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Davis, California

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Gov. Newsom proposes $50 million to make California ‘no-kill’ state for shelter animals

UC Davis Koret Medicine Program will help shelters decrease euthanasia rates with funds from state budget 

Whether it’s a cat at the shelter or a childhood dog, nobody likes to see an animal put to sleep. Since 1998, California policy has stated that no healthy or treatable animal should be euthanized, yet many shelters lack the resources or training to follow this policy. Gov. Gavin Newsom, however, wants to make this goal a reality with his newly proposed budget plan to make California a “no-kill” state for shelter animals. 

As part of the state budget, Newsom is proposing a one-time $50 million general fund allocation with the goal to minimize unnecessary euthanizations for shelter animals. If the budget is approved by June 15, UC Davis’ Koret Shelter Medicine Program (KSMP) will form a grant program for state-funded public municipal shelters across California. 

Newsom originally released this idea while campaigning, said Kate Hurley, the director of KSMP. In Newsom’s campaign and policy, the phrase “no-kill,” means that healthy or treatable animals will no longer be euthanized as a method of population control. 

Cindy Delany, a shelter veterinarian in KSMP, said that, if the proposal is approved, KSMP will work with shelters across California to spread the best practices for veterinary care and management to decrease the number of animals euthanized that could otherwise be adopted. They will focus on shelters that currently lack sufficient funds, staffing or programs to meet the demand of incoming animals. 

“A lot of shelters are doing great and have a decent amount of resources, but there are a lot that don’t have enough money [and] staff and those guys are facing particular challenges,” Delany said. 

Even after this policy is implemented, some euthanasia will still occur, since all shelters must put down animals with severe behavioral or medical problems. Delany explained that these animals are unable to live comfortably and are unadoptable.

“Euthanasia is used when we don’t want animals to die in pain, so we give them an injection and they go right to sleep,” Delany said. “It’s a privilege that we can stop their suffering.”

Delany said that the proposal focuses on ending the euthanasia of healthy, adoptable animals that are only put to sleep due to lack of resources and space in certain shelters.

“[Shelters] love animals and want to save their lives, but they do not always have the knowledge or tools they need to do what they want,” Delany said. “We can help them do their best work and save more lives.”

Phillip Zimmerman, the manager of the Front Street Animal Shelter in Sacramento, defines “no-kill” shelters as being able to save more than 90% of animals. This is harder for open emission shelters like Front Street since they are required to take all animals, however, the shelter was able to maintain a “no-kill” rate of a little over 86% last year. 

“Texas and California have the highest numbers of euthanasia in shelter animals, so it is a good thing to offer some resources to communities and it’s even a bigger blessing that it is going through the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program,” Zimmerman said. “They know the best programs in sheltering. They provide everything — good protocol and policy and proper housing of animals.”

Since 1979, KSMP has worked with shelters to combat the issue of unnecessary euthanasia. KSMP veterinarians assess shelter needs and help them implement the best veterinary and management practices specific to their facility. Each shelter and community has different needs, so programs need to be tailored to each place. However, certain practices have proven to work better than others, Delany said.  

The primary issue Delany sees in shelters involves providing efficient care to healthy animals so they can be adopted or returned to their previous homes as quickly as possible.  Another common issue seen at shelters is the lack of proper tools for spaying and neutering animals to decrease population sizes. 

“Shelters aren’t homes,” Delany said. “We try to make them as nice as we can, but the goal is to get animals in and then back out again in the best condition as possible so they can get on with their lives.” 

Prior to Newsom’s proposal, KSMP and similar programs have made many improvements for shelter animals in California. In 2008, 3.7 million animals were euthanized, but now euthanasia rates have dropped to under 200,000 animals a year, Hurley said. 

At a local level, after working with the Yolo County Animal Services Shelter in Woodland for about eight years, Delany has seen great improvement in the services offered at the shelter. Before KSMP helped the shelter, the euthanasia rate was at 50% but now the rate has dropped to 10%, meaning only animals with severe medical or behavioral cases are put to sleep. 

“It is really exciting to work with shelters all the time and see how they are doing and show them things that might work better for them,” Delany said. “We hear back in weeks to months and hear about how they are doing so much better.”

If the proposal is passed, KSMP will be able to continue their important work and reach more shelters across the state. Another benefit Zimmerman expects to see from the proposal is an increase of community involvement in shelters. When resources are given to shelters and positive change is seen, community members feel encouraged to volunteer and raise money.

“It catapults shelters into the limelight of communities, which increases life-saving [of the animals],” Zimmerman said. “[Shelters] can’t do all [the] work themselves, and communities need to step in.”

If passed, the grant will be a one-time payment, so Hurley wants to ensure the programs KSMP implements will have lasting benefits, especially for communities currently lacking sufficient resources to be “no-kill” shelters. Through these kinds of proposals and programs, Hurley hopes to see more equality of resources between communities for both animals and people in California.

“Fifty million dollars is a lot of money, but it is a fraction of what shelters spend each year,” Hurley said. “We want to make sure the investments are strategic and that there are ongoing benefits.”

In order for this policy to come into effect, the California state budget has to be voted on by June 15 and finalized by the state legislature elected by California citizens. As the first state to propose an idea like this, Hurley is excited to see California leading the way for shelter advancements and hopes other states will follow. 

“From our perspective, to be able to really work with all shelters in California and to be able to help shelters as a system and reach regions in the whole state as a system is very exciting,” Hurley said. 

Written by: Margo Rosenbaum — science@theaggie.org


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