Proposed Shelter/Rescue and Pet Shop Regulations

The Mass. Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) is considering new regulations for animal rescue and shelter organization regulations, as well as revisions to the existing pet shop regulations. A hearing was held on April 23rd and, in order to be a part of the public record, comments are due by 5 p.m. on Monday, April 29, 2019. Written testimony must be submitted by email to or by mail to Michael Cahill, 251 Causeway Street, 5th floor, Boston, MA 02114-2151.

Please check back for updates.

Below are links to the draft regulations and additional information:


MSPCA’s verbal comments on proposed shelter and rescue regulations from April 25, 2019 hearing

My name is Cynthia Cox. I am a veterinarian and the Director of Community and Shelter Medicine at the MSPCA-Angell. I have been working at the MSPCA for 17 years and practicing veterinary medicine for 20. I am a founding member of the Association of Shelter Veterinarians, one of the first veterinarians to become ABVP board certified in shelter medicine, and a co-author of the Association of Shelter Veterinarians’ Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters.

The MSPCA will be submitting detailed comments and recommendations for changes to these proposed regulations soon, but today I hope to briefly outline our main concerns with the draft and urge the Department to make revisions.

We support the Department’s goal of protecting animal health, but many of the regulations proposed are either excessively burdensome, impossible for many shelters to follow as written, or run counter to well-established principles of shelter medicine and will negatively impact animal health if implemented.

We acknowledge that the Department has amended these regulations since first proposed 2013 and then again from an earlier draft during this latest process. While there have been improvements, there are still significant problems.

Section 30.09(6) Restrictions on Placement By requiring medications to be handed to adopters exclusively by veterinarians, this section would prevent adopters from taking home veterinarian-prescribed medication when an animal is adopted. The impact of this provision would take veterinarians away from other responsibilities and would be extremely burdensome and costly, especially for shelters and rescues that do not have on site veterinarians. MDAR has relied on what was believed to be the Board of Registration of Veterinary Medicine’s position on the client-patient relationship. I appeared before the Board at their February 14th meeting to clarify the matter and the Board stated that veterinary-prescribed medication can go home with the adopter without the veterinarian being directly involved with the transfer. If there are organizations that are sending adopters home with medication that have not been prescribed by a veterinarian, we believe that the Department should address those situations under existing regulations that prohibit that, but not create this onerous and unnecessary provision that conflicts with the position of the Veterinary Board.

30.09(5)(a) and 30.09(11) Restrictions on Placements and Records/estimate:

The requirement for a veterinarian’s estimate for a non-contagious medical condition is impractical; veterinarians’ estimates vary so widely as to make this meaningless while causing a lot of unnecessary problems for shelters and rescues without being of any benefit to an adopter or organization. It will create negative situations and relationships where neither the shelter or adopter is at fault. Given that the adopter has the right to return the animal within 14 days following examination by a veterinarian who would actually be treating the animal (30.09 (9)), this clause is unnecessary and will create ill-will either towards the shelter or the private practice veterinarian when the estimates differ.

Health Certificate:

There is a contradiction in the sections that deal with health certificates. This conflict exists between language saying that no animal can be placed without a health certificate (which requires stating that they are free of infectious diseases) in 30.09 (2), and 30.09 (3) which says animals with contagious medical conditions may be placed as long as there is a disclosure. Further, it is not clear if the health certificate requirement applies to just cats and dogs, or all animals. If it applies to all animals, it would be highly impractical, especially given that shelters can intake large surrenders of literally hundreds of animals, such as rodents or parakeets on a single day.

In addition to resulting in burdens from a financial and staff resource perspective, many of these regulations endanger animal health by effectively resulting in significant increases in the average length of stay for animals. Well-established research and history has demonstrated this fundamental principle of shelter health—the longer an animal stays in a shelter, the more that animal is at risk for contracting a disease. In shelters where animals must wait for services to be delivered, the overall incidence of disease increases significantly. We know these regulations will divert resources from important work that shelters do in their communities, such as adoption, spay/neuter, vaccination, and care of stray animals. But in addition, regulations requiring veterinarians to, for example, provide estimates and physically hand medications over to new adopters, or requiring animals to wait 7 days after vaccination prior to transport, will result in unnecessary bottlenecks that will increase length of stay, which will cause crowding and ultimately increase disease, which runs counter to the intention of these regulations.

We urge the Department to reassess these and many of the other concerns that we and others have before they are finalized.

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