IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: The letter was prepared by a lawyer; but, since the
lawyer does not know the facts of your particular situation, the letter is
not provided to you as legal advice. The letter is not provided to you as
any practice law but rather is provided to you only as a sample statement of
legal citations potentially relevant to animal shelter adoptions by rescue
groups. You may wish to consult an attorney to obtain legal advice about
your particular situation.
Your animal shelter is a public animal control agency or shelter, society for the prevention of cruelty to animal shelter, humane society shelter, or rescue group. You are therefore subject to the legal provisions of the California Food and Agriculture Code cited herein.
This letter is written because your shelter has made clear that it intends to violate, or has already violated, the California Food and Agriculture Code by refusing to adopt animals to a tax exempt non-profit organization recognized by the Internal Revenue Service under Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3), an animal rescue, or an adoption organization (hereafter referred to as "rescue group"). You claim that you have no obligation to adopt to a rescue group unless the rescue group has completed certain paperwork or is currently approved by you. Your claim is contrary to the clear provisions of the California Food and Agriculture Code.
California Food and Agriculture Code Section 17005 defines State policy that no adoptable animal shall be euthanized if the animal can be adopted into a suitable home. That Code Section also provides that no treatable animal ("any animal that is not adoptable but that could become adoptable with reasonable efforts") should be euthanized.
California Food and Agriculture Code Sections 31108(b) and 31752(b), with respect to dogs and cats, respectively, provide in pertinent part as follows:
31108(b) Except as provided in Section 17006, any stray dog that is impounded pursuant to this division shall, prior to the euthanasia of that animal, be released to a nonprofit, as defined in Section 501 (c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, animal rescue or adoption organization if requested by the organization prior to the scheduled euthanasia of that animal.
31752(b) Except as provided in Section 17006, any stray cat that is impounded pursuant to this division shall, prior to the euthanasia of that animal, be released to a nonprofit, as defined in Section 501 (c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, animal rescue or adoption organization if requested by the organization prior to the scheduled euthanasia of that animal.
The requirement that your shelter release animals to a requesting rescue group extends to owner-surrendered animals pursuant to California Food and Agriculture Code Section 31754, which extends the same care for owner-relinquished animals as is provided for stray dogs and cats under Sections 31108 and 31752, as follows:
31754(a) Except as provided in Section 17006, any animal relinquished by the purported owner that is of a species impounded by public or private shelters shall be held for the same holding periods, with the same requirements of care, applicable to stray dogs and cats in Sections 31108 and 31752, and shall be available for owner redemption or adoption for the entire holding period.
(b) Notwithstanding subdivision (a), kittens or puppies relinquished by the purported owner, or brought in by any other person with authority to relinquish them, to public or private shelters, may be available immediately for adoption.
(c) This section shall become operative on July 1, 2002.
Section 17006 provides in pertinent part as follows:
17006. Animals that are irremediably suffering from a serious illness or severe injury shall not be held for owner redemption or adoption. Newborn animals that need maternal care and have been impounded without their mothers may be euthanized without being held for owner redemption or adoption.
The California Food and Agriculture Code Section 17006 exception for animals irremediably suffering from a serious illness or severe injury is not open to discretion.
For purposes of Section 17006, the circumstances of irremediable suffering from severe illness or severe injury, or of unweaned animals without their mother, is not discretionary, cannot be arbitrary, must have medical justification, and may not be made for the purpose of avoiding the laws cited herein. Rather, the circumstances must be documented pursuant to the requirements of California Food and Agriculture Code Section 32003. You are subject to Section 32003 subject because you are a public pound or private shelter. Section 32003 provides as follows:
32003. All public pounds and private shelters shall keep accurate records on each animal taken up, medically treated, or impounded. The records shall include all of the following information and any other information required by the California Veterinary Medical Board:
(a) The date the animal was taken up, medically treated, euthanized, or impounded.
(b) The circumstances under which the animal was taken up, medically treated, euthanized, or impounded.
(c) The names of the personnel who took up, medically treated, euthanized, or impounded the animal.
(d) A description of any medical treatment provided to the animal and the name of the veterinarian of record.
(e) The final disposition of the animal, including the name of the person who euthanized the animal or the name and address of the adopting party.
These records shall be maintained for three years after the date the animal's impoundment ends.
It is important to note that California Food and Agriculture Code Section 17006 provides no exception to the requirement that you adopt any animal to rescue groups based on any behavioral or temperament issue. California Food and Agriculture Code Section 31752.5(c) does provide an option of releasing "truly feral" cats to a rescue group, and this option must be read in conjunction with the California Food and Agriculture Code Section 17005 statement of State policy in favor or adoption and against euthanasia.
I draw your attention to the express language of California Food and Agriculture Code Sections 31108(b) and 31752(b), and by its express reference Section 31754, which require release of animals to, "a nonprofit, as defined in Section 501 (c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, animal rescue or adoption organization." Clearly, there is no requirement that the rescue group be a 501(c)(3) entity, there is no requirement that the rescue group have entered into any agreement with you, and there is no option or discretion for you to impose any requirements beyond the group being one of the group types specified in the Code Sections. Thus, you are legally required to release animals to an animal rescue or adoption organization even if the group is not a 501(c)(3) and even if the group has not entered into an agreement with you. These Code sections deny you the authority to prevent release of animals to rescue groups, and attempts by you to impose this authority are illegal and clear violations of State law.
While we are sympathetic to and in agreement with your stated desire to ensure proper care of animals, we emphasize that you are not exempt from the provisions of the California Code Sections cited herein; in fact, these Code Sections are written precisely to bind shelters such as yours.
Rather than violating the State law by refusing to adopt to rescue groups when you are legally required permit those adoptions, we urge you to use more appropriate and legal means to better fulfill your role of monitoring the overall community for collectors, hoarders and abusers of animals. The law provides you with the tools to prosecute violations, and federal, state, and local laws impose requirements on rescue groups regarding spay and neuter, animal care, and licensing. We urge you to enforce those laws in order to prevent hoarding and animal abuse. We urge you to discontinue any plan to violate State law by refusing to adopt to rescue groups which have not executed an agreement with your shelter or which are not a 501(c)(3). The law does not give you this authority.
The law is clear. No shelter, including yours, is legally permitted to impose any additional requirement beyond what is stated in the cited law. You are legally prohibited from euthanizing any animal if a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, an animal rescue, or an adoption organization has requested the animal. This is the law without any regard to any agreement between you and a rescue group, without requirement of 501(c)(3) status, without regard to passage or failure by the animal of any temperament or other behavior test.
Our group intends to request to adopt animals from your shelter, and we expect compliance by you with the cited laws. We will document in writing all violations by you with the intent of seeking judicial enforcement of the law.