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April 17, 2007 > 500,000, yes, 500,000!

500,000, yes, 500,000!

By Nancy Lyon

As rescue liaison for the Tri-City Animal Shelter, I regularly walk the kennels knowing from long experience who will most likely be rehomed and who will probably die. You look into the eyes of the innocent animals, victims of human irresponsibility and talk to them offering what comfort you can because the animals "know" they are in deep trouble.

The good people at the shelter work daily to find responsible options for the animals in their care but the great number of incoming animals quickly overwhelms what they can reasonably do to help. There are just too many, in California over 500,000 dogs and cats are put to death every year!

Each animal has a story that most of the time you'll never know. They acknowledge you with their eyes while anxiously looking around you because even in their state of confusion, fear and often serious neglect - they trust and wait. Trust that their beloved person will come for them. But very often that trust is misplaced; they are easily replaced and forgotten. After all, why pay the fees to get them out when you can always get another, there are so many looking for homes and are often free. So why bother?

But there are also good people who care enough to work toward correcting this tragedy. In Sacramento, legislation has been introduced that would result in greatly reducing the unacceptable number of dogs and cats destroyed yearly in California animal shelters. The bill, now in the State Assembly, would require the sterilization of all dogs and cats over 4 months of age in California. It has reached the first stage in the long road to passage or failure.
The California Healthy Pets Act - Assembly Bill 1634, authored by Assembly Member Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) came before the Assembly Committee on Business and Professions on April 10, but minor technicalities in amending the bill were made just before the first hearing and resulted in a short delay. Levine legislative aide Zak Meyer-Krings said the problems with the bill will be worked out within two weeks, in time for the next committee hearing.
There was a large rally in front of the State Capitol after the hearing with supporters from across the state voicing their support of the bill's progress as a positive first step toward victory. While around 100 opponents of the bill voiced their objections, 115 supporters testified at the morning's hearing, including veterinarians, animal control officers, and animal welfare advocates. More than 200 organizations (including OHS) and over 1,000 individuals submitted letters in support of the California Healthy Pets Act.
Judie Mancuso, Campaign Director for the California Healthy Pets Coalition, states "It meets California's needs and begins bringing this huge fiscal impact down in the most ethical manner. It's the right legislation at the right time. The needless killing of over 500,000 healthy animals and the waste of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars each year must end."
Assembly Member Levine, who also serves as Chair of the Assembly Select Committee on Animal Welfare stated, "Year after year, California legislators encourage the spaying and neutering of dogs and cats by issuing a Spay Day Resolution but despite our best efforts, dog and cat overpopulation remains a huge fiscal, public safety and ethical problem in California, forcing state and local governments to spend a quarter of a billion taxpayer dollars each year to intake nearly one million unwanted animals and ultimately kill over half. This measure will give law enforcement officials a critical tool in the fight to alleviate this major problem that impacts their departments and the citizens of California in so many negative ways."

There have been a number of owners and hobby breeders protesting that passage would place an unreasonable financial burden on them. But it's hard to overlook the fact that nationwide statistics show that 25-30 percent of animals in shelters are purebreds from some source, often suffering from the same hardships as their cross-bred cousins. Being purebred does not automatically insure rehoming and many are euthanized.
To address concerns, AB 1634 includes exclusions for police dogs, service and working dogs, and also provides for issuing permits for intact animals in specific situations. Those that strive to be responsible and caring breeders should examine how they feel about the sad realities of the plight of dogs and cats in general and in good conscience accept the minimal financial burden placed on them.
Non-compliance would subject those disregarding the law to a civil penalty of $500, which could be waived (like a "fix it" ticket) by authorities if their animals get spayed or neutered. All money from permits and fines will be used to fund the administration, enforcement and outreach efforts of the program as well as free or low-cost spay and neuter efforts.
Cities need to do their part and be proactive in implementing affordable sterilization programs when funding from citations and permits falls short. It's not enough to create a law that will financially impact lower income families and offer no solutions for them. Veterinary sterilization costs can be high and beyond the means of some people. When planning an ordinance of this nature, there is an obligation to address this problem and find ways for citizens to comply with the law.
We share a responsibility to see that this important legislation does not fail, becoming another victim of political pressure. Predictably, AB 1634 will face stiff amending and if watered down to the point that it becomes ineffective, it will not correct the problem. The bottom-line is while people posture about their rights and bemoan governmental intrusion, our companion animals are dying by the thousands daily and now is the time to put a stop to it!
You can follow the progress of AB 1634 online at the Official California Legislation website: You can help by contacting your State Assembly Member and State Senator urging their support of AB 1634. As the bill progresses calls to members of the committees who will decide on its future are very important, especially if you are a constituent.

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