In April of 2016, we began promoting a CAPA – a Companion Animal Protection Act – which we later called the Huntsville Animal Protection Act. The HAPA is a local ordinance to codify standards for Huntsville Animal Services related to the manner in which animals are housed, provision of veterinary care to those animals, steps taken to return animals to their families or place them into foster homes or adoptive homes, steps that must be taken before any animal is euthanized and transparent reporting regarding the animal shelter operation.
We promoted the HAPA in earnest during 2018 in meetings with city council members and candidates for city council. Because work was already taking place to revise the entire animal code for the city, the city chose to not implement the HAPA and to instead incorporate much of the spirit of the HAPA into the revisions to the chapter of the Huntsville City Code regarding animals - Chapter 5. This was not the outcome we had hoped for, but it was the outcome chosen by the city. We had to accept the city’s decision and celebrate the changes to the City Code which included portions of the HAPA we sought at that time.
The HAPA is about setting standards for the shelter operation and maintaining legacy to ensure that the shelter does not go back to the old ways of functioning no matter who leads the city or who runs the shelter. Some see this ordinance as not being necessary and being a matter of management for a city department. We do not agree. The Huntsville Police Department sought and obtained CALEA accreditation to separate itself from other police departments nationally. Through accreditation by the The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, the police department had to meet very strict operational standards. There is no similar accreditation organization for animal shelters. By enacting the HAPA, the city would be holding itself to a higher standard without the necessity of a group like ours pushing the the city to do better. Our advocacy should never have been needed at all and we welcome a time when city officials say, "we've got this. We don't need you to push us more."
The HAPA is also an effort to prevent the city from regressing to the former manner in which the shelter was operated. The live release rate at the shelter in 2022 was the lowest it has been since 2014. We do not want the city to regress further. The HAPA would be an effort to hold the line relate to further backsliding; most of the current language relates to euthanasia and when that may happen. We have seen drastic changes embraced in other cities across the country, only to have those changes discarded or dismissed upon election of new city officials or the hiring of a new shelter director. We do not want that for Huntsville. Too much time and effort has expended to change the culture at the shelter to have the operation reflect the expectations of the public. We should never return to a time when the shelter was what is called a "catch and kill" operation. Huntsville deserves better.
We have now reached a time more than a decade into our advocacy to focus on the HAPA again. The new version of the HAPA includes the provisions not adopted by the City in 2018 and some new provisions based on changes in shelter operations nationally. We began promoting the new HAPA in October in meetings with members of the Huntsville City Council. Our hope is that people who live in Huntsville or Madison County (not including the City of Madison) or work in those areas will read the new version of the HAPA and express their support with members of the City Council. If you have questions about the HAPA, please contact us.