California’s Governor Proposes Cutting Shelter “Hold” Period in Half

Ignorant, cynical ploy would do real harm
By Tom Cushing, January 2012, Updated February 2015

To paraphrase Billy Beane, as played by Brad Pitt in the popular movie Moneyball, “There’s the one percent, and the 99 percent, then there’s fifty feet of crap, and then there’re shelter animals.”


That reality is stark in California, where Governor Jerry Brown has proposed gutting the state’s landmark Hayden Bill, a 1998 law that requires at least a six-day ‘hold’ period before impounded animals can be legally killed by shelter personnel. (“Euthanasia” doesn’t fit here—these deaths will have nothing to do with mercy. In this context, that term might better be called “euphemasia.”)



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World-weary critics (I raise my hand) characterize the bill as a particularly cynical element of the Governor’s ongoing campaign to prod his electorate into raising taxes by November referendum. It would halve the “shelter hold” period, sending thousands of retrievable and adoptable stray pets to certain death. Mr. Brown’s proposal takes his predecessor’s “Terminator” persona from the realm of science fiction to tragic realism.  


Hayden’s humane provisions have been copied across the country, and here in California, they are a substantial step in the transformation of the state’s pounds from disposal facilities to shelters true-to- their-name and adoption centers. The six-day hold allows owners to locate and retrieve their animals. It is also crucial to mobilizing the state’s burgeoning “rescue” movement, which pulls strays into private (read: “free”) foster care for eventual adoption. “Save” rates have climbed steadily, especially in populated areas. Finally, most animals can’t be properly evaluated for temperament until they’ve had a chance to settle-in to their confined, chaotic circumstances. Six days is not enough for many—less than that is absurd.


The cynicism claim is bolstered by examining the claimed pay-off for this slaughter: $23 million, in a state budget of $137 billion. My calculator and I had difficulty arriving at so small a number as the savings percentage, but it appears to be on the order of 0.00017 percent. And the state hasn’t even been actually spending that money since 2009. So it’s a massive animal sacrifice, without even a proper altar.  


Further, the math used to conjure those savings is ignorant of the true economics of sheltering. Killing drugs, and especially carcass disposal, are expensive; pet food is not. Adoption and redemption fees that would be foregone in this mayhem are also a significant income stream—often fully offsetting the direct costs of food and meds.


Companion animals and their keepers don’t get much from the legal system. But there are certain minimum decencies that government can and should provide. Hayden should be a source of considerable pride, and legislative deference, as a tangible demonstration of the humane instincts of California’s populace.


After outrage comes mobilization. In the next installment: What you can do. Stay tuned!  


Photo from Sutter’s Facebook page.


Tom Cushing works to place stray animals and lawyers into new situations where they may prosper. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.