Under the stewardship of its leader Marcia Mayeda, the Los Angeles County Department of Animal
Care and Control has careened from one ill- conceived policy to another. The latest came in a directive issued last week by Harold W. Holmes to all DACC shelter managers. Mr. Holmes wrote:
It has recently come to my attention that there may be some confusion regarding microchip registration and animal ownership. While microchip registration is a valuable tool in determining legal ownership, having my name associated with a microchip for an animal does not always mean that I own the animal….Often times, a breeder or a rescue will have a clause in their adoption contract that says they have a ‘right of first refusal’ on the animal. That means before I can transfer the animal that I adopt from them, I have to first offer to give it back to the breeder/rescue. That is a contract between the adopter and the rescue/breeder. It does not have any impact on what we do. It does not give the breeder/rescue any legal claim on the animal that comes into our care—whether as a stray or as an owner relinquishment. …Breeders and rescues will sometimes also list themselves as the secondary contact with a microchip company. This may or may not be connected to a ‘right of first refusal’ clause in the adoption contract. Just like the clause in the contract, being listed as a secondary contact is not evidence of ownership. When a breeder or rescue ‘adopts’ an animal to a new owner that is a complete and total transfer of ownership. The breeder/rescue gives up all legal right to the animal. The fact that we cannot locate the owner of a stray that we have in our care center, does not allow the breeder/rescue to claim ownership of it. We can certainly contact the breeder/rescue to attempt to locate the owner (sometimes the only info the microchip company has is the breeder/rescue), but that does not give the breeder/rescue any claim to the animal. The breeder/rescue should be treated like any other member of the public and allowed the same opportunity for adoption, but no more.
The DACC’s attempt to abridge the ownership rights of pet ownership is not only disingenuous it violates the law. Upon receiving this disturbing missive, I wrote Holmes the following:
I have been forwarded the new policy the DACC promulgated concerning the return of microchipped pets to rescues. Under the adoption contracts that many, if not most, responsible rescues use, pets are co-owned by the rescue and the microchips are jointly held under both the adopter’s and the rescue’s name. Most responsible rescues’ contracts also include clauses prohibiting the transfer of ownership and insist on any pet being returned to them should an owner decide to either transfer ownership or relinquish their pet.
Responsible rescues view pet ownership as a lifelong responsibility and always take back their pets no matter how old or infirm they may be. Should a pet enter one of your shelters, be it either as a stray or as an “owner” surrender, these responsible rescues want to be alerted. If the pet is a stray they will:
1. Go to the shelter and reclaim the pet
2. Interview the adopter to discern how the pet got loose and impounded
3. If the rescue determine that the adopter was being negligent, and shirking the duties of a responsible adopter, the rescue may elect to terminate the adoption contract and take over primary ownership of the pet.
Legally your directive to not return pets promptly to the rescues who have legal title to the pet is a violation of the Hayden Act: SB 1785 Section 6 reading:
A gratuitous depositary of a living animal shall provide the animal with suitable food and shelter and treat it kindly and, if the animal has any identification, make reasonable attempts to notify the owner of the animal’s location. (c) If the gratuitous depositary of a living animal is a public pound, shelter operated by a society for the prevention of cruelty to animals, or humane shelter, the depositary shall, in addition to the duties set forth in subdivision (b), comply with all other requirements of the Food and Agricultural Code regarding the impounding of live animals. Any of these entities that fails to perform the duties specified in this subdivision may, in addition to any other liability or penalty permitted by law, be liable for civil damages, including, but not limited to, damages for the loss of a companion animal, and may also be subject to criminal prosecution for cruelty to animals as provided in Section 597 of the Penal Code
I strongly urge you and your agency to immediately rescind your illegal and poorly conceived policy and act in a responsible and legal manner.
Holmes somewhat back-peddled in his reply – leaving many rescuers both perturbed and perplexed:
Your view that, “pets are co-owned by the rescue and the microchips are jointly held” is distinct from our understanding of property law. In the event that we experience a situation where co-ownership is alleged, we will be sure to provide any party with an established ownership interest the opportunity to redeem his/her pet from our care.
The takeaway from the DACC’s newest mouthpiece is that the DACC is NOT going to feel particularly obligated to return responsible rescue organizations’ pets to them should they be impounded. It will add to the litany of reasons why many rescues do not trust the DACC and want change in the agency’s leadership.
Meanwhile whispers coming out of the DACC headquarters suggest that the agency’s HR department is recommending the suspension and termination of one of their shelter managers. Allegedly racial slurs, using the County’s gas credit card to fill the manager’s private car and other offences are the basis for the recommendation. The only thing impeding the discipline from being implemented is Los Angeles County’s version of Scott Pruitt – DACC head, Marcia Mayeda.