(We think she means it – promoted by Colorado Pols)
As a progressive cowgirl (it’s not just a username!) I never really expected to find myself furious with a Colorado Democrat who happens to have a ranching background. But here I am, posting my first diary, and it’s about Wes McKinley (D-Walsh), a rancher who has accomplished the difficult task of being fiscally irresponsible, soft on crime, hard on cops, outrageously tone-deaf, and quite possibly in lockstep with special interests, all in one little bill.
HB-1063, “Concerning Laws Related to Animal Welfare,” might as well be titled, “Just How Powerful a Constituency are Animal Abusers, Anyway?” The entire bill is a giveaway to people who would like to abuse and neglect pets and/or livestock in the state of Colorado. From the asshole on your block who won’t bring his dog inside when it’s twenty below zero to large-scale illegal puppy mills, anyone who mistreats domestic animals has something to gain should this bill pass.
The progressive cowgirl also happens to be a former pint-sized rescue worker who’s been along for the ride on a few cruelty investigations, so I’ll walk y’all through this legislation–and its impacts on you, your neighborhood, and your own family pets.
Let’s get something straight, right off the bat: Animal welfare laws aren’t animal rights laws. Cruelty to animals is a bad thing for our communities not because puppies and kitties are cute and huggable (well, that too), but because of the harm done to human beings by a permissive approach to animal abuse. What do you think happens to your home’s value when your neighbor has a yard full of starving dogs? And how do you think the rancher who beats his horses treats his wife? That latter question isn’t rhetorical–Colorado’s own Ed Perlmutter, my favorite Congressman, appeared in a BBC documentary exploring the proven and well-researched connection between mistreatment of animals and mistreatment of humans. (The transcript calls him “Pullmeta.” Damn Brits.)
Now, about HB-1063: The most publicized and most damaging thing about this legislation is that it completely removes nonprofit organizations’ authorization to investigate cruelty to animals. That means you can no longer call the Dumb Friends League if you see a starving dog. Instead, you can look forward to long hold times and enormous variability in expertise and responsiveness with municipal animal control services. Not only that, but expect higher dog licensing fees in all municipalities to subsidize a service currently being provided to the state free of charge by donation-funded, highly trained experts.
I’ve been along for the ride on cruelty investigations. The Dumb Friends League will not and cannot show up at your house to take your dog away because they don’t like you. Colorado’s animal cruelty laws define cruelty in a very specific way. If you’ve ever seen the television show “Animal Cops,” the ASPCA investigators in New York City play a similar role to the DDFL here–except our DDFL investigators actually have less power to seize animals.
The bottom line is: We’ve got free investigators with specialized training and expertise willing to help Colorado and its billion dollar budget deficit. McKinley wants to give them the pink slip and either abandon enforcement or pass its costs on to taxpayers.
There are several other nasty things in this bill, intended to disable rescue agencies and prevent our highly effective nonprofits from reducing cruelty to animals in Colorado by placing additional financial and procedural burdens on any nonprofit willing to care for impounded animals.
Section three of HB-1063 prevents impound agencies (that’s a rescue organization which takes on the burden of caring for an impounded animal pending a cruelty investigation–an animal which, under this legislation, the rescue organization would not have had any involvement in choosing to seize) from recovering their expenses for the care of the animal from its owner unless the owner is convicted of specific animal cruelty offenses. So if an animal owner abuses a pet and the Dumb Friends League pays for expensive vet care to save it, they may then be required to return the animal to the abuser and absorb all costs incurred if the abuser gets a plea deal that involves pleading guilty to a lesser offense.
As an interesting note, a later section of the bill provides for the stripping of an Animal Control officer’s commission if the officer pleads nolo contendre (no contest) to any charge of “moral turpitude.” But in the case of impoundment and costs of animal care, only a conviction counts–it’s okay to plead no contest to animal cruelty and get your pets back, with all costs of their care landing squarely on an overburdened nonprofit.
In Section 11, owners judged to be capable of providing for an animal that has been impounded, as well as fit to care for it, get their animals back free of charge–the requirement that they reimburse the impounding agency for costs of care is repealed. That goes for convicted animal abusers who make a deal to get some of their animals back, too.
Cruelty investigations and trials can drag on for months or years. Meanwhile, the agency caring for the animals seized can’t adopt them out and can’t euthanize them, unless it’s to relieve specific types of suffering or because they’re dangerous to humans. The rescue agency caring for impounded animals may in some cases receive a small stipend from the county, but will absorb additional costs, often including steep veterinary expenses.
Then–and I’ve seen this personally on more than a few occasions–all too often, a deal is struck where the suspect is convicted but the judge does not order forfeiture of his or her animals. If this bill passes, they get the animals back (again, even if CONVICTED of abusing them) without reimbursing the organization that has cared for them for any portion of costs incurred.
There are other ugly things in this bill, but this diary is getting long and vituperative already, so I’ll leave you with this:
Right now, an animal can be seized if “adequate veterinary care” is not provided. If you walk your dog and see someone else’s pet in their yard that obviously has a contagious, untreated disease, today you could call the Denver Dumb Friends League. They would investigate, and if indeed seriously ill without treatment, the animal could be removed from your neighborhood and treated.
If McKinley gets his way, you’ll be waiting on hold with an overburdened animal control department. You, a law-abiding citizen, will have paid a hefty dog license fee for this privilege, since the department isn’t getting free help anymore. If after a few weeks of waiting for an ACO to show up the dog is still alive, it might be removed and impounded at your local shelter, which will pay for its veterinary care. A few months later, your neighbor may well get the dog back to continue refusing to vaccinate it, endangering your family and pets, and your local animal shelter will be stuck with the bill for nursing it back to health.