SACRAMENTO, CALIF. — The nation's first statewide spay/neuter mandate fell to opponents last month, quieting a controversy so deafening insiders
likened its emotional impact to death-penalty and abortion debates.
Political incision: Dr. Ron Faoro former CVMA president and a practitioner in Santa Barbara, Calif., says bad blood surrounding
a bill forcing the sterilization of dogs and cats has divided the profession.
The state Senate committee that turned the California Healthy Pets Act into a two-year bill now prompts its sponsor, Assemblyman
Lloyd Levine, to come up with a less-divisive version next year. Yet despite the original's narrow passage in the Assembly,
the bill's explosive reputation drowns its intentions and leaves in its wake an embattled California Veterinary Medical Association
"Allowing a two-year bill only means that this will be the center of our lives for yet another year," former CVMA President
Dr. Ron Faoro says. "It's interesting how much of an emotional issue this is to veterinarians who are opposed. I've never
seen anything like it, not in my lifetime. This is as political as it gets."
Opponent of mandate: Dr. John Hamil cites an "almost national absence" of puppies in shelters and questions state euthanasia
statistics. He led veterinary opposition against AB 1634 and the California Veterinary Medical Association, which once sponsored
Roughly 20,000 people sent protest letters to lawmakers, with thousands of the complaints fielded by CVMA, an original co-sponsor
of the measure. The Act, or AB 1634, intended to reduce shelter-animal numbers in a state that spent a reported $2.7 billion
to house unwanted dogs and cats between 1995 and 2005. Nearly half-a-million animals were destroyed last year, the California
Department of Health contends.
But opponents, including the American Kennel Club and some CVMA-member veterinarians, rallied against the ban on owning intact
dogs and cats more than a few months old. They complained the bill's exemption fee for breeders was unfairly punishing and
wrongly excluded mutts, whose owners had no means for circumventing the mandate.
Bill adversaries like Dr. John Hamil, a former CVMA president, cited an "almost national absence" of puppies in shelters and
challenged the state's euthanasia statistics. While proponents called AB 1634 groundbreaking, Hamil claimed the bill marks
Big Government's involvement with a slippery-slope inference.
Even amendments attained by CVMA that exempted veterinarians from reporting illegally intact animals failed to satisfy disgruntled
DVMs. On July 2, the association bowed to constituent pressures and withdrew its sponsorship status. Nine days later, Senate
lawmakers nearly killed the measure.
Faoro, who since has reached his presidential term limit, says he spent up to eight hours a day on the issue, countering spin
from opponents and defraying criticism that the association wedded activist groups such as the American Society for the Prevention
of Cruelty to Animals and the Humane Society of the United States, which also backed the legislation.
San Diego practitioner Dr. Patricia Ungar outlines that connotation: "CVMA at this point ought to feel uneasy because they're
partnering with groups that have known PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) connections. This is really an issue
of morality, and you cannot legislate morality. I know a lot of people who are dumping their association membership if this
thing is not fixed."
According to Ungar, a poll of regional veterinary medical associations throughout the state revealed a majority opposed the
pet-sterilization mandate and CVMA's sponsorship of the initiative.
"CVMA was out of line doing what they did without consulting members," she says. "One of the best things they can do is get
out of this."