Californian Compulsory Spay Bill
The Facts By Peggy Richter
THERE IS a proposed law making its way through the California State legislature called AB 1634 and termed the ‘Healthy Pet Act’. It would require that dogs and cats be neutered at the age of four months. Proponents claim it will reduce a huge overpopulation in animal shelters. It certainly sounds beneficial. Why all the debate?
According to the official AB 1634 site, www.cahealthypets.com, ‘every year, over 800,000 pets are abandoned in California.
Aggressive stray dogs roam through many neighbourhoods, increasing the danger of dog bites and the transmission of rabies. And taxpayers spend $250 million to house abandoned cats and dogs in shelters and then sadly, euthanise (kill) the majority of these pets.’
The author of this bill, Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, says something similar: ‘Every year, hundreds of thousands of perfectly healthy and adoptable pets are euthanised by overcrowded shelters that are unable to find them good homes.’
These numbers sound horrible. Any animal lover would wish to prevent unnecessary deaths and taxpayers don’t want to spend unnecessary money.
Facts and Figures: The Reality
Unfortunately, the proponents are not being truthful. The California shelter population has actually been declining. The National Animal Interest Alliance (NAIA), using data from the California Department of Health Services, Veterinary Public Health Section provides data showing this very clearly.
From a high of approximately 675,000 animals in 1980, the number of animals in shelters has dropped to just over 300,000 animals in 2005 despite the considerable increase in the human population (and therefore the pet-owning population) in the State. Even so, 300,000 animals appears to be a very large number.
The 2000 Census (http://www.census.gov/pubinfo/www/radio/pa0503.htm) put the population of California at 33,871,648. Just over a third of Americans own dogs and just under a third own cats. In California, this calculates to just over 11,290,550 dogs and just fewer than 11,290,550 cats. 300,000 is only one percent of all those dogs and cats owned by the general public. No one wants even one animal to needlessly be abandoned or killed, but destroying the rights of thousands to achieve that goal is unreasonable.
Mr. Levine also ignores the fact that many of the dogs and cats brought to shelters find new homes. The NAIA statistics show that approximately 100,000 of the 300,000 are redeemed or adopted. Of those remaining, many dogs are brought in by their owners to be put down because of health or behavioural problems. Levine’s bill will not alter this.
Many animals in shelters are feral cats. Assemblyman Levine has stated that shelters had very few feral cats. However Patti Strand, National Director for NAIA, in a personal call stated that ‘studies show that feral cats are a major part of the shelter problem.
The March 12 2007 minutes of the LA County Shelters contain the following: ‘Of the 12,279 cats were euthanised during the past year, 2,329 were feral cats.’ A California Government site estimates this population to be 3.5 million in the State, or 35 to 40% of the cats in the state. According to the Department of Fish and Game: ‘sterilization - a step universally applauded - does not appreciably reduce the feral cat population… it really only enhances the survival rate of kittens’.
The Cat Fancier’s Association, the world’s largest registry of purebred cats, states clearly: ‘CFA is opposed to laws that allow government entities to interfere with personal pet owner decisions related to veterinary care of their animals… Mandatory spay/neuter will not reduce the unowned cat population’.
AB 1634 does provide for some exceptions but the exceptions are misleading.
The bill permits dogs used for handicapped assistance (seeing eye/guide dogs etc.) dogs used by law enforcement, fire agencies, search and rescue, medical service activities, those owned by a commercial breeder and those with a veterinarian – provided exemption due to health, to remain intact but does not recognize that many of these dogs come from sources other than professionals breeding dogs specifically for that purpose. For everyone else, the bill states: ‘Nothing in this section shall prohibit a local jurisdiction from adopting or enforcing a more restrictive spay or neuter program.’
The exceptions are under the unilateral control of ‘local jurisdictions’ - which means they are subject to change or interpretation by the city or county. The dog or cat would have to be a ‘valid breed’ – as determined by the local jurisdiction. Mixes or those dogs not considered ‘valid’ would not be allowed.
The ‘local jurisdiction’ decides what is an ‘approved registry’ (many rare breeds are not registered with AKC or some other well-known registry), determines what is to be a ‘legitimate show or sporting competition’. The ‘local jurisdiction’ can decide that the two years should really be ‘every six weeks’. Nor does AB 1634 allow for hunting dogs or ranch dogs that don’t compete but simply ‘do their job’.
For these reasons, the American Herding Breed Association, California Cattlemen’s Association, the California Farm Bureau Federation, the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association, the Outdoor Sportsmen’s Coalition of California; Sportsmen’s and Animal Owner’s Voting Alliance as well as the American Kennel Club, the United Kennel Club and more than 300 associated clubs and thousands of individuals oppose AB 1634.
