EUGENE, Ore. — Necessary oversight or just more red tape? Opinions vary on a new state law aimed at preventing animal abuse.
When Mary Anne Miller was a little girl, her father brought home abandoned kittens he found on his postal route. After that, in every picture from that time, she’s holding a cat.
These days, operating from her house just north of Sweet Home, she gets phone calls nearly every day from people wanting help.
“I get the semi feral cats and the feral cats and the cats who have been abused and traumatized. I socialize them, I get them to health, and I find them good homes,” said Mary Anne Miller, Cats Inc.
That mission will get harder, Miller says, under a new law passed and signed by lawmakers this summer. Starting immediately the law defines an “animal rescue entity” as any person or group with more than 10 animals. They must maintain records of each animal, including its age, sex, breed, weight, disposition and a photograph. There is also a licensing requirement and a fee.
“What it does is it just makes our job so much harder to do,” Miller said.
What disturbs Miller the most is the provision that allows officials to search her home without a warrant. She also finds the term animal neglect to be overly vague.
“Is it a dirty litter pan? Is it a kitty with an upper respiratory infection? There’s no guidelines,” Miller said.
“I think it will prevent cases in which people start out possibly with good intentions and then perhaps wind up overwhelmed,” said Sasha Elliott, Communications and Events Manager at Greenhill Humane Society.
Elliott calls the controls built into the new law “absolutely appropriate.” As the primary animal control agency in Lane County, she says no organization is too small for oversight.
“I think care of the animals is of the highest importance, and that should be the case for any size rescue organization,” Elliott said.
Miller admits that some rescuers have a “savior complex” and take in too many animals. In fact, the new law, which also stiffens penalties for animal cruelty, stems from a january incident involving a dog rescue group in Brooks. Over 120 dogs were seized from a warehouse, which was overflowing with garbage and waste.
“Those are the ones that give smaller shelters such a bad name and a bad rap,” Miller said.
It’s still unclear is which agencies will issue the licenses and collect the fees. City and county officials say they’ve received no guidance. But an official in Eugene says the other sections of the new law are a step in the right direction.
“If you are found to have committed animal abuse in front of a child, your penalties go up. And also, if you’ve been found to have committed animal abuse and you have a background in child and spousal abuse, your penalties also go up. So it really strengthens that tool for local agencies,” said Kelly Darnell, City of Eugene Interim Animal Services Manager.
In the meantime, Miller keeps working in her shelter, taking in the cats nobody else wants.
“I just try to find loving homes for these animals so I don’t have to worry about them anymore,” Miller said.
After 33 years, she’s still fighting for animals one cat at a time.