OK TO THE RESCUE: Bill designated rescue animals as official state pet, but advocates say more needs to be done

Keri Thornton | Daily Press

John Deere, is one of the many animals that can be adopted at the shelter of the Humane Society of Cherokee County.

Local animal advocates are standing behind a recently passed bill that designated rescue animals as Oklahoma's state pet, but some say more needs to be done about abandoned pets.

OK Gov. Kevin Stitt signed Cali’s Law, House Bill 1816, on April 27. The bill is a revision of one that passed the House in 2020, but was set aside due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

State Rep. Mark McBride adopted his Catahoula mix, Cali, from the Moore Animal Shelter. His dog was the inspiration for the bill. McBride said the goal is to help spread the word for other Oklahomans to adopt rescue animals.

“I’d never let a dog in my house before I got Cali,” McBride said in a statement. “Now, my wife and I have a second rescue dog, and we just love them both. We’re hoping others will join us in adopting other rescue animals, which in turn will help our municipalities reduce the cost of running their shelters or building bigger ones for lost or abandoned pets. We’re counting on this legislation helping us spread the word.”

President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, adopted Major, a German shepherd, in 2018. He's the first rescue animal to live in the White House, as far as anyone knows.

The Oklahoma bill isn’t designated for just one animal species as the state pet.

State Rep. Bob Ed Culver, D-Tahlequah, said he believes the measure is good for the people and for the animals of Oklahoma.

“Those pets do a lot of things for a lot of different people, and if you feel all of those types of animals help you, then that’s great,” said Culver. “Everyone may not like dogs or cats, but if you want identify with your pet as the state pet, then I’m all for it.”

Senate author Sen. Darrell Weaver, R-Moore, helped pass the legislation, and said the aim is to bring attention to the need while encouraging others to welcome rescue animals.

“There are so many pets who need and deserve a loving home, but the sad truth is that many of these animals will be put down if they aren’t adopted,” said Weaver.

Tahlequah Compliance Coordinator Ray Hammons is a firm believer and supporter of rehoming and adopting pets.

“I think it’s an awesome idea and one that carries some weight in trying to resolve the problems we have in our city and in our state for pet overpopulation, and for illegal puppy mills,” said Hammons. “

Alexis Colvard, transport coordinator for Humane Society of Cherokee County, said the new bill is taking a step in the right direction, but that’s not enough.

“It’s awesome that the governor wants to sign a bill to make a rescue animal the state pet, but it doesn’t help the rescuers get the animals into rescues without the right laws in place in this state,” said Colvard.

Colvard said it’s been a challenging 10 years since she’s been transport coordinator for HSCC, and the new McGirt ruling isn’t helping. That U.S. Supreme Court decision deemed the reservations of Indigenous tribes in eastern Oklahoma were ever disestablished, and therefore, criminal cases involving Natives in that area must be prosecuted in federal or tribal court.

“Let’s throw another kink in it. Now everything is about to go on the reservation and in the tribal courts, and there aren’t any animal laws in place,” she said. “I’m on the frontline for the county, and it’s wonderful that the state cares about rescue animals, but they don’t make it easy for rescuers to rescue them.”

To date from January 2017, Colvard has been able to transport over 4,071 animals to Chicago, where a system is in place to handle excessive numbers.

The bill is slated to go into effect Nov. 1.

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