Americans welcome dogs, cats, iguanas and other pets into their homes and treat them like family. A minority are too irresponsible or mean to control pet reproduction and ensure that all pets enjoy loving homes. A nationwide network of mostly nonprofit animal shelters manages the problem with the most humane policies and procedures they can afford.
People who work at animal shelters loathe euthanizing nonadoptable pets. But they don't live in a perfect world.
Two lawyers from AnimalsVote.org refuse to accept this reality. They want public support in making Colorado the first "no-kill" state, where animal shelters could seldom euthanize stray or unwanted pets - even vicious animals that threaten public safety.
The lawyers seek government certification of a petition that calls for a statewide ballot initiative to revise Colorado's Pet Animal Care Facilities Act. The proposal strikes out portions of the law that give shelters discretion about the fate of stray and abandoned animals after they've been held for at least five days. It strikes provisions that allow a shelter to euthanize unwanted or stray animals on a basis of available resources. It removes wording that makes rescued animals the property of animal shelters until such time as they are retrieved by owners or placed in acceptable homes.
What's left is a law that forces animal shelters, most of which operate on shoestring budgets, to care for unwanted, stray or vicious animals until they die natural deaths. Some dogs and cats live for 15 years or more. Some pet birds can live 100 years or more.
The proposed law allows euthanasia under only one circumstance: The animal "is experiencing extreme pain or suffering." To euthanize a suffering animal, any shelter would need the written opinion of a veterinarian who had diagnosed "extreme pain or suffering."
The proposal provides a textbook example of the law of unintended consequences. It purports to protect animals, but mostly will cause them to suffer.
The revised law would quickly fill shelter cages with permanent residents in the form of animals that cannot be safely placed in adoptive homes. At that point, shelters would have no means of accepting animals roaming the streets. It would happen fast. The Human Society of the Pikes Peak Region takes in about 25,000 pets a year. If only a fraction could not be placed, the shelter would quickly become home to thousands of caged pets with no real prospects of freedom.
Shelters would become long-term care facilities, not animal rescues. To avoid filling every space with a permanent pet, as an unfunded and nonsustainable mandate of the state, shelters would have no choice but to refuse accepting strays.
"Animals would live in cages for the rest of their lives, which isn't humane," said Jan McHugh-Smith, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, a woman who has devoted her life to reducing euthanasia and improving conditions for pets.
These concerns are not based in speculation. Though Colorado would become the first "no-kill" state, communities throughout the country have attempted such laws and the results have been awful.
"Animal enforcement has stopped picking up strays in these communities because there is no place to take them after the shelters get full," McHugh-Smith said. "Citizens and abandoned pets are left with few resources to turn to. This proposal is misguided."
We need to change the culture, so far fewer pets suffer neglect. But let's not let our love of animals do more harm than good. We'll only cause more suffering and pain with an unrealistic law that makes unwanted pets nearly impossible to rescue from the streets.
If you see this petition, be humane. Refuse to sign it.