LOCAL VIEWS: New pet proposal needs to be sterilized
By MICHAEL M. ROSEN - For the North County Times | Sunday, July 5, 2009 12:11 AM PDT
"If you get to thinking you're a person of some influence," Will Rogers once said, "try ordering somebody else's dog around."
California legislators must have precisely such a glorified view of their own power, as the state Senate in June narrowly approved Senate Bill 250, a proposal that would mandate the sterilization of most cats and dogs.
The measure would require owners to sterilize all dogs and cats within six months of birth or otherwise obtain an "unaltered dog or cat license," if the governing city or county provides such a license. Thus, if your municipality hasn't set up a licensing system for "unaltered" animals, you may have no choice but to neuter Fido.
And even if the owner obtains an unaltered pet license, any violation of a state, city or county ordinance "relating to the care and control of animals" ---- including permitting the pet to "roam at large" ---- could result in revocation of the license. So if Fido escapes from your house, even once, kiss the canine jewels good-bye, even if they're licensed.
Worst of all, that same violation could preclude you from ever getting a license again.
Needless to say, the bill is bad news for pet owners. It's costly, it's unfair and it doesn't work. The good news? There's still time to stop it.
After squeaking past the Senate on a 21-16 party-line vote, following a failed first reading, the measure on Tuesday passed through the Assembly's Business and Professions Committee.
Next up: the Appropriations Committee, where tougher sledding is expected, considering the state's horrific budget problems.
Last week, the California Department of Finance concluded the bill "would result in a substantial increase to the General Fund," in part because "given the current economic climate, requiring the owners of dogs and cats to pay for sterilization procedures would result in more animals being abandoned or surrendered because of the owners' inability to finance the sterilization procedure and pay additional fines."
Proponents of the bill contend that the state budget won't take a hit because implementation will be foisted onto cities and counties. Even if that's true, though, how is it any better to shift the costs to struggling local governments?
As Valley Center's Susan Sholar, the legislative chairman of the Silver Bay Kennel Club, asked me (rhetorically), "why do our state officials seem more worried about mandatory castration of our pets instead of balancing a budget, keeping our teachers in the classroom and our fire and police department up to full manpower?"
Basic fairness to pet owners is another major concern. The moderate National Animal Interest Alliance decried the bill's "one-strike-and-you're-out" policy, which includes minor offenses.
And opposition to SB 250 spans the ideological spectrum, notwithstanding the party-line vote approving the bill. One self-styled "progressive" criticized the measure in the San Francisco Chronicle for "forc[ing] low-income families to obtain a veterinary procedure they cannot afford while imposing penalties and fees, all under the threat of having to surrender the pet to animal control authorities-during a recession, no less."
Foes of the bill also include the ASPCA and the American Veterinary Medical Association, while proponents of force sterilization, not surprisingly, include radical animal rights groups like PETA and the Humane Society of the United States.
One other wrinkle: traditional Judaism, among other faiths, prohibits animal sterilization as contrary to nature. God endows his creatures with the ability to "be fruitful and multiply," and we usurp his role when we destroy that endowment. While SB 250 contains loopholes, it still imposes a heavy burden on the practice of religious beliefs. In its lawsuit seeking to overturn on constitutional grounds the city of Los Angeles's forced sterilization program, Concerned Dog Owners of California cited this concern.
Critics of the bill also question the effectiveness of mandatory spay/neuter laws. Indeed, one study of Santa Cruz County's compulsory sterilization program found the county's euthanasia rates were substantially higher than in adjacent counties with no such laws and 44 percent higher than in San Diego County.
Similarly, an NAIA report established that the city of Los Angeles's dog euthanasia rate declined by 67 percent during the five years prior to its enactment of a mandatory spay-neuter law and leaped by 30 percent afterward. These are deeply disturbing statistics.
Ultimately, "if people want to have the dogs we love in the future," one North County woman with a therapy dog told me, "we need to fight for our rights and against law-abiding dog owners being turned into criminals."
Or, as Will Rogers might have said, let's persuade Sacramento to stop ordering our pets around.
MICHAEL M. ROSEN, an attorney in Carmel Valley, is the secretary of the San Diego County Republican Party. The views expressed are his own. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.