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Colorado: The Shelter Pet State

Colorado kids help get a bill passed that names shelter dogs and cats Colorado's state pets.

By Jennifer Marino Walters

In recent years, 6 million to 8 million animals ended up in shelters across the country. (iStock)

Rescue dogs and cats in Colorado have a new reason to bark and meow. On May 13, Governor John Hickenlooper signed a bill making all dogs and cats adopted from shelters Colorado’s official state pets. With the governor’s signature, the bill became a state law. Colorado middle school students first proposed the idea.

“Families from across the state bring these animals into their . . . homes,” Governor Hickenlooper said as he signed the bill, his own rescue dog, Skye, by his side. “These pets become a huge part of people’s lives.”


Students from Peakview School in Walsenburg, Colorado, came up with the idea as part of a project designed to help them learn about the legislative process . They convinced state lawmakers to write the bill, which is a proposed law. In March, some of the students appeared before a state Senate committee to lobby for the bill. Lobbying means trying to convince lawmakers to vote a certain way. Their testimony was periodically interrupted by barks from the dogs in attendance.

“It’s important to honor the voice of the voiceless,” said Roger Arellano, 14, who called the bill “a matter of life and death” for the animals.

Many people—including pet store owners, groomers, and breeders—opposed the bill. They said that it could hurt the purebred-animal industry, that some of the shelter dogs and cats might not even be from Colorado, and that the bill unfairly discriminates against other shelter pets, such as reptiles and birds.

But many others supported the bill. They believe that it sends a positive message about caring for animals, and that it might help more shelter dogs and cats find homes. In recent years, 6 million to 8 million animals ended up in shelters across the U.S. About half of them have had to be put to sleep because not enough people are adopting pets. Colorado shelters alone take in about 170,000 pets each year.

To become a law, the bill needed to win a majority of votes in both Colorado’s Senate and House of Representatives. After it passed in both houses it went to the governor for his signature.


Colorado is the first state to designate shelter dogs and cats as state pets. Eleven states have state dogs, and three have state cats.

Shelter dogs and cats will join several other creatures as Colorado state symbols, including the bighorn sheep as the state animal. The state reptile (the Western painted turtle) and the state insect (the Colorado hairstreak butterfly) were both designated after Colorado fourth-graders lobbied for them—showing that kids in the state are truly making their voices heard!

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