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Bowie's Law: Proposed legislation aims to prevent healthy animals in shelters from being euthanized

Proposed legislation aims to prevent healthy animals in shelters from being euthanized without notic
Proposed legislation aims to prevent healthy animals in shelters from being euthanized without notic 03:19

SACRAMENTO — Each year, thousands of animals are adopted out, but not all can be saved. Animal advocacy groups and now lawmakers want to try and stop that.

Julie Virga showed us pictures of dogs she's helped and those she still hopes to. She's a real estate broker who rescues and advocates for animals out of her home in the Pocket area.

"I've rescued, spayed, neutered, adopted out and saved hundreds of animals," she said. "I've kind of done my own version of being a shelter."

Virga's excited about a new bill to prevent more healthy animals from being euthanized. The legislation is based on a story out of Los Angeles County where a four-month-old puppy named Bowie was reportedly put down by mistake after a rescue had expressed interest in taking him.

"I just thought this was totally senseless, unnecessary and easily avoidable," said Assemblyman Bill Essayli.

Essayli is the author of AB 595, known as Bowie's Law. He said there are no public notice requirements when it comes to euthanasia.

"This law would create a notice requirement and simply say that before a healthy dog or cat is put down, the shelter has to post on their website 72 hours ahead of time of their intention to put that animal down," he said.

If they don't, they would face a criminal violation. He said shelters have an obligation to communicate with the public when it comes to adopting and fostering.

"The reality is every shelter is doing whatever they can with the resources they have, but there are a lot of underlying issues that prevent shelters being as successful as they could with life-saving," Ryan Hinderman said.

Hinderman, with Front Street Animal Shelter, said a lack of veterinary care, breed restrictions in rental housing and increased costs are factors. In 2022, they took in more than 7,600 animals — half of them were dogs. Statistics show 744 were euthanized, with 50 dogs and 30 cats in December alone.

Hinderman said the majority were either unsafe to adopt out or were suffering from an untreatable health condition. Like other shelters we spoke with, they are doing everything they can to provide positive outcomes for adoptable animals, touting their so-called live release rate (a percentage of dogs taken in versus adopted out).

"In 2022, we had the highest success rate for dogs we've had in the history of the shelter at 93%," Hinderman said. "Compare that to a little over a decade ago, we were at saving about 30%."

He wasn't sure how the 72 hours' notice will impact the animals yet, but he said he feels the second part of the bill, which would conduct a study of the underlying issue of overcrowding, is needed.

"So [we're] looking at some long-term solutions, whether we need more vets, vet schools, encouraging more people to become vets or lower the burden or the cost of spay and neuters," Essayli said.

Virga said Bowie's Law will put more teeth into shelter reform law.

"I hope this will open up the door to an open, transparent conversation about what's really going on at a lot of shelters and ultimately save lives," she said.

There is bipartisan support for the bill. It's expected to be heard in committee in a few weeks. 

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