Delaware Dialogue on Animal Welfare

A public dialogue on animal issues is starting in Delaware that would be the envy of activists in many states because of the key stakeholders involved and because it is open to the public.

Delaware’ s Animal Welfare Task Force, formed by the state legislature, is holding monthly public meetings on some issues of great importance to pet guardians, feral cat caretakers, No Kill advocates, and the general citizenry.  Just having open discussions like this would be an accomplishment in other states.

The Task Force includes state and local  elected officials, the Directors of Delaware’s five shelters and appointed citizens.  Excellent minutes of the meetings are provided on the state web page.

Before discussing the work ahead for the Animal Welfare Task Force, it is important to keep in mind that Delaware has an excellent legal foundation to protect homeless animals and a strong No Kill movement: 
  • Delaware’s Shelter Standards law is saving the lives of dogs and cats;
  • 4  of  the 5 Delaware shelters are No Kill;
  • 2 of the 3 shelters doing animal control are No Kill;
  • in Kent County, Safe Haven is consciously implementing the new model for animal control, as exemplified in Washoe County, Nevada; 
  • Clear mandates to protect animals are in Delaware laws: cruelty,  provision of shelter, food, and water; tethering controls; rabies control, including protection from rabies over-vaccination. 
  • Delaware has a state-funded spay/neuter program for income-eligible people and non-profits, and feral cats are neutered with those funds, as well as pets; 
  • Delaware law offers considerable protection to feral cats (see NKD article, “Delaware Stray and Feral Cats”); provides spay/neuter funds that can be used for feral cats, as well as pets; and currently, there are no Delaware laws that actively harm feral cats, such as cat licensing, leash laws, or feeding bans. 
All of this is an excellent foundation for the protection of companion animals, and hopefully, the majority of participants in the Animal Welfare Task Force can agree on that.  This is the common ground for future efforts to improve animal welfare in Delaware.
Philosophical Differences
Even with so much common ground, emotions run high in discussion of animal welfare issues because:
  • Americans are devoted to their pets, and most of us consider our pets to be family members, regardless of the legal construct that they are “property.” Children, slaves, and women used to also be “property.”
  • 3+ million cats and dogs are killed in animals shelters every year in America, which is profoundly upsetting to many Americans;
  • the No Kill movement is growing (see “American Dog” list of No Kill groups), and challenging the status quo of animal control and shelters;
  • as a result, the No Kill movement is controversial, like every other social movement in American history – abolition, women’s suffrage, civil rights, the environmental movement, etc.
  • emotions run high with all public policy issues related to life and death choices:  capital punishment, abortion, or “pulling the plug” in hospitals;
  • the down economy affects all public policy issues these days, although it is important to note that an ever-increasing number of animal shelters are going No Kill even in these tough economic times.
These philosophical differences among people concerned with animal welfare make the work of the Task Force challenging despite the progress that Delaware as made so far.  

The Work of the Animal Welfare Task Force
The Task Force was established by Resolution No. 44 to:

“consider and evaluate the state of animal welfare in Delaware, including the resources devoted to animal welfare services and whether consolidation, collaboration, or reorganization can lead to more effective use of limited resources.”

Resolution No. 44 further states that the Task Force will consider the following issues:   (this is the language from the Resolution put into bullets to make it easier to read):

  • “Delaware’s animal cruelty laws, including the authority and oversight of animal control officers;
  • shelter standards law implementation and enforcement;
  • dog control laws and oversight, including dog licensing practices;
  • the state spay/neuter program; and
  • whether and how to better coordinate, communicate, and fund the various responsibilities, including what state agencies should be responsible for any state level authority and oversight.”

Citizen Involvement
Citizens can participate in the Task Force in a number of ways:

  • Task Force meetings are open and minutes of the meetings are prepared;
  • there are public comment periods at the end of the meetings;
  • there are citizen representatives included on the Task Force;
  • a public hearing will be held by the Task Force;
  • citizens can contact the elected state and local government officials serving on the Task Force.
  • Any changes to Delaware law will offer citizen participation through the legislative process.

Thus, No Kill advocates have many opportunities to voice their concerns.  The No Kill Delaware blog will be addressing many of the issues involved in separate articles as the Task Force proceeds with their work.

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