Animal rights supporters across the state are praising new regulations on the care and treatment of animals in Delaware shelters.

Across the state and the country, animal rights supporters are praising legislation passed by the General Assembly in June to codify rules for the treatment and care of animals in Delaware shelters.

Senate Bill 280 establishes uniform standards and rules for shelters and makes euthanasia a last resort for animals that can’t be adopted, transferred to other shelters or handed over to rescue and foster care groups.

The bill passed with unanimous votes in both houses and Gov. Jack Markell, who enthusiastically supports the measure, plans to convene a signing ceremony in the coming weeks.

Shelter administrators say the new standards will drive down euthanasia numbers and put Delaware on the road to becoming the first “no kill” state in the country.
Delaware’s five animal shelters all declared their support for the bill and acknowledged that, although many of the rules outlined in the bill are already being followed, the legislation contains significant improvements.

Jane Pierantozzi, executive director of Faithful Friends animal shelter in Wilmington, said she’s particularly encouraged by language in the bill that will require shelters to administer vaccinations within eight hours of an animal’s arrival.

“One of the very critical things in this law is vaccinating dogs and cats. It’s one of the best laws in the country,” she said.

Animals vaccinated quickly are more likely to survive in the shelter, she added.

“They can catch those [diseases] when they come in your shelter, they’re expensive to treat and [the animal] can end up dying,” she said.

Under the legislation, shelters also will be required to hold found animals for three days to give owners a better shot at reclaiming their pets.

In addition to checking for identification tags, markings and electronic chips and trying to contact an animal’s owner, the shelters will have to maintain lost and found lists online.

After five days, the shelter can euthanize an unclaimed animal, but only if there is no available space to house the animal and it can’t be handed over to a private rescue group or placed in foster care.

Nathan Winograd of the San Francisco-based No Kill Advocacy Center said SB 280 makes Delaware’s shelter regulations the most comprehensive in the country.

“It’s going to be the spark that causes other states to follow suit, we really see it as groundbreaking on the part of Delaware,” he said. “I think the rest of the country is going to build on the framework.”

Winograd’s group advocated for the passage of a 1998 California law that requires shelters to attempt to hand animals to rescue groups before euthanizing them.

“This takes a step beyond California, making Delaware the most progressive and forward-thinking state in the country,” he said. “Our prediction is that Delaware is going

to become the first no-kill state.”

But it’s likely to take time before Delaware earns that distinction.

To be recognized as no-kill, shelters in the state can only euthanize, at most, 10% of the animals they take in, mainly for health and safety reasons.

While Faithful Friends and other independent shelters hit the 10% target, euthanasia rates at some Delaware shelters are much higher.

The Kent County SPCA, which holds state and local animal control contracts, euthanized approximately half of the 15,000 animals it took in last year, according to shelter Director Murrey Goldthwaite.

He said its more difficult for shelters with animal control contracts to reduce their euthanasia rates, simply because of the sheer number of animals they take in.

But Goldthwaite is hopeful the legislation will foster greater cooperation between shelters, especially a provision that requires shelters to devote their “best efforts” to giving space to Delaware dogs and cats, as opposed to animals brought from other states.

“The community is bringing them here, and we also pick up the strays,” Goldthwaite said of his shelter. “We’re bringing other [states’] animals in and we’re killing our own; it’s not the animal’s fault.

The Delaware SPCA has locations in New Castle and Sussex counties, and also holds an animal control contract for the city of Wilmington

Executive Director Anne Cavanaugh said the other parts of the legislation will strengthen bonds between shelters regardless of public contracts and formalize relationships with the rescue community.

“It will help us to be able to transfer animals between shelters; we’ll know they’ll be properly vaccinated when they come in. It’s a little insurance for all of us,” she said. “We already have a relationship with as many rescues as we can find, I think the thing that’s going to change is it’s a more formal relationship.”

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