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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Signs of Progress in Annapolis

Last week, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed a bill that will help animal shelters in the Free State treat dogs and cats more humanely. Maryland’s previous law gave shelters access to the drugs used to euthanize animals, but not the drugs needed to sedate animals prior to euthanasia. The federal government yanked the licenses for shelters to obtain the sedatives last year, which left some animals seizing and partially awake during painful deaths, and made the process more dangerous for shelter workers.

Pitbull_3 Delegate Jon Cardin (D-Baltimore County) introduced emergency legislation to close this loophole in state law, and it flew through both the House and the Senate unanimously. Cardin and O’Malley were joined at the bill signing ceremony by Nancy Perry and Tami Santelli of The Humane Society of the United States, along with other Maryland animal advocates who worked toward the passage of this much-needed policy change.

As Delegate Cardin said, “I am pleased that Maryland lawmakers acted so quickly to pass this critical legislation. Granting Maryland animal shelters access to the drugs they need to safely and humanely euthanize animals is simply a matter of common sense and decency.”

When pet overpopulation forces animal shelters into the tragic situation of euthanizing animals, the least we can do is ensure that it is done humanely. It’s a credit to Maryland legislators that they swung into action to address this serious deficiency in the state's animal care laws.

It was also gratifying to see Governor O’Malley stand up for animals, since he has largely been a disappointment to animal advocates since he took office in 2007.

For one thing, he missed the opportunity to champion legislation that would have significantly toughened Maryland's anti-dogfighting law, providing felony penalties for spectators who fuel the dogfighting industry. These are the people who keep this awful industry alive, and they should be classified as felons in Maryland just as they are in 22 other states. Rather than lead, though, the governor was silent.

In the end, he did sign a watered-down version of the bill to upgrade the penalties for attending a dogfight from 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine—less than the punishment for stealing cable television, playing a game of craps, or racing a horse under a false name—to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. It's a step above a slap on the wrist, but still just a misdemeanor.

Bear_2 It was the governor's action, rather than his inaction, however, which most angered animal advocates last year, when O’Malley sanctioned the trophy hunting of bears. Maryland has only a few hundred bears living in the state, after they recovered from the brink of extinction decades ago. The governor allowed 51 of these rare creatures to be killed for their heads and hides in the 2007 trophy hunt, ignoring the many available methods of solving bear conflicts humanely.

Let’s hope the signing of the animal shelter bill is a portent of a more humane and forward-looking O’Malley Administration. There will be further public policy reforms for animals needed during next year’s legislative session in Annapolis. And a much more urgent course correction is needed before this fall when the trophy hunters once again set out into Maryland’s forests for their bearskin rugs.


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