A bill pending in the state House aimed at saving dogs and cats was characterized by some as a potential death sentence for those that are sick or have a spotty record of behavior.
House Bill 1160 would require shelters and pet rescues to abide by minimum standards: provide timely veterinary care and address behavioral needs of each dog and cat, then only adopt out, release or transfer any pet that's healthy and safe for others.
The House Agriculture, Livestock and Water Committee voted 10-1 and moves to the House floor.
While the bill was supported by a long list of shelters and associations, others asked for it to be tabled to work on more specific language, particularly to define safe and healthy, plus who gets to make that decision. The animals that don't meet the standard, they argued, could be marked for euthanasia.
Proponents said the bill would not stop a shelter from adopting out any animal, however. The bill doesn't have any funding for small shelters, does not deal with farm animals or affect individual's decisions about their personal pets.
"It only says that any healthy dog or cat that's out there that might have medical issues or behavioral issues — we're going to give them the best opportunity to be adopted to a forever home," said Rep. Monica Duran, D-Wheat Ridge, who is sponsoring the bill. "And we're going to take care of those needs while they're in the shelter or rescue, so they can be adopted."
Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta, said the minimum threshold doesn't restrict any shelter from doing more.
Duran said it "sets a floor, not the ceiling" for humane treatment.
"It's the best time to make sure they get the proper exam and treatment," she said, before they are adopted out.
The bill aims to avoid euthanizing animals, she said, but leaves that option available for when an animal is suffering and cannot recover.
"This way Colorado commits to the idea we will place every healthy and loving dog in a good forever home," Duran said.
The Socially Conscious Sheltering Act is supported by the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association.
"It will help Colorado deliver the best outcomes for all shelter and rescue animals by ensuring each animal is treated respectfully, does not suffer and that all safe and healthy animals are adopted," said Dr. Michelle Larsen, a past president of the Denver chapter of CVMA.
Doug Rae, the executive director of the Humane Society of Fremont County, said about 10% of the animals that come to his shelter wouldn't qualify under the proposed state law.
"Our shelter takes in the very young, the very old, the very sick, the badly injured, the not so friendly, and every animal in between," he said. "And we save about 97% every year I've been there. Not 90%."
Supporters of MaxFund Animal Adoption Center in Denver, a no-kill shelter, said the bill was too vague, including as to who decides if an animal is safe and healthy.
"MaxFund's mission is to care for the injured and abandoned that have been abused, neglected. They come from all over the local area, different states," said Kathy Gaines, the nonprofit's development director. "We have animals from all over the world at MaxFund, in fact.
"Now we feel compelled to fight, to use valuable resources to continue to take in animals other shelters reject."
Supporters of No Kill Colorado said smaller organizations will struggle. Many of them are volunteer organizations. Large shelters will have no problem paying for compliance, they said.
They asked for the bill to be canned until more shelters can have more input on a socially conscious policy that saves problem animals, instead of marking them for euthanasia, a claim the bill sponsors said the legislation would not do.
The state Department of Agriculture regulates pet breeders, groomers, trainers, boarders, shelters, rescues, transporters, sporting, recreational, exhibitors and sellers.
The state ag commissioner enforces minimum standards for facilities, including sanitation, ventilation, temperature, humidity, spacing and enclosure requirements, nutrition, humane care, disease control and medical treatment.
The state has eight inspectors for licensing and inspections for about 2,300 facilities statewide, according to bill analysts. The bill does not add staff or funding.
A separate piece of legislation pending in the Senate, House Bill 1102, aims to increase transparency in pet sales. The bill also would ban dog and cat sales at stores that hadn't previously sold them
Under the proposal, more information would be required on advertisements and on websites, including the purchase price, license information and other disclosures during the sale.
Duran and Soper sponsored the bill in the House, and Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, D-Longmont, in the upper chamber.