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Delaware strengthens protections for animals in shelters

Mark Fowser
Delaware Public Media

Delaware’s state dog is the rescue dog- a detail that reflects the state’s status as the first no-kill state in the country, and its promotion of fostering and adopting as a pathway for pet ownership.

Following this trend, Delaware now takes a step to strengthen protections for shelter animals under a new law.

The 2010 Delaware Shelter Standards Law was written to ensure shelters follow certain practices and procedures to protect shelter animal health and promote adoption - with the Office of Animal Welfare created about 3 years later to enforce it.

SB129 - signed this month - updates the 2010 law.

“It's been 13 years, things have changed, and so we needed to update it to be keeping with minimum best practices for animal shelters. And also to fill some voids and gaps that existed in the existing law. For instance, there was nothing that spoke to feeding or sanitation within an animal shelter, and so we've included those things,” said Delaware Office of Animal Welfare Director Christina Motoyoshi, who developed the update using national best practices and feedback from animal shelters statewide.

In addition to setting new standards for feeding and access to water, and sanitation and disease control, the 2023 law also requires that facilities and enclosures are suitable for the animals they house. This includes updating things like lighting, size, heating and cooling systems, and drainage.

The law also outlines the minimum level of care required to protect mental and physical health, including requiring shelters to have a protocol for behavioral enrichment, updated annually.

“Each of the shelter's protocols, or their plan, could be a little different. That’s not being mandated by the state. It's really just mandated that we have one, and that we just have a clear strategy for doing behavior enrichment for dogs so that they have interaction with staff, and their minds are kept busy when they're in the shelter so that they don't go downhill mentally while they're here,” explained Humane Animal Partners CEO Patrick Carroll, who represents one of the state’s four brick and mortar animal shelters that already meet the new law’s requirements.

Carroll adds that there were some updates that made the former requirements clearer and more easily adhered to. For example, shelters are required to vaccinate dogs and cats against certain viruses upon entering the shelter or holding facility to reduce the spread of disease.

The vaccinations must still be administered within 8 hours of entering the shelter, but there is an extended window for animals admitted overnight. Shelters now have until noon to administer vaccinations- giving them a slightly extended window for special cases.

And despite his organization already following the practices outlined in the bill, Carroll says having them written and enforceable is good insurance that standards of care statewide don’t falter.

“They were also created with the future in mind,” Carroll said. “So it isn't just us, the four organizations that exist that have brick and mortar shelters. The shelter standards now are in place so that if someone wanted to create a new animal shelter or animal welfare organization in the state, then there would be some guidelines for them to adhere to.”

Following the original goal of the 2010 law, which was created in part to make it easier for owners to find lost pets, SB129 now requires all animals adopted out to be microchipped.

The Office of Animal Welfare conducts surprise inspections twice a year to ensure every shelter is adhering to the Delaware Shelter Standards Law.

Quinn Kirkpatrick was born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware, and graduated from the University of Delaware. She joined Delaware Public Media in June 2021.