UPDATED: Should Owners Have 30 Days to Reclaim Lost Pets?
Update: The Houston City Council has postponed the vote until March 26.
To change the ordinance, or not change the ordinance...
The Houston City Council is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a proposal that would eliminate a 30-day redemption period in the animal control ordinance allowing prior owners to reclaim animals that wind up in the city pound.
Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care officials proposed the amendment after the owners of a missing German shepherd sued a rescue group that pulled the dog from BARC and refused to return him. The case exposed a conflict in the existing ordinance, in which BARC -- like all municipal shelters -- has the right to euthanize animals after a 3- or 6-day holding period, but which technically gives prior owners a 30-day period to reclaim the animal.
Allowing the 30-day period to remain could have a chilling effect on personal adoptions and pulls from rescue groups, because BARC could not automatically guarantee ownership, BARC Spokesman Chris Newport says. The ordinance would allow BARC to assume ownership after the holding period, and thus be able to transfer ownership to an individual adopter or rescue group.
"We need to provide the greatest number of animals the greatest chance of getting into a new home. In order to do that, we need to be able to provide a degree of certainty to the rescue groups that work with us, that if they pull an animal from us, it's going to be good to go, and they're not going to get into a fight, or they're not going to be questioned" if an owner comes forward later, Newport says.
But opponents of the proposal call it an egregious governmental overstep that essentially allows missing pets to be seized without due process.
Leading the charge is self-proclaimed "dog lawyer" Zandra Anderson, whose legislative work on behalf of breeders, has made her a polarizing figure in the local animal rescue community. Anderson also represented Leah Purcell, the owner of the notorious dog sanctuary Spindletop, where authorities seized nearly 300 dogs found to be living in filthy conditions in August 2012. Authorities also learned that 38 dogs had suffocated in a building on the property in June 2012. (At no time during our coverage of the seizure did Anderson or Purcell release the names of those dogs; many owners whose dogs were not recovered in the seizure still have no idea what happened to them.)