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Lisa Unleashed: New Law Brings Animal Shelters Under State Inspections

Published: July 2, 2017

Last week I attended a town hall meeting at the C.H. Booth Library hosted by Newtown’s three state representatives, Mitch Bolinsky, Will Duff, and JP Sredzinski. When I got there I was given a handout called “2017 Major Issues from the Office of Legislative Research.” The document broke down important new laws by category such as crime and law enforcement, housing, banking, veterans, etc. The first category listed was animals, which contained a new law called “An Act Requiring the Registration of Animal Shelters.”

The brief definition read: Under a new law, anyone who wants to operate or maintain an animal shelter in Connecticut must register with the agriculture commissioner and comply with regulations on sanitation, disease, humane treatment of cats and dogs, and public safety protection.” I decided to do some research on this new law, which goes into effect October 1, 2017.

In the case of this law, it’s not really a “new” law but adding language to an existing law, Section 22-344 of the Connecticut general statutes. In the 2017 session, the legislature repealed the whole law as is, and then replaced it with the exact same language, except they also added a new subsection adding animal shelters into the list of places that must be under state regulation regarding animals. Animal shelters now join commercial kennels, pet shops, grooming shops, training facilities, and most recently, animal importers. Animal importers were added to the list more recently when animals imported into the state for the sole purpose of resale/adoption in the rescue market were bringing in new diseases and putting public health at risk.

But why now to add animal shelters to the list. They have been around for decades. At the town hall meeting, one of the legislators explained that a fellow legislator went to adopt a cat from a private shelter and was appalled at the conditions she found. And thus, a new law is born.

But here’s where the new law gets interesting. The facilities of commercial kennels, pet shops, groomers, and trainers must be licensed and pay a licensing fee of $400 for a two-year license. They are also inspected by the Department of Agriculture to ensure that the facilities meet “regulations as the commissioner provides as to sanitation, disease and humane treatment of dogs or cats and the protection of the public safety.” These facilities when they initially apply for a license, must also be certified by the local zoning enforcement official that the business meets local zoning regulations.

However, the newly added animal importers and now animal shelters only need to “register” with the agriculture commissioner, for a mere $200 fee (half of the licensing), and not apply for a full-blown license. Why? What’s the difference? All people under this statute are caring for animals and should be held to the same standard. Let’s check out the newly revised statute and see if that’s true.
Here is the new language for inspections and you can see shelters have been added (bold is my emphasis):

The commissioner may, at any time, inspect or cause to be inspected by the commissioner’s agents any such commercial kennel, animal shelter, pet shop, grooming facility or training facility, and if, (1) in the commissioner’s judgment such kennel, shelter, pet shop, grooming facility or training facility is not being maintained in a sanitary and humane manner or in a manner that protects the public safety, (2) the commissioner finds that contagious, infectious or communicable disease or other unsatisfactory conditions exist…

Where are the animal importers in this law regarding inspections? Aren’t they to be inspected? Sort of. Read on:

The Commissioner of Agriculture may inspect any animal imported by an animal importer or any record required to be kept by such animal importer, provided such inspection shall not authorize the entry of the commissioner into the residence of such animal importer.

The Department of Agriculture can only inspect the animals of registered animal importers, because their sales are “open to the public or at an outdoor location, including, but not limited to, a parking lot or shopping center,” not the facilities where these dogs come from. Most of the animal importers registered with the state are Connecticut based, and can be found on the state’s website on its handy e-licensing portal. But many others are from states like Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia, and Mississippi.

So here’s my question; many of these animal importer groups are rescues that have no brick and mortar facility. Some are breed clubs utilizing a foster home situation to care for the animals in their possession.

However, there are others that are definitely private animal shelters with facilities where the public comes to buy/adopt dogs and cats. What will the incentive be — or how will the state enforce — these organizations to switch from being registered as animal importers to animal shelters where their facilities are subject to inspection by the Department of Agriculture? What if they are both?

According to the Department of Agriculture “At A Glance” report for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, the State Animal Control Unit conducted inspections of 168 pet shops, 404 pet grooming facilities, 219 commercial kennels, and 108 dog training facilities. The Licensing Unit processed applications and issued licenses and registrations of 204 animal importers, 269 commercial kennels, 140 training facilities, 430 grooming facilities, and 103 pet shops.

Will the animal importers be forced to switch over to register as animal shelters? Where will the resources for compliance under the new law come from in a state with a budget crisis of epic proportions? Only time will tell.

Lisa Peterson writes about horses, hounds and history at lisaunleashed.com; contact her at lisa@lisaunleashed.com.

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