A controversial proposal by a Southern California assemblyman requiring pet owners to spay or neuter all cats and dogs is receiving mixed reviews by those who would be most affected.
The Peninsula Humane Society is unofficially against the bill along with a handful of local breeders. The PHS suspects it will be unsuccessful at curbing the population problem and at least one pet trainer feels it will take away her personal rights. Proponents say it will ultimately save government money used to house or euthanize stray animals.
Assembly Bill 1634, authored by Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, D-Van Nuys, would prohibit any person from owning or possessing any cat or dog over the age of 4 months that has not been spayed or neutered, unless that person possesses a special permit. Owners of any unaltered cat or dog would be fined $500. A special permit to have an intact animal will be issued through local jurisdictions and carry with it a separate cost.
Each year, almost one million unwanted and abandoned cats and dogs are born in California. Local governments spend more than $250 million each year to intake, care for, and ultimately kill more than half of those animals. The bill, modeled after a Santa Cruz County law, would help shelters, according to testimony provided by Levine’s office.
The bill passed out of the Assembly Committee on Business and Professions last Thursday after testimony from many supporters and opponents. The bill is sponsored by five major animal associations, including the State Humane Association of California.
Two organizations — Bay Area Dog Lovers Responsible About Pit Bulls and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — also support the bill. The Peninsula Humane Society sees the bill as difficult to enforce and chooses other paths to curb animal overpopulation.
"The spirit of it is fine. The mechanics of it is a little more difficult,” said Scott Delucchi, vice president of the Peninsula Humane Society.
The PHS was asked to support the bill, but did not. Instead, it is choosing to take no official position. The PHS tried unsuccessfully in the early 1990s to pass countywide legislation to reduce the number of homeless pets. Now, the organization prefers to focus on free or low-cost clinics and insists the best way to attack the problem is county-by-county rather than statewide, Delucchi said.
More than a decade ago, the PHS lobbied each city to pass a law requiring pet owners who did not fix their pets to pay an additional $30 to $40 fine if they had to claim their pet from the shelter. Only a handful of cities passed the legislation, including the city of San Mateo, Delucchi said.
The results were disappointing, Delucchi said.
Some pet owners would abandon their pet when they learned of the cost to get their animal out of the shelters. The PHS charges $15 a day for each day it shelters the animal plus fines ranging from $30 to $105 for animals not that are unaltered, unlicensed or both. On top of that, the early 1990s legislation requires residents from certain cities, like San Mateo, to pay the additional $30 to $40 and pay for the animal to be fixed.
AB 1634 is mirrored after legislation in Santa Cruz County. In 1995, the county implemented a mandatory spay and neuter ordinance to reduce the high number of animals its shelters took in every year. Santa Cruz’s ordinance requires cats and dogs over 6 months old to be spayed or neutered unless an unaltered animal certificate is issued.
Many breeders and service dog organizations are opposed to the bill because it requires the operation at a young age. They argue altering an animal at four months could make it more aggressive. Others who raise service animals argue it’s too early to determine an animal’s temperament and the bill could prevent good dogs from later bearing puppies with similar temperament.
"This age is far too early to determine whether a puppy has the aptitude, temperament, physical attributes and instinct to be a working sheepdog or livestock guardian dog,” the Redwood Sheepdog Association stated in a letter of opposition to the bill.
People who show their cats or dogs will be required to have a permit.
Cathy Dutra, of San Mateo Dog Trainers Club, said the bill punishes the most responsible pet owners.
"We are very much opposed to it,” Dutra said. "It shouldn’t be taken out of our hands, period.”
Dutra worries it will end up costing responsible pet owners more time and money and force the irresponsible owners and breeders underground. There is no guarantee those people will follow the law, she said.
"I honestly feel that is not going to change anything. They will just abandon their dogs,” Dutra said.
Santa Cruz County supports the bill and testified that the number of pets entering its shelters was reduced from approximately 14,000 to 5,000 in 2005.
In San Mateo County, the number of cats and dogs brought into the humane society dropped from 45,000 in the 1970s to 9,000 last year, Delucchi said.
The PHS started a free mobile spay and neuter clinic last year. It travels to some of the county’s lower income neighborhoods and provides on-site, one-day operations for family pets, Delucchi said.
Dana Yates can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.