‘UNBELIEVABLE’ WAS the reaction from dog and cat enthusiasts and thousands of pet owners in California last week after Members of the California State Assembly voted 41-38 – a margin of just three votes - to outlaw the existence of mixed-breed dogs and cats in the Golden State.
As reported previously in OUR DOGS, Assembly Bill 1634, euphemistically called the California Healthy Pets Act, authored by Los Angeles Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, will allow only selected purebred dogs and cats to breed, if their owners pay for a special licence to allow them to do so. Pet owners who don’t sterilise their mixed breed pets by four months of age will face a $500 fine and possible criminal penalties.
‘This crazy measure will end up costing families heartache and taxpayers billions,’ said Bill Hemby, Chairman of PetPAC, an organisation dedicated to the rights of pets and owners. ‘California will be the poster child for an invasive and overreaching government mandate that is inhumane and impossible to fund, administer or enforce.’
AB 1634 will blanket all 58 counties in California with an expensive forced spay/neuter law that not all animal shelters want – or need. According to the State of California, dog impounds have fallen 86% over last 30 years. Puppies and kittens are already being transferred between counties to alleviate a shortage of adoptable pets: San Francisco and Marin Counties need to bring pets in from other areas to be adopted locally. In San Diego County – which has no mandatory spay/neuter law – only one adoptable animal was euthanased in 2004-05.
Not only family pets, but police dogs, search and rescue dogs, service dogs for the blind and disabled, and working stock dogs serving California’s $6 billion livestock industry will be decimated under AB 1634.
‘The methods proposed by AB 1634 will lead to unintended consequences that will have a serious negative effect on animal health, the public, and the economy,’ wrote 125 licensed veterinarians in opposition to the measure. ‘AB 1634 may actually lead to an increase in the number of animals impounded and euthanased.’
Experience has shown that local jurisdictions cannot recoup the costs to administer and enforce mandated sterilisation laws from penalties and fees alone. As a result, funds will need to be taken from vital city and county services, including law enforcement and public safety.
The bill includes several exceptions, including for show animals, police dogs and guide dogs and for animals that are too old or ill to be spayed or neutered.
Many breeders and dog owners say the bill adds unneeded bureaucracy, and that collected fees would go toward maintaining the program's bureaucratic infrastructure. Several dog and cat enthusiasts have complained that the plan to issue licences to allow them not to spay their animals will not only cost them dear in fees, but are also an infringement of their civil liberties.
The bill now moves on to the State Senate for consideration ‘in due course’ – possibly later this month.
Meanwhile, in Long Beach, a pair of local Assembly members who voted for the bill broke their promises and delivered a multimillion-dollar blow to the city's economy, some opponents of the Bill said last week.
Assemblywoman Betty Karnette's and Assemblywoman Laura Richardson's votes on Wednesday night for Assemblyman Lloyd Levine's AB 1634 helped pass it, 41-38. The promised abstentions or ‘no’ votes by Karnette and Richardson would have killed the bill.
Those votes, however, threaten the prestigious American Kennel Club/Eukanuba National Championship Show in Long Beach, which brought 30,000 people to the city last year, local tourism officials said. They estimate that the AKC/Eukanuba show will have a $65 million impact on the city's economy and $850,000 in hotel bed taxes through to 2014.
Karnette and Richardson had told lobbyists and local tourism officials they would abstain from supporting the bill to help keep the dog show in Long Beach.
But the lawmakers – both Democrats - maintained last week that their votes gave them leverage to alter the bill at a later date, to make it more breeder-friendly, although what changes they sought, if any, were not clear.
Levine's bill passed the Assembly floor with 41 ‘aye’ votes - ‘AKC is very frustrated that two representatives at the Assembly level for the city of Long Beach voted ‘yes’ on a bill when they had previously told others that they would abstain,’ said Steve Goodling, president and CEO of the Long Beach Convention and Visitors’ Bureau. ‘They feel that their value to the city is not being recognised.’
The group's 600 delegates gathered at a quarterly meeting in Las Vegas on Monday of this week and Goodling said that he believed there was a chance the delegates would seek cancellation of the contract to hold the show in Long Beach.
‘Their membership is furious with what transpired in the Assembly,’ Goodling said. ‘There is concern that their members will ask that they explore their existing contract.’
The last show was in December, and the group has signed contracts to hold shows in Long Beach this year, and in 2008, with a verbal agreement for 2009, according to the CVB.
The group has asked the CVB to hold dates through 2014, Goodling said. The show garners live coverage on the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet.
‘It's a big disappointment and it will be a big loss for the city of Long Beach,’ Goodling said.
Both Karnette and a spokesman for Richardson confirmed the lawmakers had promised not to support the bill.
‘That's what I told my office and I told the lobbyists,’ said Karnette, adding, ‘Democracy is the art of negotiations.’
‘The author has agreed to really work on the bill. I have made no promise to continue to support it.
‘The idea of all these animals being killed bothers all of us. I care about tourism a great deal. And I really do understand the concerns. I think we can work out the problems.’
Stan Diorio with Richardson's office claimed her vote was a ‘strategic move’ to convince Levine that he needs her support for final passage of the bill.
‘She leveraged her vote to get a commitment from him to work with (the breeders),’ he said.
Richardson herself was not available for comment.
A lobbyist for the AKC said the votes by Karnette and Richardson have already generated negative feelings about Long Beach from several members.
‘It's already true that there are individual dog owners and breeders who are not interested in participating in a show in Long Beach because of what's happened,’ said AKC lobbyist Jeff Leacox.
Whilst organisations such as the AKC and their feline equivalent the International Cat Association, as well as PetPAC have their own campaigns to oppose the Bill, a new campaign for all pet owners – not just residents of California or indeed America has been launched. The Biscuit Campaign will send a ‘dog biscuit’ bearing a message opposing AB1634 to the State Assembly for every one dollar donation it receives.