Our Cats Shop

Californian compulsory neutering bill put to sleep... for now

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA, USA:
A BILL that would require most cats and dogs in California to be spayed or neutered fell two weeks ago in a Senate committee when the author discovered there were not enough votes to pass the controversial measure.

Because of legislative deadlines, the now infamous Bill AB1634 cannot be resurrected until the start of the next legislative session in January 2008.

One of the hottest issues in the current Californian legislative session, the bill generated nearly 20,000 letters from breeders, pet owners and animal activists alone before the hearing on Wednesday July 11th.

The author of the bill, Assemblyman Lloyd Levine (Democrat-Van Nuys, Los Angeles County) realising that he did not have the three votes needed to win approval from the five-member Senate Local Government Committee, declined to allow a vote to be taken. The action effectively killed the measure until the next legislative session in January because the Legislature’s rules required the bill to pass out of committee by last Friday.


There will always be challenges when it comes to homeless animals in shelters.
Punitive legislation harmful to pet owners is not the answer’.

- Joan Miller, Legislative Co-ordinator of the Cat Fancier’s Association on Bill AB 1634


Confident
Characteristically, Levine remained arrogantly confident that his Bill would eventually prevail, saying: ‘We have six months to educate the committee. I want to reach out again to the opponents.’

‘This is an issue in California which everyone has experience with,’ said Barbara O’Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at Cal State Sacramento. ‘People feel strongly about euthanising animals, so the arguments around the issue are relevant to their lives. That’s not always the case when you talk about budget figures and health care.’
Supporters of the bill said mandatory sterilisation - with some exceptions - is needed to reduce the number of unwanted cats and dogs, at least 500,000 of which are euthanised at animal shelters each year,’ Levine said.

‘Voluntary is not working. We see it every day,’ said Pat Claerbout, president of the California Animal Control Directors’ Association. ‘We’ve tried to educate. ... Everyone knows it’s the right thing to do, but we didn’t have compliance until there was a law on the books.’

Opponents countered that stricter enforcement of leash laws is more effective and that mandatory sterilisation programs such as those in Santa Cruz and Lake counties are unfair to responsible pet owners. Others said that dog and cat fanciers would be severely restricted in their activities. This led to strong political lobbying by feline registries such as the Cat Fanciers’ Association and their canine equivalent the American Kennel Club.

United Opposition
A great deal of the opposition viewpoint was handled by PetPAC, a strong lobbying organisation formed to protect the rights of pets and owners through public awareness education, grassroots organizing, and advocacy at the local, state and national level.

PetPAC represents thousands of individual pet owners, as well as cat and dog clubs, assistance dog organisations, veterinarians, Law enforcement dog trainers and agencies and breeders of pedigree cats and dogs.

The group lobbied senators, handled media enquiries and proactively pit the opposition case via the media. They even paid for prime time television commercials to highlight the issue and PetPAC’s opposition to the Bill.

As previously reported in OUR CATS, Levine’s bill, AB1634, would prohibit anyone from owning a cat or dog more than 6 months old that is not spayed or neutered without having an ‘intact permit.’ To get such a permit, a person would have to meet one of six conditions, which include being a licensed breeder or owning a dog that is used to herd livestock or for law enforcement purposes.

In order to win Assembly approval, Levine added what was dubbed the ‘mutt amendment’ to his bill, which would allow pet owners, until January 2012, to get a one-year permit - for a fee set by local governments - for one male and one female dog per household to produce a single litter before being sterilised.

The Lassie Factor
Testimony and debate on the bill lasted nearly 90 minutes. Although appearing in opposition to the bill, the dog that plays the current Lassie sprawled on the floor beside her trainer, snoozing serenely next to the front row of chairs in the packed hearing room.

‘If Lassie is going to talk, it’s going to count against your time,’ said Senator Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Chino (San Bernardino County), the committee chairwoman, who limited each side on the bill to 20 minutes of testimony.

Members of the committee raised several concerns about the bill. Senator Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, suggested Levine make his bill friendlier to responsible pet owners by having mandatory sterilization apply only to dogs and cats that come in contact with animal control authorities.

Levine agreed to weaken the bill if the committee approved it. He proposed changing the measure along the lines of Kehoe’s suggestion: Spaying and neutering would only be required if a dog or cat were running free, or if a complaint were lodged against an animal owner.

