Calif. Senate snips spay/neuter bill

Mandatory sterilization law gets cut back, providing only an increase in fines
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Aug 01, 2008

Sacramento, Calif. — Impotent might be the best word to describe a law that would have required almost every cat and dog older than 4 months to be spayed or neutered before the measure was dramatically altered on the California Senate floor.

Though the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) still supports the former California Healthy Pet Act of 2007, saying it is at least a step in the right direction, some other former supporters think an amended version of the law doesn't address the big problem.

"It had changed so dramatically," says Susan Dawson, president of the Humane Society of San Bernadino County board of directors, of the changes recently made to the proposed legislation. "It just takes the meat out of the whole bill. This is just another minimal attempt to make people, in general, responsible, but at the same time it isn't targeting those who are most contributing to the problem."

Originally a co-sponsor, the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) retreated and now says it is taking no position on the legislation.

"The amendments did become a problem for us," explains Dr. Bill Grant II, president of the CVMA. "I think there's a problem with how it's written, but we are neutral at this point."

The California Healthy Pet Act, AB 1634, was introduced in February 2007 by Assemblyman Lloyd Levine and would have required any dog or cat over the age of 4 months to be spayed or neutered. Some exemptions would have allowed pet owners and breeders to avoid sterilization if they secured a permit. However, the bill would not have allowed arrests or pet confiscations as a result of noncompliance.

Cutting back on an estimated $250 million per year spent statewide on nearly a million unwanted animals, half of which usually are euthanized, was the motive behind the legislation, modeled after a 1995 Santa Cruz mandatory-sterilization bill that resulted in a 50 percent reduction in shelter populations, Levine's office says.

The law originally earned the support of the CVMA, the California State Humane Association and the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services, in addition to a slew of celebrity animal advocates like Bob Barker and Diane Keaton, but stalled in the legislative process because of its tight restrictions.

Sen. Gloria Negrete-McLeod rewrote portions of the bill for Levine to help get it off the Senate floor, according to legislative records. The result is a bill that would not mandate sterilization, but would impose stronger penalties than the current law. For the first offense, when a wandering pet is found unsterilized, owner fines would increase from $35 to $50, then to $50 to $100 for a second offense. The third offense penalty would be a $100 fine to mandatory sterilization.

The bill, while not perfect, is at least a start to combating the problem, says Levine, who defended the changes made in the Senate.

HSUS, unlike its San Bernadino branch, still supports the bill. "Although the bill was greatly weakened, it will still help to combat pet overpopulation in California," HSUS says on its Web site.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) does not have a stance on the bill, but encourages local governments to promote both surgical and nonsurgical sterilization as a means of population control.

Groups opposed to the original bill, like the American Kennel Club (AKC), now favor the amended bill with its limited reach.

"The American Kennel Club opposes the concept of breeding permits, breeding bans or mandatory spay/neuter of purebred dogs," an AKC letter of support for the revised bill states. "Instead, we support reasonable and enforceable laws that protect the health and welfare of purebred dogs and do not restrict the rights of breeders and owners who take their responsibility seriously."

The National Pet Alliance, the California Farm Bureau Federation, the American Dog Breeders Association and the American Working Dog Federation also opposed the original bill but now support the revised version.

Though she agrees there is still some value to the bill as it stands, Dawson said the San Bernadino humane society board didn't want the supporters of the bill in its jurisdiction to be misled into thinking it had stayed the same throughout the legislative process.