A bill that would exempt homeless Californians from having an established 30-day relationship with an emotional support dog to receive documentation that would allow them access to places such as homeless shelters was signed into law by Governor Newsom on Monday.
Senate Bill 774, authored by Senator Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), would change existing law that prohibits a health care practitioner from providing documentation relating to an individual’s need for an emotional support dog unless the health care practitioner complies with specified criteria, including, among other things, that the health care practitioner establish a client-provider relationship with the individual for at least 30 days prior to providing the documentation. SB 774 would instead establish an exception to the 30-day relationship rule if the individual in need of an emotional support dog is verified to be homeless.
While many homeless people have other support pets such as cats, only dogs would be allowed under the bill.
Senator Hertzberg authored the bill with many homeless being denied shelter because of no-pet rules in homeless shelters, as well as the increase in stray dogs due to homeless individuals releasing their dogs to get shelter for the night.
“Many state-funded shelter programs require a doctor’s certification to allow a homeless individual to bring their pet as emotional support,” said Senator Hertzberg in a statement on Tuesday. “This hindered access to shelter for many homeless individuals who weren’t willing to leave their pets behind. SB 774 removes those barriers and ensures we can more quickly house homeless individuals.”
While many lawmakers had been initially opposed to the bill, largely due to the increased dangers that such a program could bring, most changed their mind during more recent votes. Last month, the Assembly passed the bill 76-0, with the Senate following up 40-0. Despite the high yea percentages, many experts continued to express concerns over the bill being passed.
“Ignoring the fact that many shelters don’t allow animals period for a variety of reasons, allowing dogs without a documentation of 30 days in is very dangerous,” explained veterinarian Dr. Louisa Cordova to the Globe on Tuesday. “The person in question could have just picked up the dog without knowing anything of it’s temperament. If that dog goes into a shelter filled with people, who knows how they can react. Attacking, biting, and a lot of other things can bring physical and health risks.
“There are many homeless people who do treat dogs quite well, and they can help them mentally too. That isn’t in question. But the fact that people can now bring more dangerous and unknown dogs in is very concerning. A lot of shelters will have more and more areas just for people with dogs probably just to protect people. This was a well meaning law, but also foolish in many ways it may harm people.”
Despite the opposition, Governor Newsom proceeded to sign SB 774 on Monday along with 5 other animal-related bills.
“For many families, including my own, pets are beloved companions that enrich our lives every day,” said Governor Newsom in a statement on Monday. “I’m proud to sign this legislation to advance our state’s leadership on animal welfare by ending cruel and unnecessary testing on dogs and cats, among other measures to protect the health and safety of pets in California.”
Gov. Newsom is expected to continue either signing or veto bills throughout the week.
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