Wes McKinley to Colorado: You know what we need more of in this state? Cruelty to animals.

(We think she means it – promoted by Colorado Pols)

As a progressive cowgirl (it’s not just a username!) I never really expected to find myself furious with a Colorado Democrat who happens to have a ranching background. But here I am, posting my first diary, and it’s about Wes McKinley (D-Walsh), a rancher who has accomplished the difficult task of being fiscally irresponsible, soft on crime, hard on cops, outrageously tone-deaf, and quite possibly in lockstep with special interests, all in one little bill.

HB-1063, “Concerning Laws Related to Animal Welfare,” might as well be titled, “Just How Powerful a Constituency are Animal Abusers, Anyway?” The entire bill is a giveaway to people who would like to abuse and neglect pets and/or livestock in the state of Colorado. From the asshole on your block who won’t bring his dog inside when it’s twenty below zero to large-scale illegal puppy mills, anyone who mistreats domestic animals has something to gain should this bill pass.

The progressive cowgirl also happens to be a former pint-sized rescue worker who’s been along for the ride on a few cruelty investigations, so I’ll walk y’all through this legislation–and its impacts on you, your neighborhood, and your own family pets.

Let’s get something straight, right off the bat: Animal welfare laws aren’t animal rights laws. Cruelty to animals is a bad thing for our communities not because puppies and kitties are cute and huggable (well, that too), but because of the harm done to human beings by a permissive approach to animal abuse. What do you think happens to your home’s value when your neighbor has a yard full of starving dogs? And how do you think the rancher who beats his horses treats his wife? That latter question isn’t rhetorical–Colorado’s own Ed Perlmutter, my favorite Congressman, appeared in a BBC documentary exploring the proven and well-researched connection between mistreatment of animals and mistreatment of humans. (The transcript calls him “Pullmeta.” Damn Brits.)

Now, about HB-1063: The most publicized and most damaging thing about this legislation is that it completely removes nonprofit organizations’ authorization to investigate cruelty to animals. That means you can no longer call the Dumb Friends League if you see a starving dog. Instead, you can look forward to long hold times and enormous variability in expertise and responsiveness with municipal animal control services. Not only that, but expect higher dog licensing fees in all municipalities to subsidize a service currently being provided to the state free of charge by donation-funded, highly trained experts.

I’ve been along for the ride on cruelty investigations. The Dumb Friends League will not and cannot show up at your house to take your dog away because they don’t like you. Colorado’s animal cruelty laws define cruelty in a very specific way. If you’ve ever seen the television show “Animal Cops,” the ASPCA investigators in New York City play a similar role to the DDFL here–except our DDFL investigators actually have less power to seize animals.

The bottom line is: We’ve got free investigators with specialized training and expertise willing to help Colorado and its billion dollar budget deficit. McKinley wants to give them the pink slip and either abandon enforcement or pass its costs on to taxpayers.

There are several other nasty things in this bill, intended to disable rescue agencies and prevent our highly effective nonprofits from reducing cruelty to animals in Colorado by placing additional financial and procedural burdens on any nonprofit willing to care for impounded animals.

Section three of HB-1063 prevents impound agencies (that’s a rescue organization which takes on the burden of caring for an impounded animal pending a cruelty investigation–an animal which, under this legislation, the rescue organization would not have had any involvement in choosing to seize) from recovering their expenses for the care of the animal from its owner unless the owner is convicted of specific animal cruelty offenses. So if an animal owner abuses a pet and the Dumb Friends League pays for expensive vet care to save it, they may then be required to return the animal to the abuser and absorb all costs incurred if the abuser gets a plea deal that involves pleading guilty to a lesser offense.

As an interesting note, a later section of the bill provides for the stripping of an Animal Control officer’s commission if the officer pleads nolo contendre (no contest) to any charge of “moral turpitude.” But in the case of impoundment and costs of animal care, only a conviction counts–it’s okay to plead no contest to animal cruelty and get your pets back, with all costs of their care landing squarely on an overburdened nonprofit.

In Section 11, owners judged to be capable of providing for an animal that has been impounded, as well as fit to care for it, get their animals back free of charge–the requirement that they reimburse the impounding agency for costs of care is repealed. That goes for convicted animal abusers who make a deal to get some of their animals back, too.

Cruelty investigations and trials can drag on for months or years. Meanwhile, the agency caring for the animals seized can’t adopt them out and can’t euthanize them, unless it’s to relieve specific types of suffering or because they’re dangerous to humans. The rescue agency caring for impounded animals may in some cases receive a small stipend from the county, but will absorb additional costs, often including steep veterinary expenses.

Then–and I’ve seen this personally on more than a few occasions–all too often, a deal is struck where the suspect is convicted but the judge does not order forfeiture of his or her animals. If this bill passes, they get the animals back (again, even if CONVICTED of abusing them) without reimbursing the organization that has cared for them for any portion of costs incurred.

There are other ugly things in this bill, but this diary is getting long and vituperative already, so I’ll leave you with this:

Right now, an animal can be seized if “adequate veterinary care” is not provided. If you walk your dog and see someone else’s pet in their yard that obviously has a contagious, untreated disease, today you could call the Denver Dumb Friends League. They would investigate, and if indeed seriously ill without treatment, the animal could be removed from your neighborhood and treated.

