Dogs and cats

Bill has pet breeders barking

Debbie Franklin has a passion for dogs, especially the pint-sized Chihuahuas she has been breeding, raising and showing for more than 20 years. But lately she fears she may have to take her operation out of California.

The reason? A well-intentioned bill now being considered in the state Legislature that, in the name of controlling pet populations, would put her out of business, she insists.

“The California Pets Act” (AB 1634) has already passed the Assembly by a vote of 41-37. If approved by the Senate, the act would require all owners to spay or neuter their dogs and cats by the age of 6 months. And that’s got commercial pet breeders howling.

Assemblyman Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys), the author of the bill, argues that its purpose is to control the burgeoning number of strays and bring down the costs associated with animal control and thus “keep pets healthy, make communities safer and save taxpayers millions.”

We love our dogs and cats, he notes, but we also kill many of them. More than half of the estimated 800,000 unwanted dogs and cats are euthanized in California each year, he adds.

The law could be one of the best ways to reduce the number of potentially dangerous stray dogs as well as the number of animals that are killed every year due to pet overpopulation, Alex Traverso, Levine’s communications director, said in a phone interview.

“There’s a reason we’re in the situation we’re in, and everyone has contributed to that in one way or another,” he added. “If we continue to sit on the sidelines, this problem will never go away.”

The law would require that breeders obtain a license to keep their dogs intact for a nominal fee each year. Breeders would need to provide a copy of their business license as well as a federal and state tax ID number.

Local animal control would be responsible for enforcing the law, and any owners caught not complying would be fined $500. If the owner complied within 30 days, the fee would be waived, Traverso said.

In addition, there are more than 20 exemptions to the law, Traverso said, such as service dogs, law enforcement dogs and animals that are either too old or ill to be spayed or neutered.

“We are creating a framework of regulations and asking breeders to operate in a more legitimate fashion,” he said. “We are trying to cut down the number of backyard breeders who breed animals just to put them in the Sunday paper.”

But Franklin, who is president of the Chihuahua Club of Northern California, said regulations should be targeted at irresponsible pet owners rather than breeders who care about the health and happiness of their animals.

“This law wouldn’t even touch the people who let their dogs wander loose,” she said. The best defense against pet overpopulation is more low-cost spay and neuter clinics and better education about responsible pet ownership, she added.

“Spaying and neutering should be between the pet owner and the veterinarian,” she said. “This is just not good legislation—there are better ways.”

Dr. Jim Esh, of Acacia Veterinary Hospital, said he agrees the bill seems extreme. While it addresses a serious problem in California, it may not be effective for people who ignore their pets’ needs now, he said.

He also worries that, if the bill were successful, there wouldn’t be sufficient veterinarians to meet the increased demand for spay and neuter procedures.

“Where will we find the time and the vets to do all these spay and neuters?” he asked. “This is all about education, and having the govornment try to solve it seems unrealistic.”

The bill was to be reviewed by the state Senate on July 11, after CN&R deadline. Early indications were that, despite intense lobbying for it, including an appearance by celebrity game show host Bob Barker, it would be rejected.