San Francisco adopts no-kill animal control: WILL DECLARING VICTORY WIN THE WAR?

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 1994:

SAN FRANCISCO, California––Euthanasia for animal population control offi-
cially ended in San Francisco effective April 1. Taking San Francisco SPCA president
Richard Avanzino up on a challenge issued last October, the city Department of Animal Care
and Control has agreed it will no longer euthanize any dog or cat who meets Avanzino’s
“adoptable” and “treatable” criteria. The SFSPCA has agreed to accept, treat, and place all
such animals. The agreement is expected to cut by two-thirds the number of euthanasias per-
formed by the city shelter: 5,379 in 1993, already by far the smallest number of euthanasias
relative to human population of any major urban animal control district.

“Besides providing for every adopt-
able animal,” SFSPCA spokesperson Lyn
Spivak said, “we have pledged to rehabilitate
dogs and cats who because of health or behav-
ior problems would otherwise be euthanized.
This group of ‘treatable’ animals could
include cats with ear mites or upper respirato-
ry infections; dogs with kennel cough or a
broken leg; and unsocialized dogs and cats.
These animals will be given a second chance
at life through medical care or behavioral
training, and then placed in suitable homes
through our adoption program.”
Under Avanzino’s criteria, adopt-
able animals are “cats and dogs eight weeks of
age or older,” who “have manifested no sign
of a behavioral or temperamental defect that
could pose a health or safety risk or otherwise
make the animal unsuitable for placement as a
pet.” The “treatable” category includes kittens
and puppies, as well as “any cat or dog who is
not healthy, but who could become so with
reasonable efforts.” Non-treatable animals are
those “for whom euthanasia is the most
humane alternative due to disease or injury;
vicious cats and dogs, the placement of whom
would constitute a danger to the public; cats
and dogs who pose a public health hazard;
and cats and dogs the adoption of whom
would violate San Francisco DACC policy.”
If the percentages of animals in each
category are the same nationally as they are in
San Francisco, and if the San Francisco policy could be
applied nationally, it could cut the number of shelter
euthanasias performed annually from circa five million to
approximately 1.1 million.
However, the San Francisco policy was proposed
only after a 10-year effort to encourage neutering and pro-
mote the adoption of older animals cut the number of
euthanasias by half, bringing recent counts into the range that
Avanzino believes the SFSPCA can adopt out.
Avanzino argues that the biggest single factor in
reducing the San Francisco pet overpopulation problem has
been breaking what he calls “the cycle of death.” The cycle,
he explains, is that because most shelters euthanize most of
the animals they receive, people become reluctant to take ani-
mals to shelters. Instead they abandon them, “to give them a
chance. When these abandoned pets are finally picked up,
they are often sick, injured, or debilitated, and euthanasia is
frequently the only option.” Meanwhile, the abandoned ani-
mals have often bred litters before being picked up, increas-
ing the number of animals that shelters must euthanize.
“Cat killer” bill killed
The San Francisco precedent might have been jeop-
ardized by a California state assembly bill, AB 3546, that
could have obliged animal control agencies to increase
euthanasias by forcing them to pick up homeless cats
––whether or not anyone considered them a public nuisance,
and whether or not they were in a monitored neuter/release
program. AB 3546 was introduced as a purported rabies con-
trol measure by assemblyman Tom Hannigan, and was
endorsed by the California Veterinary Medical Association,
but was opposed by the SFSPCA, the Cat Fanciers
Association, and the California Humane Coalition.
Although AB 3546 differed in purpose from AB
302, the bill to require neutering of outdoor cats introduced
last year by assemblyman Paul Horcher, it represented round
two of the same political struggle. AB 302, touted by Fund
for Animals companion animal programs director Kim Sturla
in a series of direct mailings, was initially backed by a power-
ful coalition including most humane societies, animal control
agencies, veterinary associations, and animal rights groups––
as well as the National Audubon Society.
The coalition fragmented when Avanzino pointed
out that language in AB 302 could have been used to warrant
the annihilation of feral cat colonies. Subsequent correspon-
dence established that this was exactly what National
Audubon had in mind, alleging despite a paucity of evidence
that feral cats are a threat to endangered birds.
Horcher dropped AB 302 after numerous groups
backed away from it––including, at the last minute, the
Fund. National Audubon lobbyist John McCaull said then
that his organization would not pursue a similar measure dur-
ing this legislative session, but would instead seek to require
any public agency that condones a cat colony to file an envi-
ronmental impact report.
However, National Audubon was believed to be
backing AB 3546, which left neutering alone, but would
have established cat licensing and required rabies vaccination.
It would further provide that, “All dogs and cats under four
months of age shall be confined to the premises of, or be kept
under physical restraint, by the owner, keeper, or harborer.”
By way of enforcement, “Any dog or cat in violation of this
section and any additional provisions that may be prescribed
by any local governing body, shall be impounded, as pre-
scribed by local ordinance.”
“This is the real Cat Killer section of the bill,” edi-
torialized Ginger Julian in the April issue of Animal Press, a
southern California newspaper for animal lovers. “Note the
wording is shall be impounded––not may be impounded.”
Avanzino objected in an open letter to Hannigan
that the mandate would require animal control agencies in
California to impound more than 3.2 million additional owned
cats per year, not even counting ferals. This, he said,
would rapidly drive up animal control costs, far beyond the
level of income anticipated from cat licensing. “All these
costs will be inflicted,” he said, “even though there were
only two cases of cat rabies in California last year, and in
spite of the fact that in the entire history of California there is
not one documented case of a person having contracted rabies
from a cat.”
Hannigan withdrew AB 3546 during the second
week of April. However, a similar local ordinance took
effect April 1 in the Santa Clara County cities of Cupertino,
Los Gatos, Campbell, and Monte Sereno. A vote on a simi-
lar ordinance is to be held May 6 in the adjacent city of
Saratoga. The five cities have combined to form a new ani-
mal control agency. Field services will be provided by the
Humane Society of Santa Clara Valley, while kenneling will
be provided by the Central Animal Hospital. The annual
licensing fees are $5/altered cat; $15/intact cat; $10/altered
dog; and $25/unaltered dog.
Pet food taxes
AB 3546 is also loosely paralleled by a measure
advanced by the Ohio County Dog Wardens Association,
which has asked the Ohio legislature to extend the licensing
and control provisions now applied to dogs to cover cats as
well; impose a 2% sales tax on pet food to help finance ani-
mal control departments; and give all animal control directors
a 20% pay hike. The Ohio dog wardens aren’t expected to get
far, if for no other reason than because no bill calling for
extra taxes on pet food has ever cleared any state legislature,
due to the adamant opposition of the Pet Industry Joint
Advisory Council.
However, the influential PIJAC lobbyists are spread
thinner than usual this year because pet food taxes are also on
the legislative calendar in New Hampshire and Minnesota.
The New Hampshire bill, backed by most state humane soci-
eties, animal shelters, and activist groups, would use a 2%
tax on pet food to set up a subsidized neutering program mod-
eled after the 12-year-old New Jersey Pet Population Control
Fund. Similar to the New Hampshire bill, Minnesota bill SF
864 is endorsed by 17 humane societies, the Minnesota
Veterinary Medical Association, and several national organi-
zations, who have united to campaign for it as Coalition
Zero-2000. It calls for a 1% tax on pet food. Both bills differ
from the legislation establishing the New Jersey fund, how-
ever, in that the latter is maintained by dog licensing fees and
the sale of special license plates for motor vehicles.
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