Massachusetts’ Proposed Rescue Rules: Bad for Animals and the People Who Love Them

Proposed regulations in Massachusetts that state officials say will benefit animals have shelters and rescues worried about what their real impact on homeless animals will be if they are implemented and whether they will end up backfiring and shutting some organizations down.

The new regulations, proposed by the Division of Animal Health, are intended to reduce the risk of disease transmission and the number of sick animals adopted out, but the proposed rules way overstep their bounds in some areas and are contradictory in others.

Most of the regulations deal with transferring ownership when animals are adopted. Animals with infectious diseases or a “serious behavior issue or concern” won’t be adopted out, while all animals will come with a disclosure statement covering medical and behavioral issues. If an animal has a non-contagious disease, it can be adopted out, but must come with an estimate for treatment. Furthermore, every animal, whether or not they’re sick, must come with a veterinarian-certified health certificate that has been signed no more than 30 days before they are adopted.

Some of these provisions sound reasonable in theory. However, in reality they’re going to be a huge burden, a nightmare to manage and a likely death sentence for many homeless animals.

Some of the organizations opposing the rules, including the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA), Animal Rescue League of Boston, Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society, Second Chance Animal Shelter and All Dog Rescue, among others, have raised a number of concerns about many of the new rules. They believe the requirement for a health certificate 30 days before an adoption will add a huge financial strain to rescues and shelters and don’t necessarily even ensure a perfectly healthy pet anyway. For animals who aren’t adopted out within 30 days, there will have to be multiple vet visits. According to the Massachusetts Animal Coalition, “a mid- to large- size organization using conservative estimates would expect to spend more than $100,000 per year for veterinary costs, as well as for animal care costs associated with increased lengths of stay.”

As far as rules regulating the transfer of sick animals, some believe it will only backfire when it comes to spreading diseases because animals will be stuck in shelters longer, and one of the fastest ways to spread something contagious is keeping them in group housing. The MSPCA points out in an open letter that the goal is to get them out of there as fast as possible, which is why the Association of Shelter Veterinarians recommends doing just that, even if it means bypassing an exam.

“So many cats have upper respiratory conditions that get activated at times of stress, like in a shelter,” Dr. Cynthia Cox, the head shelter veterinarian at the MSPCA, told the Boston Globe. “Under the terms of these regulations, we wouldn’t be able to adopt them out. But you have to get them out of the shelter, out of the stressful situation, to get better. I think this is going to lead to a lot of animals getting unnecessarily euthanized.”

Another huge problem is that rescues and shelters would be required to give the names of foster parents to the Department of Agriculture, and foster homes would be subject to state inspection without limitation, which some groups believe violates civil rights, is an unnecessary government intrusion and will cost organizations foster homes. People who step up to foster are obviously critical to rescue efforts, especially in the case of organizations that operate solely through these volunteer networks without an actual facility. Unfortunately for the animals who need them, some who foster are already saying they will stop if these rules are imposed.

They also take issue with the state interfering with behavioral assessments, which not only have nothing to do with diseases, but can be completely subjective.

Those are just some of the major issues with these rules. In all, the ones that would be imposed are tougher than those required for even pet stores and breeders and go beyond regulations in every other state. Even veterinarians’ offices don’t meet some of the criteria for housing requirements, like no impervious surfaces, which would include carpeting and drywall. Meanwhile, pet stores and breeders aren’t facing any changes, even though they’re also responsible for transporting sick animals and selling them to new families.

Rescuers opposing the new regulations aren’t against taking new measures to deal with people or organizations that cause problems and shouldn’t be involved in rescue. They are, however, opposed to the state implementing these regulations as they are written and have suggested alternative measures for some situations, such as targeting specific groups that adopters have complained about or are a known source of specific diseases, and creating uniform training for shelters and rescues about disease transmission and prevention.

There are already quarantine requirements on the books for animals who come in from out of state to help prevent the spread of contagious diseases. Making it more difficult and costlier for rescues and shelters to keep saving animals than it is for for-profit businesses to keep pumping them out isn’t going to help any animals in the long run; It’s only going to lead to more dying needlessly.

The public comment period closed this week, but the proposed rules still have to be approved by the governor’s office. For more information, visit the Massachusetts Animal Coalition.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing

Silvia Steinhilber

Instead of imposing regulations that make things more difficult for rescues and the animals they are trying to help, why don't they impose regulations that would discourage animal abuse and abandonment? ie much harsher sentences, higher fines......

Katherine Wright
Katherine Wright4 years ago

Is there a petition that we can sign???????? I want to make my voice heard.

Susan T.
Susan T4 years ago

I agree Where is the Petition????

and why does the government need to stick its nasty little paws into everything good and F it up?

I pray for the animals that will be harmed by this.

GGma Sheila D.
GGmaSAway D4 years ago

Where's the petition??????

Lisa B.
Lisa B.4 years ago

when a rescue takes on the commitment of pulling an animal into their care, they already know the costs. don't make it harder to help a sick animal that a rescue is willing to cure.

Chazz York jr
Chazz York4 years ago

Mass. is definitely dropping the ball on the animals and those who love them. How horrible.

John Doucette
John Doucette4 years ago

From the comments of the shelters and rescue organizations, I wonder if these people were consulted prior to coming up with these regulations? It wouldn't be the first time some law or regulation was put in place without consulting before hand those it will affect. Non-profits are already having a hard time, why make it more difficult?

Lynn C.
Lynn C4 years ago