Note: See the update here.

Hurricane Florence’s floods were particularly bad in Wayne County. Not only were people affected by the rising waters, but so were animals.

If you were a pet owner fleeing the flood and seeking somewhere safe for your pets, is this the outcome you would want?

  • Flee an oncoming flood with your pets
  • Leave your pets with an emergency shelter that’s (a) open and (b) not in the flood zone
  • Leave your pets with an emergency shelter that’s also (c) a “no-kill” shelter with (d) volunteers spending quality time with them
  • Have your pets seized in a raid by authorities bull-headedly enforcing a license
  • Have your pets’ rescuer arrested for not having a license
  • Have the very real fear that Animal Control will, in a matter of days, turn your pets over to be euthanized

What is going on in Wayne County? Did the storm wash away common sense and human decency, too?

A really bad reminder that licensing is no guarantee of quality and safety

Research is clear about one thing when it comes to occupational licensing: it boosts the earnings of people already in the profession by limiting entry into an occupation and reduces competitors.

What about safety and service quality? Licensing is supposed to improve quality and safety, but research is doubtful that it actually does.

We’ve discussed several reasons why licensing actually doesn’t bring about greater overall service quality and safety. We’ve also discussed numerous instances of researchers making the same counterintuitive finding: worse service outcomes as a result of stricter licensing requirements.

Wayne County just provided us with a fairly egregious example of that problem. Read this outrage, as reported in Goldsboro News-Argus, WNCN, and others. Here is how it was discussed in Reason:

Hedges is the founder and executive director of Crazy’s Claws N’ Paws, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that takes in neglected or injured animals and finds them permanent homes. The volunteer-based, no-kill organization gives animals whatever they need, from medical care to microchipping.

Crazy’s isn’t a licensed animal shelter yet, but they’re working on “renovating a shelter site,” Hedges says. The building was not in a flood zone, and it’s “easily accessible.” In other words, the perfect place for pets to take refuge while Florence did her worst.

Hedges’ organization took in a total of 27 pets—17 cats and 10 dogs. Thanks to donated food and other supplies, she made sure they were cared for. During the day, volunteers played with the dogs, walked them, and cleaned up after them. There was even a person who stayed at night “to make sure that the animals were not alone,” she says.

On Monday, Hedges was at home when she got a call from Frank Sauls, the animal services manager for Wayne County. …

And here it comes. Hedges had to surrender the animals to Animal Control. She was later arrested for administering medicine to the pets without a proper veterinary license.

Of course the problem here should be obvious: there were no veterinarians’ offices open. Hedges claims the medicine she administered were all over-the-counter drugs. Regardless, she was arrested.

People are outraged by this story for obvious reasons. The hurricane and the flooding in Wayne County were extreme events.

To most people, Hedges’ actions were those of a Good Samaritan, not a criminal predator.

Either way, criminalizing the act of rescuing and treating pets when veterinarians had fled for higher ground is in no way ensuring the quality of animal care in society.