NC Animal Shelters Put on Short Leash
by Becky Baker
There is always a lot of press coverage when the General Assembly is in session. Much of it as of late has been focused on the current push for tax reform and rightly so. The lowering of the personal income tax rate to 5.75% from 7.75% and the elimination of the state death tax will have a direct effect on all of us.
As an animal lover, I want to point out a bill that could have easily been overlooked that involved clarifying the laws concerning animal shelters. This came after three years of struggles by a few North Carolina animal advocates and concerned lawmakers.
Two women who have spent countless hours, putting their lives on hold, in the pursuit of this and other legislation regarding animal welfare, are Susan Barrett with NC Shelter Rescue Inc, and Jane Tzilvelis, a frustrated, concerned citizen from Durham. According to Susan, “The laws that preceded this revision were riddled with loopholes and were basically unenforceable.” When asked to give an example of the change they fought so hard for Susan replied, “If any bill states “may” instead of “shall” it’s a loophole for any office or overseeing office to not do their job or follow the law as it was intended. It’s a play on words, but that’s how we are in North Carolina, we make laws and play word games.”
That one little word could make a huge difference in the safe return of your lost pet. The original bill used the word “may” when talking about the use of scanners to check for microchips in animals. I have all my dogs chipped and was living under the assumption that if, heaven forbid, my dogs ever got lost or stolen they would be identified and I would be immediately notified after a scan revealed my contact information. Apparently that has not been the case in some North Carolina shelters.
A key component in their quest for fair treatment of animals in the possession of an animal shelter was the governing body overseeing these shelters. Currently this falls under the jurisdiction of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, which has only regulatory powers. When SB626 goes into effect the North Carolina Department of Agriculture will be in charge and they do have enforcement capabilities.
This was a major point of contention that spurred their efforts for this change. “Most people can’t or won’t understand what Jane and I did here,” Susan explained. “We had what looked like a wonderful law for the animals on the books, but when we tore it apart we found that much of the authority of the bill was placed under an incorrect office, the NC DHHS which is only regulatory and has no enforcement capability. Each time a formal complaint was filed for violations ranging from animals being killed prior to the 72 hour state mandated period to the non-use of microchip scanners to help identify an owner, the laws meant to protect our animals could not be enforced and continued to be ignored with no ramifications to the offending shelters.”
There are other areas of concern that have been addressed in the modified version of the bill. It is now required that anyone adopting an animal must show valid ID. Information of the adopting party will be kept in a database that can be monitored for signs of hoarding, the use of said animals for dog fighting, the resale of adopted animals and a host of other unthinkable things.
I was also surprised to learn that under the old law shelters could sell unclaimed animals to research facilities. The exact wording stated that unclaimed animals could be “sold to institutions within this State registered by the United States Department of Agriculture pursuant to the Federal Animal Welfare Act.” This has been stricken in the new bill.
Representative Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, offered up an amendment to give explicit permission to use “any reasonable means” to rescue overheating animals locked inside a vehicle after a “reasonable effort” has been made to find the owner. There are 14 states that prohibit pet owners from leaving animals in hot vehicles. The difference in the North Carolina law is that it will not only allow law enforcement officers, but also firefighters, animal control officers and other rescue workers to take the necessary action to save an animal’s life.
The addition of this new section regarding “the confinement of animals in motor vehicles” should be a reminder to us all about the dangers of taking our pets with us in the car, especially this time of year. Once you turn off the air conditioning the temperature in your parked car increases rapidly even if you’re only gone a short time. Overheating can occur quickly and there may not be anyone there to rescue your beloved pet. (See “A Penny Saved” on page 9 for more on this subject.)
A very special thanks goes out to our Representatives who made the passage of this bill possible. “If not for Representative Pat McElraft (R-district 13) and House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-district 98) who brought this bill to the floor for a vote, the matter would have been pushed back to sometime in 2014” said Susan. She added “There are others who helped tremendously and I know I’ll forget some, so forgive me in advance, but I’d like to call out Representatives Jimmy Dixon (R-district 4), James Langdon (R-district 28), and Nathan Ramsey (R-district 115) as well as Senators Brent Jackson (R-district 10) and Floyd McKissick (D-district 20).”
I personally want to add a big thank you to all those who work so hard to be a voice for the animals of this state and to those who have their best interest at heart. From the people behind the scenes working with the Legislature, to the reputable rescue organizations finding new homes for abandoned, mistreated or unwanted animals, to the private pet owners who treat their animals with love and care. Let’s keep striving to make North Carolina a state that others aspire to be like when it comes to the treatment of animals.
If you want to read the whole bill: openstates.org/nc/bills/2013/SB626/documents/NCD00021868.
You can follow Susan at: www.ncshelterrescue.org.