Assemblymember Micah Kellner on The Companion Animal Access and Rescue Act (UPDATE)
Amy Paulin (D-Westchester) isn't the only assemblymember sponsoring an animal shelter bill in Albany.
Micah Kellner (D-Manhattan) is pushing a rival piece of legislation, which he says would do a better job of protecting stray cats and dogs.
Kellner's Companion Animal Access and Rescue Act would require that shelters work with qualified rescue groups -- and he says that it provides greater protections for whistleblowers, many of whom feel worried about coming forward with accusations of abuse or neglect.
Kellner's proposed legislation does not have the backing of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, but has been vehemently boosted by no kill groups nationwide.
Paulin has countered that Kellner's measure has technical problems.
"It doesn't take into account hoarders, overcrowing and unsanitary facilities, and overwhelmed rescue," she said. "It requires the shelter to give that animal over to a facility that they may or may not harm that animal. It doesn't seem to me that's in the best interest of the animal's health and well being, so there needs to be an accounting for those kinds of conditions to best protect animals against cruelty and neglect."
Runnin' Scared caught up with Kellner to chat about his initiative.
Runnin' Scared: What's the history of this bill?
Micah Kellner: Well actually just to be clear, we introduced CAARA first, a year before Amy Paulin introduced her bill. The ASPCA drafted her bill in response to my bill.
Runnin' Scared: How are the bills different?
Kellner: The act basically seeks to, for the first time, which is set minimum standards both for shelters and rescue groups. The first thing the bill says are that shelters have to do everything possible to take care of an animal and find it a home before they decide to put it down. So this includes: water, food, walking dogs, checking for microchips, doing lost animal checks as well as if two cats can share a cage together instead of putting them down, and if two dogs can share a pen.
Runnin' Scared: How does this bill affect the relationship between shelters and animal rescue groups?
Kellner: It requires them to work with qualified rescue groups. We set standards for rescue groups that are able to pull animals from the euthanasia list for shelters. Under our law, it has to prove that it can do its job. They have to be a 501 C3. And no member of that group -- board member or staff member or volunteer -- can have been convicted of animal cruelty or charged with animal cruelty. If they don't think that they can take care of that animal, the shelter has to have an inspection. The whole goal of our bill is not only to save animals' lives, but also set these minimal standards.
Runnin' Scared: Anything else?
Kellner: In an indirect way, this also creates whistleblower provisions. Under the law right now, the shelter has all the power -- so if you volunteer or work at a rescue group and speak out against, say, bad practices at a shelter or say that they are not walking dogs or if dogs are just sitting in their feces, you can be banned from these organizations.
But the big point about my bill is that these aren't suggestions, so it sets these minimum standards for both rescue groups and shelters to work together and make sure that as many animals as possible are saved.
Runnin' Scared: So if you had to sum up the differences, how would you do so?
Kellner: There are a couple big keys. Number 1: mine is a "shall" bill as opposed to a "may" bill. There are no mandates in her bill. it says throughout her bill "wherever possible" which basically means "if you feel like it." So basicallly a shelter can work with rescue groups if they want to...
The other thing that my bill does that her bill doesn't do is that it has protections for feral cat colonies. A lot of supporters do trap-and-release, and my bill would make sure that groups that do so are protected. There are no protections for feral cat colonies and people who do T-and-R in her bill, and that's why I have groups like Alley Cat Allies supporting our position.
Runnin' Scared: How will the conflict between the two bills get resolved?
Kellner: I think that [Paulin and I] are going to put together a series of mandates for shelters and resuce groups to make sure that we have the best possible outcome for New York State shelter animals....That's the big thing -- how are we going to do shelter reform? Are we going to follow the same prescription that we have for the last 100 years and let animals continue to die, or are we going to set new standards that keep more animals alive?
UPDATE: Kellner just contacted Runnin' Scared and took issue with Paulin's statements. Here's the assemblyman's comment below:
"She said that my bill doens't protect against hoarders -- my bill does protect against all those things because rescue groups have to submit to inspections. My bill actuallly does protect against all the things that Amy Paulin said it doesn't. She clearly doesn't know how to read, because of the inspection clause in my bill there's many levels of inspections. If a shelter suspects that a rescue group is hoarding, they can ask for inspection. All they have to do is say 'we're not going to kill this animal, we're going to adopt it out to somebody else.' My bill only applies to animals on their euthanasia list. There are lots of protections in my bill.
When Amy amended her bill, she took a lot of the protections out. It's a pretty high level of standard in my bill, so for her to say that my bill doesn't protect against it, it's disingenous and factually incorrect, and she doesn't even realize that when she amended her bill, she took out the protections."
Follow Victoria Bekiempis @vicbekiempis.