Critics slam Bennett's animal euthanasia bill

Jan 12, 2012

A Florida Senator thought his bill to save the lives of stray animals as well as taxpayer dollars would sail right through its first committee stop. But, as Sascha Cordner reports, it drew angry opposition from animal lovers.

Republican State Senator Mike Bennett of Bradenton insists he’s an animal lover too.

“I happen to serve, have served in the past at Southeastern Guide Dogs. My wife is a volunteer there every single week. My wife and I love animals, we love dogs, and to just euthanize all of these animals without giving an opportunity, without going the extra-mile, to see if we can’t put more money into spaying and neutering and saving their lives. I think that we owe that. So, we were looking at a better way to do it, and I think that we should look at it.”

Bennett calls his bill the Florida Animal Rescue Act. It’s modeled after a California law that puts strict limits on animal euthanization.

Under the Bennett bill, animal control agencies or animal shelters may not euthanize an animal until they have notified, or attempted to notify, all rescue groups or persons on a euthanization registry.  The notification must take place at least 24 hours before the animal is scheduled to be euthanized. The idea is to exhaust every adoption possibility before the animal can be put down.

But, during the bill’s first stop, the Senate Community Affairs Committee meeting, many animal groups and animal lovers stood in opposition to the bill. That included Leon County resident David Ludder, who has fostered a number of shelter animals over the past few years. He says he had a problem with how the bill requires that every Florida animal control agency, 107 to be exact, create a registry.

“Many of these shelters transport animals cross county and even cross-state and to have 107 registries is going to create an awful complication that’s very inefficient. I would recommend the bill be revised to create one registry maintained by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.”

Ludder also says Bennett’s bill will cost Tallahassee $1.2 million, and he’s not sure what that could be for the rest of the state.  Lieutenant Jeff Doyle, Tallahassee’s Animal Control Supervisor agrees. He spoke on behalf of the Florida Animal Control Association:

“There will not be a cost savings to taxpayers under this bill, rather there will be significant costs incurred in order to comply with what would be an unfunded mandate. Initial projections show that the cost for animal sheltering in some communities could almost double. This bill mandates increased holding periods, which would ultimately lead to overcrowding in our shelters.”

Erika Luckington also lent her voice to the opposition. She is the Director of Tallahassee Animal Services, the only full-service animal shelter in the Big Bend region. She, along with most of the opponents, had a huge problem with the bill that called anyone with a certain tax status a “reputable shelter.”

“This act cites that any rescue with a 501-C-3 is automatically entitled to every animal on a euthanasia list. Unfortunately, there is no licensing agency or regulatory body that oversees animal rescue organizations in this state, and in a state where all you need is non-profit status and a web site to start up a rescue, that’s a very scary prospect.

Over the course of an hour, the opposition continued. Bennett’s bill did have one supporter in Cindy Harl. She’s an attorney for the First District Court of Appeal and has practiced animal law for several years. Harl says Bennett’s bill helps to address many things that have concerned her over the years at animal shelters.

“The bill brings an antiquated practice at least up to contemporary standards. It saves companion animal lives, taxpayer lies, governmental resources. And, overall benefits communities because it should significantly cut down on the number of animals killed in shelters. It’s in humane and not in the best interest and I urge you to support the bill.”

She made that comment, before Bennett decided to withdraw his bill and  revisit it at a later time. The bill’s first stop was the Senate Community Affairs Committe, which Bennett chairs. 

All the members of his committee including Senator John Thrasher admitted they would have voted unanimously for the bill. But, Thrasher says Bennett not putting the bill up to a vote this time around speaks volumes to how much Bennett wants to get the bill right.

"Think what he’s trying to do is intended to do the right thing, there may be some cost issues that we don’t know about and I know he says he said he’s willing to look at, but no one should leave here thinking that Senator Bennett does not care about the humane treatment of animals.”

Bennett was not happy, though, that none of the people who testified at the committee had talked to him about it first. So, he had a message for the critics of his bill:

“I would hope that they would get their act together and get us the information that they claim is out there. When our staff did the study, we thought that the statewide impact would be under 2-million dollars. They’re telling is the city of Tallahassee is a million and a half and we can’t figure where they’re coming up with those numbers.”

Bennett says he’s going to give those opposed to the bill a week to meet with him. And, if no one takes him up on his offer, he will move forward with getting his bill passed, as is, in the bill’s first committee stop.