Massachusetts hates rescue – HB 1445 must be stopped
It has become crystal clear that the State of Massachusetts does not like rescue. Many rescues report harassment by Department of Agriculture officials including having an inspector show up at an adopter’s home and threaten to seize an adopted dog and showing up at out-of-state venues to harass rescues. The simple truth is that Massachusetts has never had any legal basis to do what they are doing and they owe a tremendous apology to a lot of people. They know this, which is why they have tried several times to pass legislation which has, to date, never passed.
Now they are back for another bite. HB 1445 looks harmless enough on the surface. It states in its entirety:
To Amend Chapter 129 of the General Laws by inserting the following:
Section 39E: Animal Shelters and Rescue (rehoming) Organizations
SECTION 1. Definitions:
“Shelter” – Any 501 (c)3 organization or other IRS not for profit status organization that finds homes for unowned animals.
“Rescue Organization” – A 501(c)3 organization or other IRS not for profit status organization other than a shelter as defined in this act that arranges for transfer of unowned dogs and cats to temporary or permanent homes in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
“Department” – Department of Agricultural Resources
SECTION 2: The Department may promulgate rules and regulations for the operation of shelter and rescue organizations operating or conducting business in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts regarding the transfer of ownership of domestic animals, including but not limited to their importation, transportation, housing and medical treatment.
Section 2 is the problem. This purports to give the Department of Agriculture unfettered power to pass regulations as they see fit. Notice the absence of language that says anything about the involvement of the governor or the legislature to oversee approval of anything done by this agency. Why is this bad? Because the Department of Agriculture doesn’t want oversight – they want to make their own rules as they want them to be. This is not acceptable. This power needs to belong to the legislature as they are the elected representatives that represent the people. No agency should be permitted to operate without oversight and this bill is all about giving them the sole discretion to oversee shelters and rescues.
Now, take this language with what was recently obtained which shows the true motives of the Department of Agriculture. These draft regulations marked “Confidential” are from the Department of Agriculture. It is a draft and far from final, but it gives a very clear and frankly terrifying view of the Department of Agriculture’s position on rescue. In short: they want rescue annihilated because these regulations are impossible to comply with for any rescue, large or small.
A copy of the regulations are here for your review, but some of the highlights of what they require are below translated for the civilians. Keep in mind that, as written, this applies to every rescue and shelter in Massachusetts, no matter how big or small or whether they import dogs from other places or not. References to the provisions in question are in parentheses.
- All organizations are required to give the state a list of every single person, vet or kennel who holds dogs for a rescue (30.04)
- All rescues must explain to the state how they get each of their dogs (30.04)
- All rescues must have a kennel license in the town they are located in. This would mean each foster home would require a kennel license the way this is drafted. (30.04)
- All rescues must provide a detailed operational plan explaining to the state how they care for animals, how they run their shelter and how the segregate, quarantine and handle deceased dogs. (30.04)
- Facility is defined to include foster homes (30.01)
- All rescues must have a facility with dedicated bathing facilities, meaning no home would ever qualify (30.05)
- No carpet is allowed in any facility where dogs eat or sleep (so carpeted foster homes are out) (30.05)
- Every rescue in every printed material – contracts, Petfinder listings, flyers for adoption events – must show a registration number from the state. This is like Nazi Germany getting started. Show your papers, kids, because the government wants to know who you are. (30.04)
- All foster homes, shelters, and other facilities would have to have sealed cement, epoxy-painted block or tile where the dogs are kept (30.05)
- All rescues will now have to have an isolation facility with floor to ceiling separate enclosure, separate exhaust fans, and have a separate entrance. This applies to foster homes, rescues that do not import, etc. (30.05)
- If a foster sees a worm, that’s a zoonotic disease under the definitions (30.01) and it must be reported to the Department of Agriculture and must consult with certain agencies. (30.05)
- The Department of Agriculture has the power to quarantine any and all animals without requiring any specific reason (30.05)
- Rescues are not allowed to breed. This is not a big deal to us and we kind of applaud this, but they can rip your license away if you take in a pregnant Mama and have a litter of puppies the way this reads. (30.06)
- All foster homes must sign a two-year agreement with the rescue. (30.07)
- Other states have to write their health certificates the way Massachusetts wants down to insultingly precise details. I have to wonder how vets are going to like this in Virginia. (30.08)
- All dogs brought in from anywhere must be quarantined for 48 hours, examined by a vet again, even though they just saw a vet to get their health certificate, then get another health certificate at a cost of around $150. (30.08)
- Rescues and shelters have to provide written statements to adopters about potential health and behavioral issues. This is a huge problem as we all tell adopters everything we know about dogs, but it requires us to practically exhaustively investigate dogs to prevent liability. (30.09)
- Rescue has to get another health certificate for the dog before it goes home (another $80). That’s three health certificates for one dog in 2 weeks. (30.09)
- Heartworm positive dogs are not available for treatment or adoption in Massachusetts. (30.09). Wonder how Tufts feels about this one?
