Deadly Tempe shooting prompts victim's family to lobby for law on pet rescues

After a young Tempe man was murdered in 2020, his family was not allowed to gain access to his apartment to rescue his cats inside.

However, the man's family has raised awareness and worked with representatives. Now, new legislation referred to as "Matthew's Law" has been signed by Governor Doug Ducey.

Matthew Meisner's family sees this as a huge community effort, from the Tempe Police detectives who got involved to rescue the cats, to the community members who made sure this made it through the Arizona State Legislature.

Meisner's cousin, Megan Epstein, has been fighting for eight long months to get the law signed.

"It gives me hope for humanity," said Epstein. "A horrible tragic thing happened, but we are turning this into good."

It all started back in July 2020, When Meisner, who was 27 years old at the time, was shot and killed while walking in Tempe. Police suspect two juveniles are responsible a part of a long crime spree.

Family recounts difficult times after Meisner's death

(Photo Courtesy: Megan Epstein)

On top of the heartbreak of dealing with his tragic and stunning loss, Meisner’s family and friends soon realized they weren’t able to rescue his three cats in his apartment.

"Usually, landlords lock the doors because they don't want to be sued for releasing personal property to someone they shouldn’t," said Epstein.

Before Matthew's Law, live animals were considered personal property, which is why Meisner's family couldn’t gain access before a certain amount of time passed following Meisner's death. Luckily for the family, a detective got involved, but it still took four days to get inside.

"We thought one was completely dead because he was diabetic, and he hadn’t had his insulin for four days," said Epstein.

Epstein worked with state lawmaker to pass Matthew's Law

Arizona State Capitol

Arizona State Capitol

During this process, Epstein reached out to Republican State Representative Shawnna Bolick. They, with the help of many others, crafted Matthew’s Law, known officially as HB 2507.

"We wanted to lift liability from the landlords, so we can get pets sooner than the current law allows because pets are treated as personal property," said State Rep. Bolick, who represents the State Legislature's 20th legislative district. The district covers a portion of North Phoenix, where Meisner's aunt and uncle live.

Now, the law allows a landlord to release an animal to a relative of a deceased or incapacitated tenant, or allows them to take the animal to a shelter or boarding facility. Epstein says this was all for Matthew and others fighting the same battle, and she knows he would be proud that this was his legacy.

"I think he would be shocked," said Epstein. "I don't think he knew how much people loved him."

As for Meisner's cats, two of them are now in La Gattara Cat Cafe in Phoenix, and one is with a close friend of his. Epstein, meanwhile, says she will be forming a nonprofit to make sure every state has something like Matthew's Law.

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