Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Assembly Bill 1634 - A Bill Whose Time Has Come

I want to thank the City Council for its unanimous support of Assembly Bill 1634 - The California Healthy Pet Bill - legislation designed to end the incalculable suffering of unwanted homeless and lost dogs and cats in the State of California. This April 17 vote places the City of Los Angeles officially on record in support of the legislation and could be a difference-maker in the contentious debate up in Sacramento.

This bill is particularly important to the City of Los Angeles and, in fact, was originally given birth by the staff of LA Animal Services working closely with legal experts, animal control professionals and key activists from all over the state.

Over the past several months, with the extraordinary help of California Healthy Pets Coalition director (and volunteer) Judie Mancuso and many others, this bill has taken shape and garnered the support of the California Veterinary Medical Association, the California Association of Animal Control Directors (representing over 100 animal control agencies across the state of California), the State Humane Association of California, the Humane Society of the United States, In Defense of Animals, The Animal Protection Institute, the SPCA-LA, the Rescue Humane Alliance LA (which represents 65 LA animal welfare organizations), thousands of activists and organizations, and dozens of other animal welfare and control organizations in LA and across California.

AB 1634 is a bill whose time has come. Several years ago, the City of Los Angeles became a national humane leader by committing itself to ending euthanasia as a methodology for controlling pet overpopulation. This commitment was built upon the resounding voter approval of nearly $160 million to construct seven animal shelters to manage the crushing number of lost and homeless animals taken in by LA Animal Services every year (over 50,000 animals in some years). Over the past six years the City Council had to increase Animal Services’ budget by 36%, with a 28% increase in the current fiscal year alone, even in the face of an extremely tight City budget.

In the hardball world of politics, numbers such as these can be important. Other important numbers in the AB 1634 debate include the $240 million a year in taxpayer dollars it cost the state’s public animal control agencies to care for, then kill approximately 430,000 animals last year. Then there’s the $120 million the state government has had to pay local agencies to fund the extra days of animal care required by the “Hayden Bill,” approved in 1997. This reimbursable mandate is growing at a rate of $30 million annually.

Numbers like these remind us that trying to solve the pet overpopulation problem from the back end is expensive. It is like trying to mop up a flooded basement without first turning the water off.

Over the last few years, we’ve made some progress in Los Angeles, using licensing incentives, stepped-up adoption programs and alliances with the rescue community to bring down our kill rate by about 20% since 2000 to around 40%. We’ve also reduced the number of impounds by a similar percentage by employing aggressive voluntary spay/neuter programs. But many jurisdictions around the state aren’t doing nearly as well, with kill rates ranging from 50% to as high as 90%.

Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. AB 1634 provides us with an elegant, but simple tool for ending the insanity of escalating budgets and body counts. Combined with public awareness education and outreach and even more spay/neuter services, this legislation can help other animal control agencies get a handle on the problem for the very first time, while agencies like Animal Services can use it to strive for the even lower euthanasia rates our animals deserve and our constituents demand.

On behalf of the nearly 400 employees of Animal Services and the hundreds of volunteers and partners we have throughout Los Angeles who feel the brunt of pet overpopulation everyday I want to thank everyone who made this vote possible.

Mahatma Gandhi told us that the best way to evaluate the morality of a community is to look at how we treat our animals. Our City Council has risen to the occasion again by accepting our collective responsibility for a tenacious problem while at the same time helping to save the lives and end the suffering of countless generations of unwanted animals. They did that by supporting AB 1634, the fiscally prudent and humane solution to LA’s, and California’s, pet overpopulation problems. It is my hope that all our representatives on both sides of the aisle in Sacramento will be just as fiscally prudent and humane as the bill continues its journey toward passage and Governor Schwarzenegger’s signature. This one’s for the animals!

For more information on this life saving public health and safety initiative visit http://www.cahealthypets.com/