The Hayden Bill, the Governor and the least among us | Raucous Caucus | Tom Cushing | |

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By Tom Cushing

The Hayden Bill, the Governor and the least among us

Uploaded: Jan 31, 2012

Please Note: I was all ready to opine on the depleted state of the GOP aspirants, and how quickly Obama has won me back – and then THIS happened in Sacramento. While I promise not to turn this blog into a serial animal welfare screed, I think this issue – one of life-or-death for many unlucky companion animals – is worthy of "a read." Hope you agree!


To paraphrase Billy Beane, Brad Pitt's character in the popular movie Moneyball: "there's the 1%, and the 99%, then there's fifty feet of crap, and then there's 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.")

World-weary critics (blogger raises 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 (give or take a few factors-of-ten). 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 some pride, and legislative deference, as a tangible demonstration of the humane instincts of California's populace. It is far from a perfect sheltering system in our fair state, and in a perfect world this issue might be leveraged into a wider-ranging discussion of how to substantially improve its life-saving potential. Stopping this backslide is a first priority, however. If you are so inclined, there is a letter generator here: to assist in soliciting your elected representatives.

There'll be time enough next week to consider the national candidates. We, after all, get to assume we'll still be around next week.