December 22, 2014
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Animal advocates differ on ‘no kill’ RI shelters

Could Rhode Island become a “no-kill” state? A bill heard by the House Judiciary committee last week could be the first step in making all shelters in the state “no-kill,” which means roughly 90 percent of the animals would be saved from euthanasia. The bill is being held for further study, and is getting mixed reviews from the animal advocacy community.

The Department of Environmental Management (DEM) issued an informal statement saying it has “serious concerns regarding the logistic and management issues that would likely arise with passage of this legislation.”

The bill suggests the creation of a registry between animal shelters that would allow the transfer of animals. When one shelter becomes too crowded, the animal, instead of being euthanized, would be transferred to another shelter with available space. The language of the bill allows for shelters and rescue leagues to specify which type of animal they are willing to take. This information would also be made public.

Dennis Tabella, founder of Defenders of Animals, said the state wouldn’t need to create a database. Instead, shelters could use PetFinder.com, a free online service that many shelters are already using. By using a keyword like “emergency,” Tabella said shelters could communicate the need to move an animal to another facility. Tabella said some animals are more likely to be adopted in a new location because it exposes them to a different demographic.

In addition to the creation of a registry, the bill states that animals would not be euthanized unless the holding period has expired, there are no empty cages available and all foster home possibilities have been exhausted.

Maureen Morse, member of Defenders of Animals, testified in favor of the bill at last week’s hearing.

“In July 2010, the governor of Delaware signed the most sweeping and progressive companion animal protection legislation in the United States,” she said at the hearing. “The Delaware Companion Animal Protection Act (CAPA) mandates collaboration between shelters and rescue groups, making the killing of an animal allowable only after all of the outlined measures have been exhausted, and upon approval of the shelter animal care or control manager.”

The bill, she said, will help move Rhode Island toward becoming a no-kill state.

“This is not a new idea,” said Morse in an interview this week. “It’s going on across the country; it is succeeding. It’s a growing movement.”

Morse’s testimony highlighted similar movements in places like California, New York, Texas and Nevada.

But Dr. E.J. Finocchio, president of the Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RISPCA), said that Rhode Island doesn’t have the same overcrowding problems that major cities in some of those states do. In Rhode Island, he said, the bulk of animals put to sleep are those that are aggressive or sick.

“The ‘no-kill’ moniker is nothing but a catch phrase to appeal to people,” he said in an interview Monday.

He posed several hypothetical scenarios: what if someone brought him an 18-year-old cat with cancer that was suffering or a vicious dog that had killed a neighbor’s pet and was unable to be rehabilitated?

“What should I do with those animals?” he asked. “I’m going to put that animal to sleep as fast as I can … and out of his misery.”

Finocchio knows that not everyone agrees with his opinion on euthanasia.

“I had a woman spit in my face once,” he said. “I posed the same questions to a woman once who said, ‘Let them die on their own.’ I would by law have to charge her with cruelty to animals.”

But Finocchio is adamant he is right.

“It’s ‘tricky’ to people that think everything has to be saved,” said Finocchio.

Finocchio said that healthy, young and friendly animals are only euthanized in overcrowded shelters, and overcrowding is not a problem in Rhode Island.

“Who would possibly euthanize an animal like that?” he said. “We don’t have that problem.”

Tabella disagrees. DEM data said last year, roughly 148 dogs and 522 cats were euthanized in the state. The data, the DEM notes, is not complete or exact.

“Those couldn’t have all been sick or aggressive animals,” said Tabella.

According to Ann Corvin, director of the Warwick Animal Shelter, of the 38 animals she euthanized in 2011, none were put to sleep because of overcrowding. All animals euthanized were either sick or aggressive.

“We don’t euthanize that much to begin with,” said Corvin, who said the Warwick Animal Shelter is often mistaken as a no-kill shelter. “Here we try hard to not euthanize our animals.”

The Warwick Animal Shelter is municipal, so it takes in strays, some of which are aggressive, or even feral. She said because of animals like this, her shelter “can’t become no-kill.”

Corvin said she wouldn’t want to call another shelter to take on a dangerous or sick animal, and worries that the legislation would force her into such measures. However, the transferal of friendly, healthy animals due to overcrowding makes sense to her.

“It depends on the situation,” she said.

Corvin said overcrowding is not an issue in Warwick, and the adoptable animals are never euthanized due to space constraints.

“I would have a problem euthanizing a healthy animal,” she said. Some of the 38 animals put to sleep last year included a dog that had a viciousness hearing, several feral (wild and undomesticated) cats and a dog with mouth cancer.

The DEM’s statement said they have “expressed the desire to meet with the sponsor [of the bill] and interested stakeholders to understand what their goals are, and how we can work together on a solution.”


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