- Any special needs dog with special health concerns can only be adopted if you give the prospective adopter a written statement from a vet detailing the issue and explaining how much it will cost to treat over the lifetime of the dog. This may be the single most insane thing I have ever seen. How can you begin to calculate what will happen to a dog in 3 years because you did not know the dog had hip dysplasia. (30.09)
- Dogs can only be adopted at facilities. Say good-bye to adoption events at Pet Smart. (30.09)
- Dogs with any temperament issue that could be risk to other dogs or people (not defined) cannot go to an adopter unless the Department is satisfied it’s been through some training program. I have no idea what the hell this means. A timid dog has to be approved by the Department? Who do you call for that? What about a dog that does not get along with other dogs. Is this a dangerous dog that requires approval from the Department? Seriously. (30.09)
- Adopters have 14 days to get a refund for behavioral or medical conditions not included in the disclosure statement. Again, this forces rescues and shelters to do exhaustive medical screenings for exotic things that we can’t see or know about. This is a huge cost (30.09)
- Foster homes can be inspected anytime during the day without warning. (30.07, 30.12).
- Quarantine rules do not apply to owner surrender dogs from any New England state and New York. (30.08)
There are huge constitutional issues with these regulations which are obvious on their face. These rules apply only to rescues and shelters, and not breeders or pet stores. The sponsor of the bill, Kay Khan, has specifically said she will not support making them apply to breeders. These rules are draconian, ridiculously overdone and they serve no purpose except to drive costs up through the roof and drive rescue out of existence. I am surprised that Ms. Khan would support something like this. One wonders if she has seen the rules the Department of Agriculture is waiting to pass.
Responsible rescues already spend a fortune vetting their dogs. All rescue dogs from responsible rescues are at a minimum getting the following care:
All shots, age appropriate, including distemper, parvo, leptospirosis, kennel cough, rabies, canine influenza
Heartworm screening and treatment as needed
Dental care, eye care, ear care as needed
Orthopedic care as needed
Vet exams and health certificates
All of that has to get done, with transport for those coming from other places, for a total of $350 to $450 which is what most reputable rescues vetting dogs have to charge to stay in the black these days. These proposed regulations would add a massive layer of cost without any benefit. No rescue that operates with private foster homes could comply and the Department of Agriculture knows it. This will also cause shelters that have existing physical shelter facilities in Massachusetts a great deal of misery because they are subject to it as well. I am doubtful the MSPCA has even seen this or they, too, would be screaming.
This begs the question “why?” The answer is complicated.
Some of the blame resides with well-intentioned but clueless idiots who drive to a shelter in North Carolina to rescue puppies and don’t provide vet care or engage in basic quarantine procedures. They advertise on Craigslist and people show up and take the dogs to help. The puppies then get sick. These regulations would not help prevent that as they aren’t following basic rules now. That kind of activity cannot be legislated away. In short, you can’t fix stupid with a law.
This is not a common occurrence, though, and the truth of the matter is commercial breeders hate rescue. Why? Because we provide a dog at less cost that comes with full vetting and we are cutting into their profits. Social conscience = decrease in pet store profits. The commercial breeding interests are driving this. Exhibit A: Massachusetts Federation of Dogs, the lobby arm for breeders supports this and has issued a position paper here.
