This is going to be an in-depth article, but I’ll try to condense it as much as possible. Today I’d like to talk about Section 1983 as it pertains to volunteers, staff, fosters and rescues who attempt to speak out against shelter cruelty, only to lose their job in the process.
There is an excellent PDF download from the Nathan Winograd no-kill website and it will help you pursue legal action if you so wish.
I personally know of several shelters who have “gag order contracts”, meaning that the person working in any capacity for the shelter may be terminated, should that person speak negatively against the shelter concerning animal welfare. More than a dozen former shelter volunteers, rescuers and fosters have contacted me with how they were terminated once they publicly announced problems with the shelter they were working with to save lives.
While shelters do try to a certain extent to save lives, most don’t want to hear ways of improvement if it means tarnishing the golden image they’ve created for themselves in their community. This is where Section 1983 can come in. Section 1983 was created in 1871 as part of the Ku Klux Klan act to protect African Americans in the south from the lawlessness that occurred after the Civil War ended.
This pertains to animal rescue by defending an animal rescuer’s First Amendment right to speak out against abuse and violation of the law created by a government entity. The person speaking out also has the constitutional right to expect the government to fix problems reported to them, and the right to file a lawsuit against the shelter if the conditions aren’t corrected.
Shelters that force volunteers to sign gag orders, are in direct violation of this basic right, if they are government funded in any way. That would include holding animal control contracts. It has been argued , and won , in several instances. More and more volunteers are attempting to force transparency, and are suing shelters for their right to do so. Shelters should be advised that many volunteers, fosters, and others kept or kicked out of shelters ARE winning these lawsuits.
Nathan Winograd recently had two comments on his Facebook page that hit the nail on the head.
“To save lives, animals in shelters need for people to do two different things: 1.Directly take animals out of harm’s way through rescue and 2. Reform shelters through legislation, litigation, and political advocacy.”
How can this be done when shelters are kicking out the very people most capable of saving the thousands of unwanted cats and dogs coming through their front door? Without volunteers, fosters and everyone involved having the freedom to speak up for reform, more animals will be going out the back door in body bags than out the front door in the loving arms of someone who loves them. Sickness is rampant, illegal killing is out of control, including not waiting the state mandatory time period under the guise of “illness” and “contagious disease.”
There are many, many cases I know of, but without the proof to write, I’m forced to approach cases with caution, because these shelter have big-time attorneys hired by the city in their corner.
Nathan doesn’t believe in supporting big animal groups. Direct your support to local reputable rescues whom you research beforehand and know they are saving lives. He also has a good solution to stop the killing using his no-kill guidelines. One statement that caught my attention was
“We need less Facebook petitions and less check writing and more people willing to stand up and expose the truth. We need more people willing to directly save animals from shelters intent on killing them through rescue. And we need more people willing to walk the corridors of power to lobby for reform.”
Yet how can the savers save when they’re removed from volunteering, removed from fostering, removed from rescuing because they saw something the shelter wants kept quiet? Some shelters have even gone so far as to put rescuers on no trespassing notice to keep them quiet and banned from shelter property.
Unfortunately, the desire to present a pristine image to the public results in thousands of shelter kills a year, simply because those who previously got the animals out of the shelter and into a safe environment are no longer allowed to do so.
Do you have a horror story to tell of being kicked out of a shelter? Please feel free to leave a comment.