If McKinley gets his way, you’ll be waiting on hold with an overburdened animal control department. You, a law-abiding citizen, will have paid a hefty dog license fee for this privilege, since the department isn’t getting free help anymore. If after a few weeks of waiting for an ACO to show up the dog is still alive, it might be removed and impounded at your local shelter, which will pay for its veterinary care. A few months later, your neighbor may well get the dog back to continue refusing to vaccinate it, endangering your family and pets, and your local animal shelter will be stuck with the bill for nursing it back to health.  


About ProgressiveCowgirl

Colorado native, young professional, progressive cowgirl. 4-term FPE (aka masochist).

131 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Middle of the Road says:

    is the additional burden being added to local and county animal control, which due to budgeting cuts, are overextended and unable to keep up with current complaints. Animals are going to die of neglect or abuse if this passes and their owners are going to get off scott free because there won’t be the time or resources for animal control to investigate.  

    • If I went over to Rocky Mountain Horse Rescue right now, there’d probably be a single common factor in every seizure case on the property: “Neighbors reported them a dozen times before anything was done.” Or often it’s, “Animal control didn’t respond for months, but after a few died they offered the owner the option of surrendering the animals voluntarily to avoid prosecution.”

      The system is overburdened already because Colorado is a ranching state that requires specialized enforcement resources, including investigators trained to assess the body condition scores and overall health of livestock as well as companion animals. Denver ACOs don’t have livestock to deal with, but they have a breed ban taking up their resources; they spend a lot of time on Pit Bull seizures, something nonprofits already aren’t allowed to handle, and they rely heavily on the DDFL for cruelty issues.

      If this passes, municipalities will have choice between slightly more than zero enforcement (but not enough enforcement to make a dent) or adding fees for residents, which passes the burden of enforcement specifically to proactively law-abiding citizens who will voluntarily comply with dog licensing and similar regulations. Nobody who has starving dogs taken away has their licenses paid up.

      • Fidel's dirt nap says:

        This IS an excellent diary.  My question to you is, WTF was Wes McKinleys motivation in introducing this bill in the first place ? Is it something to do with his ranching background, and maybe him not realizing the effect it would have on animals other than cattle ?

        • Fidel's dirt nap says:

          and you already answered it. Thanks.

            • Duke Coxdukeco1 says:

              into the thread (I’m short on time), I want to compliment you, Ms. Cowgirl, ma’am, on a fine..I said fine…diary. Animal cruelty qualifies, in my book, as a heinous crime. Thanks for bringing this bill to our attention.

              As for Wes (want some peanuts?) McKinley, I have sat across the table from the Honorable Rep. on a number of occasions. I can tell you this:

              quite possibly in lockstep with special interests

              should be changed to: almost certainly in lockstep with special interests.

              Sold out to oil and gas…sold out to big ag…there’s a difference?

              • I agree about the heinous crime–and I agree McKinley is almost certainly a sellout… but what did he get out of it, I wonder? His biggest donor is the Colorado Education Association. Is he somehow just serving his own ranch’s interests? Angling for a business deal?  

        • nancycronknancycronk says:


          Q. How do people who have no empathy for animals sleep at night?

          A. On very expensive high thread-count french linen.

          • nancycronknancycronk says:

            Here’s a better way:

            If you look at those who lobbied in support of last year’s bill, CO HB 1124 and compare it to those monitoring this year’s HB 1063, you will see the overlap. Last year, they also used McKinley to get their bill in. If this bill passes the Ag committee, then you will see “the monitors” may move to the supporters column, as they did last year.

            Who’s watching this bill? The usuals who stand to gain a lot of dough if they don’t have to slow down long enough to prevent cruelty: cattle producers, egg producers, etc.

            Who will suffer unnecessary pain if they are successful in getting cruelty investigations down 75%? Not just livestock, but also potentially millions of family pets, in the future.

            Anyone have a link to who McKinley’s campaign donors are?  

      • Middle of the Road says:

        don’t have them vaccinated or neutered/spayed, either. I work with our local Pet Association (Estes Park’s version of the Humane Society) and neglect on every level goes hand in hand with shitty owners.

        • Want more Rabies outbreaks in CO? Weaken cruelty enforcement!

          • Middle of the Road says:

            in the last couple of years, especially in puppies. If you can’t afford to vaccinate a puppy (which requires multiple rounds of vaccines and can be expensive) then here’s a suggestion…don’t get a dog. Buy a picture of Lassie and hang it on your wall.  

            • I’m a fan of modified vaccination schedules for my own pets, but that takes MORE work and MORE money than just the standard recommended schedule and dosage. It’s not THAT expensive to vaccinate a puppy properly, but it’s not cheap either.

              Hell, people worried about the vaccine costs can get an adult dog, already vaccinated, from the nearest animal shelter, but they still need to give boosters! Wish they wouldn’t get dogs at all, but I can’t judge too much since an unforeseen change in life circumstances once put me in the spot of raising an expensive, destructive puppy when I was making $7.25 an hour.