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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - Animal shelters throughout California are breaking laws and getting away with it. Because no regulating agency exists (unlike other states like Georgia) for animal shelters in California, the state's approximately 400 animal control shelters, including humane societies are basically self-governing. In California it is necessary to file a lawsuit to show that a law is being broken. The need to litigate is a serious impediment to speaking up. First, there is the issue of a plaintiff having the funds to file a lawsuit, and second is the fear of retaliation from the shelter that reviews the complaint.

Despite the eight-year old law, there are shelters that do not permit adoption of dogs, cats and other animals slated for euthanasia. In cases of owner-surrendered animals some shelters have the purported owners sign releases that enable them to immediately euthanize these animals. Such shelters insist that they are providing a service and are not breaking laws because they are not impounding the animals. There are some shelters that feed their animals only once a day which is a Penal Code violation. Others do not provide veterinary care or else have a cap as low as $50 on per animal spending.

Other shelters conduct "temperament testing" in which animals may be falsely labeled "unadoptable." Those animals deemed "unadoptable" are not counted in the euthanasia statistics and is thought by many to be a modern day shell game.

"All of these practices violate either the letter or the spirit of the Hayden Law," states Ventura attorney Kate Neiswender who was a member of former Senator Tom Hayden's legal staff. The 1998 Protections for Lost Animals in Shelters Statute was enacted. Commonly known as Hayden's Law, the statute mandated safeguards for shelter animals including longer holding periods for stray or lost pets and flex-hours including evenings and weekends to accommodate owners seeking to retrieve their pets.

Despite Hayden's Law, animal welfare groups have historically been left to complain among themselves. The recent filing of Lock vs. County of Kern changed that. Lock vs. County of Kern is a watershed lawsuit, being the first-ever suit filed against an animal shelter for violations of Hayden's Law. The case is viewed as an "impact" case, one that may cause other shelters in the state to rethink breaking laws, lest they be sued as well. Because the case is the first of its kind other similar lawsuits filed in the future could be ruled on the precedent of its outcome. Lock vs. County of Kern definitely bears watching.

Former State Senator Tom Hayden recently stated: "The law saves the lives of many pets, the costs are reasonable and the voters are supported. It's time for this cruelty to end."

After negotiations broke down with the Kern County Animal Control in Kern County Superior Court a trial date was set and is now scheduled for July 30, 2006.

Online article from American Chronicle

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