THE ANIMAL SHELTERING SERVICES ACT:
Putting the Human in Humane
By Heather Greenhood
Late last year in western New Mexico, Animal Protection of New Mexico received a call from a woman whose son works at a landfill. He was dumping his truck full of garbage bags from the local shelter when he saw that one of the bags in the pile was moving. He rushed over to open the bag. Inside, he found a Doberman Pincher, barely alive. He had been left in the bag to die, alongside a couple of other euthanized dogs. The local shelter worker had attempted to euthanize him, but was unsuccessful. As a result, this poor creature suffered for hours before he was euthanized again, for the final time. Unfortunately, this barbaric situation could have been easily avoided. This shelter worker had simply not been properly trained in checking for vital signs or administering the correct dosage of drugs.
Earlier this year in Northern New Mexico, a stray young Blue Heeler was picked up by animal control and housed in their local impound. Thirteen excruciating days after he was picked up by animal control, a news reporter came into the impound researching a story. Her heart broke as she came across this dog, which by now was almost completely crippled by distemper, as he had been for the entire duration he had been at the impound. Not knowing the symptoms of distemper or how to recognize it, the shelter employees told the reporter that an animal control officer had teased the dog for his disfigurement and inability to walk instead of seeking medical care for the dog’s limp. By the time the dog was finally taken to see a veterinarian, the distemper had progressed too far and was untreatable, resulting in his humane euthanasia by a veterinarian.
Most taxpayers hope and assume that employees at their local animal shelter have been properly trained to use the most current and humane methods of care when it comes to handling the disposition of homeless animals. People want and expect all euthanasia procedures to be done in the most humane manner possible. Unfortunately, when the curtain is suddenly lifted and some of the practices and conditions of shelters are exposed to the public, many times what the public finds, is a level of care that is far from their expectations.
Thankfully this year, Senator Mary Jane Garcia (D-Doña Ana) and Representative Thomas Swisstack (D-Rio Rancho), introduced SB458 and HB453, otherwise known as the Animal Sheltering Services Act (ASSA). The act was specifically designed to address animal shelter issues such as those mentioned above. The Animal Sheltering Services Act authorizes the creation of an Animal Sheltering Services Board (ASSB) consisting of nine members from various animal and shelter-related backgrounds, appointed by the Governor. The board will promulgate recommended standards for New Mexico’s shelters, as well as mandatory standards for the practice of euthanasia.
The ASSB will also establish the mandatory standards training and certifying euthanasia instructors. These instructors will then train and certify any person working in a public or private shelter in which animals are euthanized. With the guidance of the ASSA and its associated euthanasia training for shelter employees, grizzly situations like the ones described above, will become a thing of the past.
Until now, there has never been a state agency to address animal shelter issues. Instead, nonprofit organizations have had to step in. For example, a member of Animal Protection of New Mexico’s (APNM) staff spent almost 75% of her time taking shelter complaints, investigating allegations and meeting with shelters to assist them with improving their standard operating procedures. In addition to assisting shelters with the challenge of providing professional animal care services to the community, APNM has spent tens of thousands of dollars to send Animal Control Officers from all around the state to specialized training. The new ASSB will fill the gap. While there are many shelters that already take proper care of the animals in their facility, the voluntary shelter standards created by the ASSB will address not only the symptoms and procedures to handle disease-which would help avoid another distemper tragedy- but will also set standards for kenneling, feeding and caring for animals housed in public shelters.
Another crucial part of the ASSA is the creation of the Animal Care and Facilities Fund, which can accept donations and legislative appropriations to assist communities with carrying out the provisions of the Act. Coupled with the ASSB’s ability to plan and implement spay and neuter programs in communities, the fund is a new and ground-breaking way to implement effective and far-reaching spay-neuter projects throughout New Mexico.
The Animal Sheltering Services Act will go into effect on June 15, 2007.
Heather Greenhood is the Legislative Director of Animal Protection of New Mexico and Animal Protection Voters. She shares her home with her family, two cats rescued from a sealed box in a Los Angeles dumpster and a Collie rescued from an Albuquerque shelter.