Monday, May 14, 2007

California's Healthy Pets Act

Every year, nearly one million cats and dogs pass through the doors of animal control agencies throughout California. And every year, hundreds of thousands of them – many perfectly healthy and adoptable – are euthanized by overcrowded shelters that are unable to find them good homes. Here in Los Angeles, despite the fact that we have some of the best voluntary spay and neuter programs in the state, nearly 19,000 dogs and cats were put down at city shelters over the past 12 months. Perhaps those numbers don’t bother you, but this one might: collectively, our state and local governments are spending $250 million taxpayer dollars to house, care for, and ultimately kill about half a million dogs and cats each year.

To combat this taxpayer burden and overpopulation crisis, Assemblymember Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) has introduced the California Healthy Pets Act, which would require most pets in California over four months of age to be spayed or neutered. Under Assembly Bill 1634, dog and cat owners who don’t comply would be cited if their pet comes in contact with a local animal control officer, but given time to spay or neuter their pets before a fine would be assessed. A portion of those fines would be used to expand the availability of free or low-cost spay and neuter programs.

In absence of this legislation, California will continue to take a piecemeal approach to pet overpopulation and things will never really improve – even when there is already a proven approach to solving this problem just waiting to be implemented: mandatory spay/neuter laws. And with a growing number of free and low-cost spay/neuter services up and down the state, mandatory spay/neuter laws should not pose a financial burden for pet owners.

Mr. Levine’s legislation contains a number of common sense exceptions, including for show and sporting dogs, law enforcement dogs, dogs used in search and rescue, cats or dogs who are too old or in poor health, and guide, service and signal animals. The bill is modeled after a highly successful mandatory spay and neuter ordinance that has been in place in Santa Cruz County since 1995. Within two years of the County’s enactment of the measure, it began to see a noticeable reduction in the number of animals entering its shelters. Within eight years, despite a 15 percent growth in the county’s human population, the number of animals entering the county’s shelters was cut in half.

Despite cries from breeders that Mr. Levine’s bill is too severe, there are counties that already have more stringent laws than what the California Healthy Pets Act contains. And why shouldn’t they? Medical research shows that spayed or neutered cats and dogs live longer and healthier lives. The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends early spaying and neutering because younger animals recover faster and with less pain. Spaying and neutering also protects and improves the health of pets by reducing or eliminating many health problems that are difficult and expensive to treat, such as cancer, tumors, hernias, infections and other life-threatening diseases.

Depending on how you choose to look at pet overpopulation problem in California, there are either 500,000 or 250 million good reasons to try and do something constructive to solve it. Crafted by a comprehensive coalition of animal welfare experts, AB 1634 is a common sense approach that will not only establish California as a national leader in the humane care for animals, but it will save our state’s taxpayers millions of their hard earned dollars.