Animal shelter bill divides activists

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Animal shelters could become subject to a stricter set of requirements before they euthanize animals.

Rep. John Benson (DFL-Minnetonka) is the sponsor of the HF391, also known as the Minnesota Companion Animal Protection Act, which sparked debate Thursday in the House Agriculture Policy Committee. The committee laid the 10-page bill over for future action.

Advocates contend that animal shelters need to go to greater lengths to prevent animals in their care from being euthanized. Benson’s bill would require a five-day holding period for stray animals and a three-day holding period for animals that are relinquished by their owners.

The bill would also require that shelters maintain a registry of organizations that are willing to accept animals and not euthanize them if an organization is willing to take possession, with some exceptions. The bill spells out the options that must be exhausted before an animal is euthanized and dictates the sort of procedures that must be followed in the euthanasia process.

In support of the bill, Mike Fry, executive director of Animal Ark no-kill shelter in St. Paul, said places in other states like Austin, Texas, which have similar laws have seen a significant drop in euthanasia rates.

“I would argue there are a lot of reasons we need this bill,” Fry said. “It has not only passed in Austin, it has passed as policy in shelters throughout the United States and its saving lives everywhere.”

The Animal Humane Society strongly opposes the bill in its current form, arguing that it would hinder animal agencies from doing what’s best for the welfare of animals. Janelle Dixon, the society’s president and CEO, said the holding requirements for owner-relinquished animals could lead to overcrowding and the spread of disease. The bill might also result in the shelters turning over animals to disreputable people.

“We have situations through our investigations program,” Dixon said, “where organizations and individuals that represented themselves as rescues have been convicted of cruelty for hoarding animals in their basements. We don’t want to be in place where have to release animals to them.”

The bill’s Senate companion, SF1204, sponsored by Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Vernon Center), awaits a hearing in the Senate Jobs, Agriculture and Rural Development Committee.