Animals and Insects

Proposed law addressing animal euthanasia crisis passes first test

Animal shelters are severely understaffed and out of space, driving euthanasia rates higher.

Proposed law addressing animal euthanasia crisis passes first test
Scripps News

Thousands of animals facing euthanasia in overcrowded California shelters may soon be getting help.

This week a proposed bill that would require shelters to give 72-hours advance notice before an animal is put down got one step closer to becoming law after unanimous approval by California's Assembly Business and Professions committee.

The proposed law is called Bowie's Law, named after a puppy named Bowie, who was mistakenly put down by a Los Angeles County Shelter despite an effort to save him by the Underdog Heroes rescue group founded by Shoshi Gamliel. 

"We were just devastated. And that went viral, and somehow got picked up by everybody, which I'm glad it did. But this isn't an isolated incident," Gamliel says.

Across the country, statistics gathered by shelter monitoring groups show more animals are coming in than leaving. Fewer people are adopting, as the economy drives up the cost of pet ownership. Shelters themselves are severely understaffed and out of space, driving euthanasia rates higher.

"Last year was the worst we saw in the past four years," said Shelter Animals Count executive director Stephanie Filer. "When you think about millions of animals in the shelter system, it's hundreds of thousands of animals."

At one shelter in Riverside County California the rate of healthy dogs and cats put down more than doubled from 6% in 2021, to more than fifteen percent last year. Rescue groups say dozens of animals can be put down at any moment with little notice.

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"I feel like they're the worst shelter I've ever dealt with," Gamliel says. "It's stressful, because you have like a day to figure it out. With Riverside, it's like, surprise, thirty dogs were killed on Valentine's Day."   

Riverside County officials did not respond to Scripps News when asked to comment Thursday.

California state Assemblyman Bill Essayli introduced Bowie's Law, and on social media, highlighted Scripps News reporting to rally support for the vote.

"Bowie's Law passed its first critical test," Essayli says. "The whole point of Bowie's Law is that there's fair notice to the public and rescues before healthy and adoptable pets are euthanized."

California's largest shelter association says mandating a 72-hour notice before an animal is put down will burden already-overcrowded shelters. Bowie's Law, the association says, will make the problem worse.

"This bill will increase euthanasia," testified Karen Lang, representing the California Animal Welfare Association. "They will have to manage for space prospectively going forward on a 72-hour basis. They will always have to have room, which means they will always have to euthanize more animals to make space for them."

Essayli says rescue groups and shelters are striving for the same goal.

"We're in a crisis right now, and we want to save as many pets as we can by adopting or at least fostering," Essayli says. "Shelters aren't the enemy. We want to be partners with the shelters and find a solution that works for everyone."

Bowie's Law won't become law until it passes an additional committee vote and both houses of the California legislature before landing on the desk of Governor Gavin Newsom. Essayli says he is confident it will pass.