Stockton’s Shelter Dogs Finally Get Their Day in CourtPosted by Jenni James, ALDF Litigation Fellow on March 11, 2014
Today the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed suit against the City of Stockton to bring an end to the suffering of the City’s forgotten shelter animals. In January 2013, ALDF alerted the City to various violations of state and local laws that require proper veterinary care and a meaningful chance at adoption for the City’s shelter animals. Demand letters sent by ALDF’s pro bono attorneys were answered first by silence, then by denials, and finally by excuses. We got the message loud and clear—the City doesn’t intend to follow the law.
At the heart of our dispute is California’s Hayden Act, which aims to facilitate the adoption of healthy animals. The Act requires the humane treatment of all shelter animals and promises veterinary care to suffering animals. Yet a review of Shelter records shows that veterinary treatment there is inconsistent, increasing with an animal’s likelihood of adoption. As a result, during a six‑month period in 2013, 246 animals with minor or treatable conditions were euthanized instead of adopted. People like ALDF’s co‑plaintiffs, who opt to adopt less popular breeds, bear the burden of providing veterinary care themselves.
The City also violates its own municipal code, which sets the minimum holding period for animals that enter the Shelter. This holding period is meant to allow ample time for cats and dogs to connect with a family. It starts at six business days but can be reduced to four if an animal is made available to the public on the weekend or late on a weekday. Since the Shelter is never open late on a weekday, this shorter period seldom applies. According to the City’s law, animals may not be euthanized before the holding period expires. According to the City’s lawyers, the holding period is more a suggestion than a rule.
As the City shirked its duties, 1,500 animals were prematurely euthanized in one year alone. Dogs labeled “pit bull” have the highest euthanasia rates—80% die after they are left to languish in the Shelter’s back room, separated from the public by a locked door, rarely getting a chance to find a forever home. These dogs deserve better, and so do the people of Stockton.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund has sued to enforce the Hayden Act and other shelter laws in the past. In April 2011, ALDF sued the City of Palm Springs, California, for violations at the Palm Springs Animal Shelter, where euthanasia rates were high and record keeping was poor. Since settling the dispute in June 2012, the Palm Springs Animal Shelter has become a no-kill facility worth bragging about. We look forward to the same positive change in Stockton.