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Please, not another Lobby 101!

Policy takes priority at the start of the new year

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Protecting dogs by ending breed-specific-legislation is one of HSUS's 2017 policy priorities for pets.

State legislatures nationwide are starting back up, with new faces ready to make progress for animals—or take us a few steps back. Many of you know your local HSUS state director; for those who don’t, I highly recommend getting to know them, since they are on the front lines of policy work in your state and can keep you up-to-date on the latest animal-related legislative happenings. As a former state director for Maine, I know firsthand the importance and impact of having shelter, rescue and animal welfare workers, volunteers and advocates involved with state and local legislation. Legislators recognize (for the most part) the important roles you play in your community, and many of them have pets themselves.

As we gear up for this exciting time, we need to be mindful of the sheer scale of the work and prioritize some key issues that will allow us to focus on what is going to have the biggest impact for animals this year, whether in terms of numbers or quality of life. Here is a brief outline of The HSUS’s 2017 policy priorities for pets, as well as a few other issues that are active in several states this year. Please keep in mind that policy work is fluid and opportunistic; the specific bills mentioned here may or may not end up actually being active as we progress further in the year.

1.     Ending the use of gas chambers. Since The HSUS began its campaign in 2013 to end the use of gas chambers (both carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide) for euthanasia of cats and dog in shelters, more than 70 chambers have closed—that’s more than two-thirds of the chambers in existence at the time. To the best of our knowledge, currently there are only four states with chambers operational—Wyoming, Utah, Ohio and Missouri. This is down from 16 in 2013.

Statewide bans are the most effective tool for ending chamber use once and for all. This year, look for chamber ban bills to be introduced in Utah, Minnesota, Nevada, Vermont and most likely Michigan (where Grant’s Bill, a measure first introduced in 2011 that would make euthanasia by injection the only acceptable form of euthanasia for cats and dogs, failed to pass again last year). A bill is also in the works in Louisiana to close a loophole that banned the use of CO, but not CO2. And even as those bills move through the legislature, we will be working to secure voluntary closures of the chambers still operating in the states listed above.

Take Action! If you live in one of the states listed above, watch for our action alerts on gas chamber-related bills. Let us know if you live in or near a community that still utilizes gas chambers, and join with us to bring this outdated and inhumane practice to an end.

2.     Protecting dogs by ending breed-specific legislation (BSL). Breed bans and related restrictions force dogs out of loving homes and into shelters, taking up kennel space and resources that could be used for animals who are truly homeless. Underfunded animal control agencies bear the burden of enforcing the laws and are often called on to decide, based on looks alone, whether a dog belongs to a certain breed. Battles erupt between dog owners and local agencies—and often continue to the courts—costing the community resources that could have been spent on effective, breed-neutral dog laws and enforcement. These policies are all-around bad news for dogs, families and our field, and are not supported in any way by science.

In the first week of the new year, we’ve already seen introduced in Delaware a bill to prohibit municipalities from regulating dogs by breed, and anticipate several more on the issue as legislative sessions start up across the country, including in Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Washington and Vermont, as well as insurance-related bills in Massachusetts and New York.  State laws are a great tool to eliminate harmful and ineffective breed-based policies, and 20 states have already passed bans on such policies: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Virginia. We’re committed to seeing this trend continue, until all 50 states provide this most basic of protections to the dogs who share our lives.

BSL policies are most active at the local ordinance level; it’s estimated that more than 500 municipalities currently have breed-related restrictions. In addition to our work on state-level bans, we’re actively opposing new breed-ban ordinances as they are proposed, as well as leading and supporting efforts to change ordinances and give these outdated policies the boot.

Take Action! Join us for a BSL daylong course at Animal Care EXPO 2017, and check out our new toolkit specifically designed to provide comprehensive information on this issue, giving you the confidence to challenge BSL in your community and make it a safer place for both dogs and people.

3.      Saving cats (and wildlife) through effective TNVR. Turning to cats, our policy team spends a lot of time “clearing the path” for effective trap/neuter/vaccinate/return (TNVR) programs, since many decades-old state laws and local ordinances don’t mesh with today’s modern cat management methods. Further, officials looking to enact new policy to address community cats often turn toward punitive measures focused on managing human behavior, rather than crafting policy that will humanely reduce the number of cats outdoors. It is amazing how many state laws, federal regulations, organizational policies and local ordinances impact how cats can be managed and treated, so language around abandonment, ownership and even stray hold can pose challenges for TNVR programs to be run well.

While the bulk of our work here falls in the local ordinances realm, guiding 65 municipalities toward better policy in 2016, we’re also anticipating state-level legislation in Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New York and Hawaii, as well as possible defensive efforts to fend off bills that will attempt to erode protections for cats in Connecticut, Maine and Illinois.

Take Action! Read your Scoop! newsletter from animalsheltering.org for action alerts and updates on cat-related legislation. Use our Managing Community Cats Municipal Guide to get up to speed on the issue and effectively advocate for ordinance changes in your community. 

While all this is more than enough to fill our plates and then some, there are many other positive efforts poised to improve the lives of animals this year. We’ll be supporting an estimated 11 state bills to protect pets in hot cars in Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Texas. Greyhound protections will be a hot issue in Florida and Kansas, and spay/neuter efforts will be active in Idaho, Georgia, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Virginia. And we don’t want to forget the important policy strides our colleagues in the Puppy Mills and Animal Cruelty campaigns are making, either. 

Remember, all these efforts are fluid. Legislation can change at the last minute—for better or for worse—so stick with us and your HSUS state director to get the latest on legislation and ordinance work in your state!

About the Author

Katie Lisnik is the Director of Companion Animal Public Policy at The Humane Society of the United States, focusing on raising awareness and effectiveness of pet related public policy at the federal, state and local level. Priority work includes increasing interventions for and reducing community cats populations through sterilization and vaccination programs, ending the use of gas chambers in animal shelters, ending the abusive greyhound racing industry, as well as keeping more pets in their homes and preserving a strong human-animal bond. Katie has an MS in Animals and Public Policy from Tufts University; she is the Past President of the New England Federation of Humane Societies; and a former Board Member and advisor to the Maine Federation of Humane Societies.