What they say
John A. Hamil, DVM, Past President of the California Veterinary Medical Association, in his May 29, 2007 letter states: ‘It is inappropriate to mandate a controversial and possibly life threatening surgical procedure. As CVMA has argued in the past, decisions of this magnitude should be made after consultation between the owner and their veterinarian.’
The California Rescue Dog Association (CARDA), the leading search and rescue organization in the State has stated: ‘(CARDA) stands with other organizations that serve California law enforcement in strongly opposing AB 1634, mandatory spay/neuter of dogs and cats…The majority of CARDA search dogs are bred by California working dog breeders. With its draconian restrictions, AB 1634 would devastate working dog breeding in the state.’
The California Organization of Police and Sheriffs (COPS) remains opposed to AB 1634, the mandatory sterilization of dogs and cats, stating: ‘With its draconian restrictions, AB 1634 would eliminate these dogs in pet homes destroying the selection of future police K9 candidates.
In so doing, AB 1634 threatens public safety and emergency response in California by removing the future supply of dogs used by Police K9 units. Our research concludes AB 1634 will cost cities and counties over $1 billion. It is estimated the cost to law enforcement alone in replacing Police K9 unit officers would be approximately $47 million a year.’
The Effects of AB 1634
What happens if this bill passes? It is highly likely that there will be a number of legal challenges. At least some dogs or cats will be abandoned in shelters because their owners can’t pay the new fines. Many dogs or cats will be killed as a result of the required spay and neuter – for no matter how careful a veterinarian is, a major surgery such as a hysterectomy or castration does risk death. A number of others will have physical side effects such as incontinence that may seriously diminish their quality of life. Many breeders will leave the state. Others will refuse to sell a dog or cat to anyone in the State.
Because AB 1634 permits commercially licensed breeders, commercial operations may actually expand. People who previously were ‘hobby’ breeders may become commercial mass producers simply to afford to keep their dogs or cats intact. AB 1634 has no provision for dogs or cats that are purchased outside the State and consequently, the demand for dogs or cats will result in many animals being shipped into the State.
Strangely, several shelters already import dogs from places as far away as Lebanon and Puerto Rico to meet the demand. This phenomenon was noticed as early as 2003 in an article by USA Today.
In addition to legal importations there will be illegal ones, not only from bordering states such as Oregon or Nevada, but also from Mexico. The California section of the US Customs already has a task force attempting to deal with dogs smuggled in from Mexico. On their website, they state: ‘During the two-week study 362 puppies under the age of 3 months were brought into the United States from the two points of entry. Over a year’s time, that equates to almost 10,000 young puppies entering San Diego County.’
Passage of AB 1634 is likely to increase the number because AB 1634 won’t change the demand for pet dogs and cats, it will only change the source of the supply.
The average dog or cat owner may see no immediate impact. In California, more than 80% of the pet population is already neutered. The impact will be seen in increased costs as the various cities and counties attempt to enforce a new law affecting a third of the State population. They will not see any significant drop in the shelter numbers as the number of dogs or pet cats under the age of one is less than 20% of the population. Dogs or cats being bred illegally will continue to be bred illegally. Animals being imported from out of State will replace those who were obtained within the State.
But it will cost more to obtain a dog or cat because those import costs will be added. It will be much harder to visit the breeder and see the puppy’s parents or siblings, because fewer breeders will be in the State. For some breeds, it may result in being unable to obtain that dog or cat at all. If, as often happens with California laws, the concept of AB 1634 is mimicked in other States, it will become increasingly more difficult to own a dog or cat. It may, eventually, mean that only the very wealthy will own a pet. Only ‘working’ dogs will be allowed to those who aren’t otherwise able to afford a dog.
It Could Be YOU
If the State legislature approves AB 1634, it may well form the model of similar bills in other States – possibly even providing political inspiration for legislation in other countries, including the UK.
The simple fact is that AB 1634 cannot be dismissed as just a ‘local problem’ and of no concern to cat and dog owners and enthusiasts in the wider world. Breed Specific Legislation for dogs was originally a ‘local problem’, but soon assumed global proportions. We ignore such legislation at our peril.
Anthropological and DNA studies have shown that dogs joined with humans at least 15,000 years ago. AB 1634 seems a strange way to end that.
* About the author: Peggy Richter is a native of California and has owned Belgian Sheepdogs since 1980.
She competes in herding and has had the first dog to ever earn all the American Kennel Club advanced herding titles offered as well as the first Belgian to earn all the American Herding Breed Association titles offered and is an active judge for both organisations.
She breeds her dogs less than once every three years.
*Website: The Biscuit Campaign aims to collect a worldwide petition to stop AB 1634: www.k9snaturally.com