AB487/SB450 Signed Into Law, Reducing Wisconsin’s Stray Hold From Seven Days to Four Days

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On March 1, 2016, Governor Walker signed AB487/SB450 into law. It is now called Act 233 and you can read the entire text of the law by clicking on this link.

This bill was drafted with help from  the Wisconsin Humane Society and the Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission (MADACC). The Wisconsin Humane Society operates 3 shelters (Ozaukee, Racine and Milwaukee) although the Milwaukee shelter does not take in lost pets.  MADACC serves the 19 municipalities of Milwaukee County and houses the lost pets for Milwaukee county.

The original intent of the bill was to improve the outcome for dogs seized from dog fighting situations (often called Court Case dogs) in Wisconsin.  This was a much needed change because the previous law did not give these dogs a chance to be fairly evaluated and possibly adopted into a new home.

Although the bill’s intent was good (to protect the Court Case dogs), a paragraph that was added that would reduce the mandatory stray hold for all lost pets from 7 days to 4 days made the bill a very contentious issue with the animal-loving public.  People felt that 4 days was not enough time to find your lost pet in the shelter system, especially bearing in mind that many lost pets do not end up in the shelter system for weeks or possibly even months after they have gone missing. Also, Good Samaritans that find the pet, may take it outside of the jurisdiction to entirely the wrong stray holding facility.

Our position at Lost Dogs of Wisconsin was that much more was needed to be done to improve the system for lost pets FIRST, before reducing the stray hold. (you can read our position statement here). Unfortunately, because of the reduced stray hold, the animal loving public will be even more reluctant to take animals  that they find to their local shelter, making it more difficult for owners to find their missing pets.

We liked the suggestion made by the Wisconsin Federated Humane Societies (WFHS), that a working committee should be formed to discuss changes to  this and other parts of the state’s animal control laws, with input from stakeholders around the state.

Two national organizations, the Humane Society of the United States and Best Friends Animal Society supported the bill although neither of these operate shelters in Wisconsin nor supported the WFHS in their attempt to gather input from the whole state.

All of the proponents of the bill asked their supporters to pass it unamended.  An 11th hour amendment was introduced by six Representatives; Spreitzer, Genrich, Hebel, C.Taylor, Wachs and Jorgenson; that would prohibit shelters from putting an animal down until the 7th day unless it was humanely necessary.  Some tweaking on the wording resulted in the final amendment saying that an animal could be put down before the 7th day if it was for humane reasons or considered a threat to staff, volunteers or public safety.

Proponents of the bill took credit for this amendment in their press release although they had really wanted the bill to pass unamended with full legal ability to put down an animal they deemed “unadoptable” on the 5th day.  If they had truly wanted the amendment they would have proposed it months earlier.

One of the main arguments used by proponents of the bill was that only 1% of animals who entered animal control in Milwaukee, Ozaukee, and Racine Counties in 2014 were reclaimed on days 5-7 of their stray hold. Proponents of the bill also suggested that reclaim rates were so low for cats (less than 2%) that it really wasn’t worth bothering to try to reunite them with their owners but instead it was better to  quickly prepare them for new homes.

We took strong offense with this, because although we focus on dogs, we know that cat owners are just as much attached to their cats as dog owners are. MADACC’s reclaim rate for dogs was only 29% in 2014.   We argued  that there was much work that could be done to improve the reclaim rate to bring reclaim rates in line with what other successful shelters are doing.  Other progressive animal control agencies around the country have a 50% + return to owner (RTO) rate for dogs and 9-13% RTO for cats.

The data supporting the 1% claim was never made public and  in fact, the Wisconsin Humane Society refused an Open Records Request to provide statistics even though they receive $250,000 per year from the City of Racine to provide animal services.   Wisconsin is a large state with 72 counties. This statement only referred to 3 southeastern Milwaukee Counties.

The Fox Valley Humane Association which serves Appleton and many communities in Outagamie County and the Fox Valley recently released data that seems to reflect a different scenario.

“In 2015 FVHA had a 68% reclaim rate for dogs and a 10% reclaim rate for cats. Dogs stayed an average of 2.1 days and cats stayed an average of 5.8 days. The Fox Valley Humane Association will continue to hold all strays 7 days as a service to their owners.”  Deb Lewis, Executive Director

It is disturbing to think that if the FVHA data gives any indication of what can be happening in other parts of Wisconsin, given the average lost cat is not reclaimed until after the sixth day, many cats may not make it back home with the new 4 day stray hold.  Return to owner rates around the country for cats are lower than dogs  for many reasons, but not because a cat’s owner loves them any less than a dog’s owner.  It has more to do with the number of feral cats entering shelters, the lack of uniform terminology to describe cat’s coat color,  and the number of indoor/outdoor cats that may take a day or two for owners to worry about them.

We are very thankful that there are shelters in Wisconsin, like the Fox Valley Humane Association,  who are striving to maintain the human/animal bond by getting lost pets back home instead of supporting a cookie cutter approach that may not reflect the current situation in our state.

Since we now have even less time to help owners find their missing pets, we will strive to work faster and smarter.  We thank those shelters who support us and believe in our mission.  We are also extremely grateful to our fans and volunteers who watch our page and make matches between missing and found dogs.  Thank you for your compassion and your support.

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