This commentary was submitted by Melodie Zentall and Monique Winther, president and vice president, Kentucky Coalition for Animal Protection; Melissa Bowman, president of Kentuckians Vote for Animals; and Michele Newtz, founder of Bluegrass Animal Welfare Advocacy Group.
The March 10 article entitled “Many animal shelters failing to meet basic standards” commented on a recent study by the University of Kentucky Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory partnering with the veterinary school at Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee.
The study found that only 12 percent of Kentucky’s county-run shelters met the minimum standards established by the 2004 Humane Shelter Act (KRS 258.119). That law gave shelters a total of three years to comply.
But the failure of so many of them to be in full compliance 13 years later comes as no surprise because the statute includes no provisions for oversight, no enforcement mechanisms, no penalties for violations, or even a dedicated source of funding for implementing the standards. One only needs to add to the matter the powerful and often conflicting impact of state and local politics to begin to understand the non-compliance of many Kentucky shelters.
Some of the detected problems include grievously deficient and overpopulated facilities, failure to provide adequate animal care, under-trained shelter personnel, lack of recordkeeping and insufficient public access to allow for return to owner and adoption.
Confronted with such a dismal situation for homeless animals in our state, any concerned citizen might feel overwhelmed and defeated. However, we must always remember that “United We Stand.” We, citizens of this commonwealth, must come together to present educated and well-reasoned arguments to our legislators who are responsible to us and empowered by us through the ballot box to act upon our recommendations.
Some dedicated Kentuckians have already begun to build the foundation for a shelter reform movement.
In addition, during the 2017 session of the legislature, one senator and four representatives sponsored the introduction of resolutions which would have established a Shelter Oversight and Pet Overpopulation Task Force, composed of state and local government representatives and stakeholder groups, charged with reviewing and discussing existing problems at shelters and reporting back with recommendations addressing possible solutions to each.
However, both resolutions died in the Agriculture Committee of their respective chamber without ever having been called for a hearing. Regardless, it is imperative that concerned Kentuckians resolve to keep the momentum going.
Each one of us needs to contact and meet in person with our House representative and senator during the upcoming intersession months. We must aim at educating them about the crucial importance of shelter reform and the benefits that would be offered by a task force in order to attempt to rally their assistance in the 2018 legislative session.
Clearly, each one of us has the power to make a difference for the homeless animals of Kentucky.