Take a look at what our friends who breed dogs and are represented by the lobbyists via the Massachusetts Federation of Dogs (the same people who opposed the law outlawing the debarking bill two years ago) have to say about why this bill is necessary:
There are many excellent, well run rescues and shelters in Massachusetts. However there were an increasing number of rescues and shelters starting up which had no concept how to safely operate a shelter or rescue, and some established organizations that were operating in an unacceptable manner. It was clear to many, including the responsibly operating organizations that there needed to be some oversight on this activity.
It became apparent that some rescues and shelters were importing animals from out of state. Some were meeting adopters in highway, hotel or abandoned movie theatre parking lots. Animals were off loaded directly to waiting adopters. Often no Interstate Health Certificates had been issued for the animals. Little or no records were kept. Wounds of unknown origin, behavior problems and various serious contagious diseases were involved. In some instances there were no veterinarians examining the animals.
If it was necessary to trace where an animal went after delivery, when a contagious, potentially fatal disease manifested itself, often the organizers had no records of where all the animals went, making it impossible to track other potentially infected animals. Records of where they came from were frequently non-existent. Thee infected animals could contaminate an adopter’s pet that they previously owned.
Adequate record keeping appeared to be an issue for some in state rescues and shelters as well. There was no central registry for potential adopters to know who the responsible shelters or rescues were. Some organizations operating under the title of rescue or shelter were actually “for profit” businesses. Start-up groups had no concept how to safely operate a shelter or rescue.
(Position paper of Mass Fed Dogs on HB1445). This is interesting and entertaining, but there is zero evidence it’s true. The truth is there’s no evidence this is anything other than a snipe hunt to fix a non-existent problem. The statistics compiled of all reportable diseases do not show a dramatic increase in any diseases attributable to rescue. To the contrary, most of the diseases reported were individual owners of dogs who obtained their dogs from backyard breeders and other sources. Rescue was not in the top five. Call and ask the Department of Agriculture for a copy of the reportable disease statistics for the past three years and you can read it for yourself. You don’t have to take my word for it.
The reality is that this is about money and control. Commercial breeding interests do not like rescue. An excellent post was written detailing the history of the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture and rescue here in its entirety: The relevant portion for our discussion is here:
So, you might ask yourself, why the selective desire to enforce rules against just rescues? Good question. I don’t know. This email response to a rescue from 2006 from the then public rep for the Department of Agriculture, Brad Mitchell, is enlightening:
“Mitchell, Brad (AGR)Brad.Mitchell@state.ma.us>
you state ” And no one should expect anything for free on either side.” So, what are these shelter and rescue groups bring to the table to offer. You might want to consider asking WHY the rug has been pulled out from under them. This is business,
non-profit or otherwise. No free lunch for anyone. My experience with a lot of these groups is that they expect a free lunch and for people to simply bow to them because they are doing gods work. Time for an attitude change.”
Nice. Guess what Mr. Mitchell does now? He’s a lobbyist for the Massachusetts Farm Bureau.
So, next ask yourself, who is in charge of inspecting rescues? That would be Mr. John Kenney who is also the legislative liaison with Yankee Siberian Husky Club.
What organization does Mr. Kenney support in his spare time? The Massachusetts Federation of Dog Clubs and Responsible Dog Owners, where he serves as a Director on behalf of the Yankee Siberian Husky club. What do they support?: “With new dog legislation being worked on and introduced almost daily, we need to be extremely pro-active in order to ensure that our hobby/sport of breeding and exhibiting dogs is protected.” See http://www.massfeddogs.org/Membership.html. What recent legislation did they oppose?: Making the debarking of dogs illegal. This is the man who has been in charge of investigating rescues. He supports breeders and opposes a prohibition on the debarking of dogs. Fabulous.
This is your Department of Agriculture dedicated to overseeing rescue. It’s pretty clear that the Department of Agriculture has an agenda. That agenda is to selectively pass rules to wreck an entire group of charitable organizations to promote commercial breeding interests with a program that leaves an agency unfettered and unobserved to make policy decisions that should be made by the legislature in an open forum for debate. Rescues in and around Massachusetts need to wake up and understand that their futures are in grave danger.