2023 Animal Law Legislative UpdateJune 9, 2023
Gentle Carousel’s Reading with HorsesJune 9, 2023
By Kate MacFall, Florida State Director, Humane Society of the United States
The post-COVID era has not been kind to homeless animals. The animals, and our hard-working animal shelter professionals, are feeling the crunch. Shelters are experiencing higher intake and population numbers, and the animals are there for longer lengths of stay, putting many shelters and rescues at or over their normal capacity with no relief in sight.
Some experts say shelter intakes have increased four percent on average, while others believe the percentages are much higher, depending on the shelter and its location. Many organizations report that adoptions have dipped over the past year or so. There are many possible reasons, but it is most likely a combination of causes and events. And this is not unique to Florida or even to the region; shelters around the country are experiencing similar trends with higher post-pandemic numbers.
Another major issue is a growing shortage of veterinarians. This is impacting the care of animals in shelters and the ability of spay/neuter clinics to offer services. Animal owners in more rural areas may not have easy access to vet services at all. On that front, two seasoned legislators from Polk County, Representative Sam Killebrew of House District 48 and Senator Colleen Burton of Senate District 12, sponsored a bill in the 2023 legislative session to offer some relief. HB 719 allows for veterinarians licensed in good standing in another state to perform spay and neuter surgeries without having to obtain a Florida veterinary license, as long as they are not paid and they work under the supervision of a veterinarian licensed in Florida. This effort was initiated by a veterinarian and had the support of countless animal welfare groups. The bill passed unanimously through both the House and Senate and is expected to be signed by the Governor soon. Another successful bill removes barriers for pet parents to find housing with their animals and removes the antiquated breed ban in Miami–Dade County. Senator Alexis Calatayud of Senate District 38 and Representative Demi Busatta-Cabrera of House District 114, both from Miami–Dade County, led the charge as bill sponsors.
Florida’s growing concern for our four-legged family members even reached the halls of the Governor’s mansion in Tallahassee. In April, in perhaps a first-of-its-kind event, First Lady Casey DeSantis held a press conference on animal welfare, pets, and best practices. The First Lady used her platform to highlight critical needs, including pet overpopulation and veterinary shortages, while promoting pet best practices. First Lady DeSantis invited a few others to join her for brief comments at the press conference: Melanie Griffin, Secretary of Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Dr. Robert Leonard from the Florida Board of Veterinary Medicine, Laura McCann Executive Director of the Animal Rescue Coalition, and Amy Frizzell from the Department of Corrections and its shelter dog/inmate programs. I also spoke, representing the Humane Society of the United States.
Following the press conference and roundtable discussion on best practices, Governor DeSantis and Casey DeSantis hosted a pet adoption event on the grounds of the Grove Museum, where rescue groups showcased their adoptable dogs and cats in hopes of meeting potential adopters.