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Compulsory neutering bill put to sleep
- for the time being!

A BILL that would require most dogs or cats in California to be spayed or neutered died last week in a Senate committee when the author discovered there weren't enough votes to pass the controversial measure.

Because of legislative deadlines, the now infamous AB1634 cannot be resurrected until the start of the next legislative session in January 2008.

One of the hottest issues in the current Californian legislative session, the bill generated nearly 20,000 letters from breeders, pet owners and animal activists before last week’s hearing alone.
The author of the bill, Assemblyman Lloyd Levine realising that he did not have the three votes needed to win approval from the five-member Senate Local Government Committee, declined to allow a vote to be taken. The action effectively killed the measure until the next legislative session in January because the Legislature's rules required the bill to pass out of committee by last Friday.

Confident

Characteristically, Levine remained arrogantly confident that his Bill would eventually prevail, saying: ‘We have six months to educate the committee. I want to reach out again to the opponents.’

‘This is an issue in California which everyone has experience with,’ said Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at Cal State Sacramento. ‘People feel strongly about euthanasing animals, so the arguments around the issue are relevant to their lives. That's not always the case when you talk about budget figures and health care.’

Not working

Supporters of the bill said mandatory sterilisation - with some exceptions - is needed to reduce the number of unwanted cats and dogs, at least 500,000 of which are euthanased at animal shelters each year, Levine said.

‘Voluntary is not working. We see it every day,’ said Pat Claerbout, president of the California Animal Control Directors' Association. ‘We've tried to educate. ... Everyone knows it's the right thing to do, but we didn't have compliance until there was a law on the books.’

Opponents countered that stricter enforcement of leash laws is more effective and that mandatory sterilisation programmmes such as those in Santa Cruz and Lake counties are unfair to responsible pet owners. Others said that dog and cat fanciers would be severely restricted in their activities. This led to strong political lobbying by the American Kennel Club and feline registaries such as the Cat Fanciers’ Association.

‘Wherever mandatory spay-neuter has been put into place, the results have not been as positive as where spay-neuter is encouraged but is a personal decision,’ said Cathie Turner, executive director of Concerned Dog Owners of California. ‘Low-cost microchipping or some tax or licensing incentives should be considered.’

Levine's bill, AB1634, would prohibit anyone from owning a dog or cat more than 6 months old that is not spayed or neutered without having an ‘intact permit.' To get such a permit, a person would have to meet one of six conditions, which include being a licensed breeder or owning a dog that is used to herd livestock or for law enforcement purposes.

Amendment

In order to win Assembly approval, Levine added what was dubbed the ‘mutt amendment’ to his bill, which would allow pet owners, until January 2012, to get a one-year permit - for a fee set by local governments - for one male and one female dog per household to produce a single litter before being sterilized.

The final testimony and debate on the bill lasted nearly 90 minutes. Although appearing in opposition to the bill, the dog that plays the current ‘Lassie’ sprawled on the floor beside her trainer, snoozing serenely next to the front row of chairs in the packed hearing room.

The American Kennel Club welcomed news of the Bill’s demise. Dennis Sprung, AKC President/CEO commented: ‘AB 1634 was nothing more than an attempt to penalise responsible dog and cat owners who are not to blame for any purported pet population issues in California. This is a great day for all responsible dog owners and breeders. Today’s developments ensure that their fundamental rights and liberties remain intact.’

‘The American Kennel Club thanks all California breeders and concerned dog owners who united to voice their vehement opposition to this draconian legislation.’