Senators and Delegates to beg them to defeat it. They even had calls made to people to urge them to call their Delegates in opposition. Hard to imagine that you would do that if you really thought something was meaningless.
The truth is, as truth usually is, somewhere in the middle. It was a modest bill that simply made clear that private shelters operating on charitable dollars should make a sincere effort to get animals adopted rather than just killing them all. It was not, as the hysterics have claimed, an effort to force all private shelters in Virginia to be no kill or to prevent them from being able to euthanize animals. That was an irresponsible claim all along since the right of shelters to euthanize is set forth in a separate code section that has not changed at all. We all recognize that there are certain circumstances under which euthanasia of an untreatably ill and suffering animal in a shelter is necessary.
Once the bill becomes law, it will apply to all private shelters in the state but, to our knowledge, there is only one currently that does not treat adoption as its purpose. That is PETA at its Norfolk facility. Over the last five years, their euthanasia rate for cats and dogs entering their Norfolk shelter has been 90%, and they have actually adopted out only 1.6% of the dogs and cats in their care. For the new law to result in real meaningful change, it will need to be enforced by VDACS. They will need to reach a determination that these sorts of numbers do not allow one to come to the reasonable conclusion that there is a purpose of adopting animals to permanent homes.
Does this matter? It matters to the animals a lot. And I believe it matters to the public, especially those people making charitable contributions because they want animals’ lives saved. If PETA or any other organization claiming to be a private shelter is not actually engaging in a purpose of adopting animals to homes, then they will not be able to have non-veterinarians euthanize animals using controlled drugs as private shelters can. If they are actually running a clinic where animals are all or almost all to be euthanized, that should be clear to the public and should be treated as such under state regulations which, among other things, would require euthanasia by a licensed vet. Transparency and authenticity are what are to be achieved and I, for one, think that is quite important.
Robin Robertson Starr is the chief executive officer of the Richmond SPCA. To read her biography or that of our other bloggers, please click here. Before posting a comment, please review our comment guidelines. Please note that our comment policy requires both your first and last name to be used as your screen name.