Earlier today in Madison, representatives from the Wisconsin Humane Society, MADDACC and Best Friends testified at a hearing for Assembly Bill 487, a highly complex and often misunderstood piece of legislation aiming to make "various changes to the treatment of animals that are believed to have been used in crimes against animals."
The bill, which is supported by all three organizations, has the capacity to reduce euthanasia for animals statewide. It also functions to change the requirement that all dogs seized from dog fighting cases be automatically euthanized, an arcane practice which takes place in only 12 states in the U.S.
Below is a copy of testimony from Anne Reed, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Humane Society, as presented to the Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety.
Testimony in support of 2015 Assembly Bill 487
Honorable Chairman and committee members, thank you for this opportunity to testify in support of Assembly Bill 487. It’s my privilege to lead the Wisconsin Humane Society, Wisconsin’s largest and oldest animal welfare organization. We have shelters in Milwaukee, Racine, and Ozaukee Counties,and we are the primary organization housing stray and seized animals in Racine and Ozaukee Counties.
We strongly support the entire bill, including its provisions for seized animals, but I’m going to talk here about the stray hold provision of the bill, because it affects more animals and is not understood by many in the public. Contrary to what some people will tell you today, the stray and seizure provisions of this bill are both based on the same critical principle: short stays save lives.
Long forced stays crowd shelters and endanger animals.
Imagine you’re driving on the highway. You’re cruising along, and you come to an accident in the opposite lanes. The traffic on your side slows down. The cars around you were many car lengths apart a minute ago, but now they’re bumper to bumper, lane to lane. If cars could catch disease from each other, they would. Once you’re past the accident, the cars speed up, and they’re far apart again. Are there fewer cars on the road? No, it’s the same number of cars. Because they’re going faster, the highway isn’t crowded. When they were going slowly, it was very crowded indeed. Next imagine you’re on the highway and a couple of cars are going slowly in the right lane.
Is the highway crowded? No, not if those are the only slow cars. The quicker cars just go past them in the left lanes, with plenty of room.
Now imagine the speed limit on the highway is 10 miles per hour. Nobody is allowed go faster than that. Now we’re bumper to bumper, lane to lane, all the way to Oconomowoc, or Milwaukee, or Marshfield, or Kewaskum, every hour of every day.
Our current stray holding period is like a ten-mile-per-hour speed limit for every one of the thousands of animals who become stray every year in Wisconsin. It makes every shelter more crowded than it needs to be. And because animals can and do catch diseases from each other, it puts every stray animal at real risk of illness and death.
A four-day stray hold will keep animals healthy without hurting owners’ ability to find them.
Currently the law says we have to hold stray animals for seven days. We can’t count the first day, and we have to wait all the way to the end of the last day. That means we can’t start helping animals – finding homes for them, giving them most needed medical care, and so on – until their ninth day in our shelters.
The owners of stray animals all over the state have told us, by their behavior, that those last few days are wasted. If a dog is going to be claimed by its owner, we know the odds are overwhelming that it’s going to happen by day four. Sadly, cats are almost never claimed by owners at all – but when they are, it’s by day four. Fewer than 1% of animals are reclaimed between days 5 and 7, in every city or town where we have data. But in hopes of the vanishing possibility that somehow an animal might be in that tiny group, we’re making thousands of animals sick, by forcing them all to stay until the ninth day. We’re making the speed limit 10 miles per hour for everybody.
Let me explain how this affects animals in a very real way. Here’s a scenario that happens very often. A cat comes into MADACC, Milwaukee Animal Control, as a stray. At the Wisconsin Humane Society, we "pull" more animals than any other organization from MADACC after their stray holds are up, and we find homes for them. On her fifth day at MADACC, this cat is still healthy. If it were legal, we could bring her over to our shelter and find her a home.
But we can’t take her until the ninth day. And by that time, because MADACC is crowded with every animal having to wait until its ninth day before we can help, she has gotten sick. We have many, many homeless cats back at our own shelter, and we have a responsibility to protect them from contagious disease. So we don’t bring that cat to our shelter – and often, she doesn’t get better. She was once somebody’s pet, and she could have been in a happy new home. But she’s dead, because Wisconsin law forced her to stay at a shelter longer than she needed to.
It’s the same dynamic in small communities as well as large ones, large shelters as well as small ones. No matter how big or small your shelter and how many stray animals your community has, the shelter will always be more crowded, and less safe for animals, the longer each animal stays.
So why are people testifying today in favor of a long stray hold?
You may well wonder: if it’s so clear that short stays save lives, why are there animal advocates here to oppose a shorter stray hold?
With respect, they don’t run animal shelters. One of the most common logical errors we all make is to take an idea that seems logical on a small scale, and assume it would also be logical on a large scale. If you are thinking about one individual stray dog, and you want to have the maximum possible chance that an owner will reclaim it, how long do you hold the dog? The longer the better.
There’s only a tiny chance, a Powerball chance, that someone could claim the dog after a long time in the shelter. But it’s theoretically possible, and we think we heard a story, or maybe imagined a story, where it happened somewhere. It seems to make sense. But when you try to turn that into a rule for thousands of stray animals, it doesn’t work. When you do that, you’ve made the speed limit 10 miles per hour for everyone, and animals get sick and die in overcrowded shelters.
You’ll hear people say that a shorter stray hold would allow shelters to euthanize animals sooner. I want to be sure you clearly understand how mistaken this is. There are few if any shelters in our state who euthanize healthy animals just because their "time has run out." That practice went out with the rotary dial phone. Nowadays it’s illness, not time limits, that kills animals in shelters. But let’s say there’s a shelter out there euthanizing healthy animals based on time limits alone.
If that’s true, why are they doing that? Because they think it’s the only way to manage their space. And why are they out of space? Because their shelter is crowded – required to be crowded by our long stray holds. Just like the slow car in the left lane, we can give animals who need more time all the time they need – but only if we can get other animals through fast enough to leave space for them. If euthanasia for time limits alone is still going on anywhere in Wisconsin, it’s because of our long forced hold for every stray You will hear that shelters can do more to help owners find their animals.
Every field can improve; let’s keep doing better by all means. But there is no reason to keep crowding shelters with long holds until we do better. To the contrary, when struggling organizations are overwhelmed with crowding and disease, it’s all the more difficult for them to launch new approaches.
This bill will save lives.
Long holds cause crowding. Crowding causes illness. Illness causes death.This bill is the most important thing our state can do right now to save more shelter animals.
We urge you to pass the bill out of committee with both the seizure and stray provisions fully intact, and we thank you for your work.