"A lot of people claim their animals four or five days after they've been brought in," said Melanie Sadek, executive director of Valley Humane Society on Nevada Street in Pleasanton.
They may be on vacation and have hired someone to watch their pet, or they may wait to see if the animal returns on its own.
"The biggest issue is cats," Sadek said. "People will assume they will come back or maybe put up posters first. They don't realize that the place they should call first is the county shelter."
The repeal, which would save the state $23 million, also would do away with mandating veterinarian care and record-keeping, which Sadek said would hurt the efforts of Valley Humane Society. The nonprofit rescue group gets many of it animals from East County Animal Shelter in Dublin and Tri-City Animal Shelter in Fremont, and it helps adoptions immeasurably to know an animal's background.
"We need to know as much as possible because we need to work with issues that animal has," Sadek said. "And we can't take an animal in that has no vaccinations."
If the shelters don't keep records, she pointed out, even if a Pleasanton Animal Services officer says he turned your pet into the county shelter, it would have no record of having received it or if it had been adopted out or euthanized. Or if it had been given to Valley Humane Society to find a home for it.
"I could have your cat here and wouldn't even know it," Sadek said.
The repeal could also result in cats deemed feral to be euthanized immediately, although there are rescue groups who specialize socializing feral felines, she said.
"California has really led the way as far as legislation in humane treatment," Sadek said. "If we repeal this, we are setting ourselves back 14 years."
California Department of Public Health records show that 576,097 dogs and cats were euthanized in county shelters in 1997. The number dropped to 327,991 after the Hayden law went into effect.
Gov. Schwarzenegger proposed repealing the law in 2009 but backed off after public opposition. Nonetheless he suspended payments to reimburse shelters and that year the number of euthanized animals went up to 455,046. The local intake facilities are funded primarily through contracts with their surrounding cities.
The time was right for the legislation when it was introduced by State Sen. Tom Hayden in the late 1990s, according to a report on the Maddies Fund website written in 2004 by Taimie Bryant, a UCLA law professor who assisted Hayden.
"The idea had taken root that, regardless of the circumstances that brought an animal to a shelter, the animal himself or herself deserves an opportunity to live," she wrote.
Also people began to realize that animals needed to be held longer than the 72 hours required in California, one of the shortest holding periods in the country.
The Hayden Law also requires shelters to release animals to nonprofit adoption groups rather than euthanize them.
Sadek said people who want to save the Hayden Law should write to the governor and their state senator and assembly member.
"The letter can be one sentence," she said. "Just let them know it is unacceptable."
She recommended that pet owners microchip their dogs and cats because, by law, shelters much check each animal for a microchip and make every possible attempt to contact the owners.
The Hayden Law is one of 31 requiring state reimbursements being questioned by the governor. Others include SIDS autopsies and stolen vehicle notification.