Both Republican senators on the committee - Tom Harman of Huntington Beach (Orange County) and Dave Cox of Fair Oaks (Sacramento County) - expressed reservations. When it became clear that his amendment wasn’t going to save the bill, Levine said he would leave it in committee until next year.

The Fight Goes On
Joan Miller, Legislative Coordinator of the Cat Fancier’s Association commented: ‘Obviously we welcome the fact that AB 1634 has not proceeded. However, some form of AB 1634 will come back in January 2008 - a revised bill will be heard again in the Senate Local Government Committee. AB 1634 has already been amended seven times but it will be further watered down. According to Senator Lloyd Levine in the hearing the new version will not ‘mandate spay/neuter’ with an intact permit. He wants to rewrite the bill so that possessing an unaltered cat/dog would be a ‘secondary’ offence if someone is found in violation of another animal law.

‘He mentioned at the hearing if a cat/dog is at large or if there are too many animals in a household according to local ordinance then animal control could require sterilization. Obviously one of the objections to AB 1634 has always been that ‘complaint driven’ laws tend to encourage neighbour harassment or vigilantes filing complaints based on suspicion of some animal law violation.’

Miller went onto say that success in fighting the Bill was due to the ability of all the organisations opposed to the Bill to work together for a common goal. The Cat Fanciers’ Association and American Kennel Club hosted several strategy conference calls that included professional lobbyists advising and working behind the scenes. CFA and AKC kept clubs and fanciers informed of what was needed every step of the way and AKC hosted two lobby day meetings in Sacramento. To get the CVMA to withdraw as a co-sponsor was an incredible accomplishment.

‘Very special kudos must go to PetPAC. Their tireless work to reach the cat and dog clubs, fanciers, service dog and law enforcement canine groups was extremely valuable throughout these past four months. They consistently presented a message to the media that this bill was mischaracterised through incorrect, exaggerated data and would impact a large number of animal interest groups without solving shelter problems.

They lobbied all Assembly Members and Senators, organized the press conferences in the Capitol, did numerous radio and TV interviews and coordinated the Capitol rallies. With CFA’s financial help they produced effective TV commercials that aired on the major morning shows before the hearing reinforcing the message that opposition to AB 1634 represented dog and cat pet owners, those with service dogs and law enforcement dogs.

‘There will always be challenges when it comes to homeless animals in shelters. Punitive legislation harmful to pet owners is not the answer. AB 1634 has been extremely divisive and will make it more difficult to collaborate with the shelter community in the future.

This is something we hope can be rectified in time. The best thing about this bill is that it has brought the diverse dog and cat groups together. We are now stronger and better prepared to take on whatever comes before us in local ordinances and on the state level in 2008.’
PetPAC website: http://www.petpac.net


A Hard Act To Follow…
Meanwhile, the CFA is continuing to lobby against other, similar pieces of legislation in other States, including The Dog and Cat Breeders’ Act in Minnesota, which would require the State to license, inspect and regulate everyone who possesses six or more ‘adult, intact breeding females’ (cats and dogs).

In the District Of Columbia the Animal Protection Amendment Act described by the CFA as ‘a serious affront to pet ownership’ plans to give power to animal activist groups to invade private property and confiscate pets. The ordinance includes the term ‘guardian’. Mandatory spay/ neuter is required unless a person obtains a breeder permit, with many requirements including inspection, standards of care and certain vaccinations. Veterinarians are subjected to new liability standards that may include both economic and non-economic damages.

Meanwhile, the CFA is continuing to lobby against other, similar pieces of legislation in other States, including The Dog and Cat Breeders’ Act in Minnesota, which would require the State to license, inspect and regulate everyone who possesses six or more ‘adult, intact breeding females’ (cats and dogs).

In the District Of Columbia the Animal Protection Amendment Act described by the CFA as ‘a serious affront to pet ownership’ plans to give power to animal activist groups to invade private property and confiscate pets. The ordinance includes the term ‘guardian’. Mandatory spay/ neuter is required unless a person obtains a breeder permit, with many requirements including inspection, standards of care and certain vaccinations. Veterinarians are subjected to new liability standards that may include both economic and non-economic damages.