In 1998 the California State legislature passed Senate Bill 1785, sponsored by State Senator Tom Hayden and thus known as the “Hayden Bill,” which improved and expanded the care of animals in animal shelters throughout California. Many of the new standards of care reflected best practices in animal shelters in the Bay Area, particularly those in San Francisco, San Mateo, and Marin counties.
During the last 10 plus years, many animal shelter leaders, rescue groups, and animal lovers throughout California have used this new law to insist that their elected officials take saving the lives of animals seriously. This began an earnest campaign to encourage communities to respond to animal needs by building new shelters, adding staff, and modernizing their operations. This happened in many locations throughout California – on the coast, inland, to the east. and to the north; in Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Kern Counties, among many others.
Initially, the State did not fund the Hayden Bill provisions and improvements, which included extending holding periods for all animals from 72 hours to 4-6 days after intake (adding small mammals and birds to that protection), requiring a standardized test to determine whether a cat is truly feral, implementing lost-and-found animal procedures, keeping good records, and providing prompt veterinary care for animals arriving at the shelter, especially those who are sick or injured. In 2004, the courts found that the mandate needed to be funded, and herein lies the rub. It costs the state money to improve the status quo for animals, just as it does for most of the health and/or life-preserving services our civilized society demands.
When the bottom dropped out of the economy a few years back, it also dropped out of the California budget. Official state number crunchers (auditors and legislative analysts) looked at the costs and decided that this mandate should be suspended, along with many other government funded programs.
About six months ago, Governor Jerry Brown himself suggested that this law be repealed, with the justification that local governments should make decisions about what level of service is to be provided for animals in their communities. However, because we believe in standards of humane care for all living creatures, we need uniform regulations to create a safety net for the animals. Many animal activists and leaders find the Governor’s position very troubling and worry that the repeal of the Hayden Bill would be an invitation for some areas of California to return to underfunded programs which may lead to inhumane standards of animal care. At minimum, the holding period would revert to 72 hours for a lost dog or cat. Other animals that are lost or given up by their guardians would lose protection altogether.
Since the Governor announced the intention to repeal, there has been a flurry of activity among animal welfare leaders. The California Animal Control Directors Association and the State Humane Association of California have written letters to the Governor to register their concern, calling for a stakeholders’ discussion about the impact of the repeal of Hayden. Social Compassion in Legislation, The Humane Society of the United States, and Maddie’s Fund, among others, have also written the Governor and organized their constituencies around this issue, resulting in significant media interest.
In early March, a stakeholders’ discussion took place in Long Beach, California in conjunction with the Animal Care Conference. Approximately twenty animal welfare leaders and representatives from municipal animal shelters, SPCA/humane societies, rescue groups, and national organizations gathered to discuss a collaborative and united approach to the question of the repeal of Hayden. At present, the State Budget Committee and the Governor have tabled the repeal effort.
While the Hayden Bill may be imperfect, it has saved innumerable lives and dramatically improved the care of animals in shelters throughout California. We now have the opportunity to advance protection of animals through increasingly innovative legislation that builds upon our commitment to, and compassion for, animals. This work will position the animal welfare community to make the most of California’s economic recovery, whenever it occurs.
Rebecca Katz, a licensed attorney who has devoted her life and career to public interest, is the Director of San Francisco Animal Care & Control, the City’s open-door animal shelter. She has pioneered new policy initiatives and programs at SF/ACC and is the proud guardian of two rescue dogs and two rescue cats.