Fate of Kentucky Animal Shelter Bill HB471 Uncertain

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There may be “salvation in Salvisa” for animals that find themselves without a home (according to a recent ACE cover story), but the same can’t be said for several other areas of the state. As a result, many counties are battling animal overpopulation problems with little help from local shelters like the one provided here by Lexington’s Humane Society. The reason for this is simple: such facilities don’t exist.

In an attempt to address this issue, Rep. Kathy Stein (D-Lexington) sponsored HB 471 which would create an Animal Shelter Trust Fund to support the development and improvement of animal shelters across Kentucky and establish a state Animal Control Advisory Board to set minimum standards for these shelters. The bill has received favorable support thus far, from both legislators and the public, except on one crucial point. The original bill called for a one percent surtax on pet food to fund the program, but an amendment later deleted this aspect of the bill. In effect, the message from the legislature is that animal shelters are good but not when it comes to paying for them. At press, the bill was en route to the Senate floor. But without any means of funding the program, there is concern that the bill will begin to lose support.

Why should animal shelters be of concern to Kentuckians? First of all, only about half of the state’s counties have animal shelters. Additionally, some of those counties with shelters suffer from inadequate facilities due to a lack of funding. Added to this is the fact that there are no standards by which these shelters must operate. For example, not all shelters sterilize their animals before adoption. As a result, reproduction is rampant, and the consequent overpopulation leads to many undesirable effects.

Stan Petrey, co-founder of the Home at Last no-kill animal shelter featured in a recent ACE cover story, says that the terrible reality of animal overpopulation is “sick, malnourished and mistreated animals.”

Randy Skaggs heads the Trixie Foundation, a no-kill animal shelter in Grayson, the largest of its kind in this part of the U.S. According to information cited on the Foundation’s webpage, (www.eastky.net /trixie-foundation), more than 70,000 kittens and puppies are born each day in the U.S. Of these, only one in five will spend its life in a responsible home. As for the other 80 percent, “Most end up scavenging for food, living a shortened life, or dying alone through some misfortune.”

In a perfect world, all animal shelters would ideally be no-kill, but even the existence of any adequately run shelter would greatly eliminate the overpopulation problem by spaying or neutering the animals that come into its center, while at the same time providing these animals with the opportunity to find a proper home. Although euthanasia would likely occur in many shelters, Petrey notes that “euthanasia is down due to aggressive pro-animal campaigns.”

Also, Skaggs says HB 471 is “a good first step” because it finally provides some much needed definitions. According to Skaggs, 1954 laws requiring communities to have an animal control officer and a dog pound are often worthless because there are no established criteria to define these terms.

As a result, many communities do not have full time control officers, and a dog pound may not constitute anything more than “a rope around a tree.” Thus, too many communities have inadequate means of controlling stray animals and the threat of overpopulation.

The effects of animal overpopulation are not felt by the animals alone. Petrey admits that there is “a tremendous emotional toll” in the work he does. “But,” he says, “we have to do something to help these animals.”

For many Kentuckians, the graphic images of puppies in rural Kentucky being ruthlessly shot to death persist to this day. In 1996, this led to overwhelming support for and passage of a resolution to establish the Animal Control and Care Task Force. Today, the need to continue this trend with support for animal shelters is evident. Unfortunately, state legislators didn’t see taxation as the best means of funding such efforts.

Although there was the suggestion that money could be appropriated from the state’s General Fund, the popular feeling now is that funding for the bill will likely have to be addressed at the 2000 General Assembly. The bill recently did receive $50,000, but this will provide only a meager start toward reaching the bill’s goals. In the meantime, Kentucky may want to look at efforts made by other states to support shelters and control population.

New Jersey, for example, supports its Population Control Fund with money raised by a special vanity license plate for vehicles.



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