In animal-loving Colorado, a pet shelter bill with a section entitled “Colorado Socially Conscious Sheltering Act” would hardly seem controversial.

Yet, the legislation, HB21-1160, has delineated a long-standing divide in the world of rescuing, sheltering, and adopting out pets in the state.

Those in the “No-Kill” movement believe it targets them and might limit their options when dealing with animals with behavioral issues. They say that the Socially Conscious Sheltering movement attempts to impose frivolous and often duplicative rules that strain the resources of smaller shelters and rescues.

“It looks like the perfect bill,” Doug Rae, executive director of the Humane Society of Fremont County told local state legislators at a Cañon City town hall gathering in late March. “The dark side is, we will have to start killing animals.”

Not true, said bill author state Rep. Monica Duran (D-Wheat Ridge). The bill, which passed the House 43-21 and is scheduled for a hearing tomorrow in the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, makes a commitment to place every healthy and safe animal and aims to decrease the suffering of animals in shelters.

The bill would not require euthanizing any animal or prohibit transfers to other rescues or foster homes, she said.

In fact, Duran wrote in an email, it would prohibit euthanizing healthy and safe animals because of such things as a lack of resources or space or because of an arbitrary time limit.

Also, it would require shelters to intervene with distraught and physically ailing animals to ensure that they aren’t suffering. She said there is range of intervention methods including medication, larger or different types and locations of kennels, foster homes, or enrichment with toys.

In response to Rae’s concerns, Duran said complaints against the Fremont shelter in recent years “illustrate the need for this bill.” The complaint she cited said the shelter kept some problematic animals in near isolation or were dishonest with potential adoptees about such things as bite histories to maintain a high save rate.

Colorado animal shelters are licensed and inspected by the Pet Animal Care Facilities Act (PACFA) program in the Department of Agriculture.

Generally, PACFA inspects shelters annually and if they are in compliance and there are no complaints, there are no additional inspections, according to Nick Fisher, PACFA section chief.

Under a Colorado Open Records Act request, the Colorado Times Recorder learned that in the past five years the Fremont shelter had 19 complaints, 15 inspections, and 15 enforcement action reports as a result of complaint investigations.

In most cases, no violations were found or the shelter was given time to correct issues, such as providing larger kennels for three cats and UVB lights for two turtles.

But in April 2019 the shelter was fined $750 for multiple violations, including improper cleaning and sanitation of kennels, housing aggressive animals in a public view area, dog bites not being reported, keeping expired medications and euthanasia solution, and lack of inspections of foster homes.

On a subsequent inspection, it was fined $300 because a dog named Cracker had swollen and pink paws, and the inspection found unsanitary conditions in his kennel.

Rae says he is not surprised that Duran is singling out his shelter but is disheartened that she did not talk with him while drafting the legislation.

He said numerous complaints, many anonymous, were filed in 2019 as several employees left the shelter and many of them centered on Cracker. The dog was stressed in the shelter and it worked to find solutions, including putting yoga mats in his kennel and getting him into a foster home. Ultimately, Rae said, Cracker was adopted to a home with another dog where “he is living his best life.”

Rae is joined by about 80 organizations, including MaxFund Animal Adoption Center,  No-Kill Colorado, and several towns and smaller rescues, in opposing the bill and some in the group hired a lobbyist to plead their case.

He said the no-kill groups were not contacted about the legislation, despite Duran’s assertion at a House hearing that all stakeholders were involved. Rae also said that when he and others testified at the hearing the committee members asked no questions.

Finally, an online stakeholder’s meeting was held Monday, but any amendments proposed by opponents were nixed by proponents, he said. And it already had passed through the House.

Those who opposed the bill asked for the words “healthy and safe” to be changed to “healthy and treatable,” Rae said. They also asked for the Socially Conscious Sheltering Act label to be dropped because it embraces a specific animal-care philosophy that is at odd with the No Kill movement, said Davyd Smith, co-founder of the No-Kill Colorado advocacy group.

He believes the bill is unnecessary because the state already has laws requiring timely veterinary care and prevention of unnecessary suffering. If violations are ongoing and not corrected, the state can pull the license of a shelter or rescue, he said.

He said proponents of the bill, which include the Denver Dumb Friends League, Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, Humane Society of the Boulder Valley and Roice-Hurst Humane Society in Grand Junction, want the state branded with their philosophy, which would be codified if the bill is adopted.

On its website, MaxFund says HB-1160 does not protect homeless, treatable pets and outlines its issues with HB-1160. It asserts that the bill is unclear and does not clearly define terms such as “safe.”

“Organizations who support this bill have publicly indicated their goal through legislation is to make Colorado a ‘Socially Conscious Sheltering state,’ signifying a potential threat to the No Kill movement and other sheltering models in Colorado,” MaxFund said on its website.

Duran called the word “treatable” problematic because there is no line between what is technically medially treatable and what is realistically treatable.

“If a $50,000 surgery or experimental treatment were technically possible, using language that required all treatable animals to be adopted would mean a shelter would be equally obligated to pursue that approach or pass that responsibility along to an adopter or rescue, which would be incredibly burdensome and unrealistic,” Duran said in an email. “Once again, this bill creates a minimum floor to ensure that healthy and safe animals are protected, while not creating any directive for animals not meeting that definition.”