MARTINEZ (KPIX) – When running for governor, Gavin Newsom promised to end the euthanasia of adoptable pets in shelters across the state. Now his proposed budget includes money to begin that process.

In 1999, California passed a law requiring that all healthy or medically treatable animals in shelters be adopted out instead of being killed. The problem is, the state never included enough money to actually accomplish that. The burden to lessen euthanasia fell completely on local communities when the state cut shelter funding during the recession in 2009.

“That’s where the challenge has been because that was mandated by law but the funding has never been there to support shelters to make that possible,” said Beth Ward, Director of Animal Services for Contra Costa County.

At their facility in Martinez, they’ve worked hard to promote spaying and neutering, and increase adoptions. She says no shelter wants to euthanize animals. It happens for one of three reasons.

“Euthanasia occurs either because an animal is severely ill or injured, or is a safety risk to the public, or there’s a lack of resources,” Ward said.

To address the resource issue, Governor Newsom has proposed $50 million over five years to support shelters, especially those in poorer, rural counties, so they won’t have to euthanize animals. Newsom has chosen Dr. Kate Hurley, Director of the Koret Shelter Medicine Program at UC Davis, to head up the proposed grant program.

“There are shelters where there are no spay and neuter services. They don’t have a facility and they don’t have a veterinarian,” Dr. Hurley said. “And so they’re just very limited. If they have to drive an hour away to be spayed or neutered to be adopted, it just limits the number of animals they are able to adopt out.”

If approved, the funding program could change that.

Dr. Hurley says even small investments can make a big difference. For example, the modest expense of doubling a cat’s enclosure can reduce illness by 90 percent, making them more adoptable and cutting the medical costs that often seal their fate.

The state isn’t banning euthanasia. The idea is to help shelters so they won’t feel the need to do it. Dr. Hurley believes, given proper support, shelters are happy to adopt the mission of helping pets find homes, rather than having to kill them.

“That’s the thing I have the most confidence about… the motivation of people working in shelters in this state,” she said. “There’s no limit to that resource.”

Contra Costa County is proving that it can work. Their efforts to increase adoption and spaying and neutering has dropped the number of animals euthanized from nearly 10,000 in 1999, down to only 800 in 2019.

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