Florez introduces spay-neuter bill

One of the most controversial ideas from the last legislative session is coming back to the Capitol, thanks to Sen Dean Florez, D-Shafter. E-mail, will be sent, phone calls will be made, as Florez jumps into the battle over spaying and neutering of pets.

Florez’s SB 250 picks up where Assemlbyman Lloyd Levine left off, with some changes Florez’s measure requires adult animals to be fixed unless the owner obtains a license to have an “unaltered” animal over six months of age. Owners of unaltered cats would be required to keep them indoors. The license could be revoked at any time, and would also need to be transferred to the new owner if the animal was sold or given away.

Dubbed “The Pet Responsibility Act,” SB 250 was given its number to denote the $250 million a year spent to house and euthanize stray dogs and cats. According to the US Census Bureau and other agencies, a dog born in California today has a one in four chance of dying in a shelter.

SB 250 follows AB 1634, a bill carried in 2007 by former Assemblyman Lloyd Levine. That bill imposed a requirement that all adult dogs and cats be neutered, with exceptions made for breeders and working animals. AB 1634 went through numerous revisions before dying under a wave of opposition from the American Kennel Club (AKC) and other groups. Several legislative offices-including ones with no direct involvement in the bill-reported that for much of 2007 the volume of faxes, emails and phone calls they received on AB 1634 was more than all other bills combined.

Though it may appear to offer more exceptions than AB 1634, supporter Allan Drusys denied that SB 250 was watered-down by comparison.

“It is not less stringent,” Drusys said, who is chief veterinarian for the Riverside County Department of Animal Services and the vice-mayor of the city of Yucaipa. “What this bill does is target that population of animal owners who by their behavior have a greater propensity to increase pet overpopulation.”

He compared the bill to seat belt laws. Police don’t generally pull drivers over for not wearing seat belts, but can ticket them for the unsafe practice if they get pulled over for other reasons. Similarly, animal control officers won’t seek out pets under SB 250, but will subject owners to its requirements if their pets are picked up while on the loose. Drusys said he expects this to blunt some of the likely opposition to the bill.

“It voids all the opposition from my standpoint,” Drusys said. “They (the AKC and other opposed groups) have said repeatedly that we should go after irresponsible pet owners.”

 The opposition to SB 250 has already started. The group PetPAC, which says it represents over 50,000 pet owners, put out a statement condemning the measure. The group says a mandatory spay-neuter law in Los Angeles that went into effect in 2006 has nearly tripled shelter costs there.

“SB 250 is a bad idea,” said the group’s Bill Hemby. “It will result in a reduction in dog licenses, cost the taxpayers millions in increased shelter and enforcement costs and result in more dogs being euthanized.”

So far this year, Florez has jumped headlong into this controversial area. Last month, he was announced as the new chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, which was redubbed the Committee on Food and Agriculture. The name change, along with the inclusion of several urban Democratic Senators who had never served on the Committee before, was taken by many as a sign that the Committee might have a more confrontational attitude towards agribusiness-leading some in the GOP to call it the “Food fight and ag-hating committee.”

On Feb. 12, he introduced another animal rights measure. The so-called “Happy Cows” bill, SB 135, would ban the practice of tail-docking on cows. This is the process of amputating cows’ tails, something Florez claimed is both unnecessary and often done in an inhumane manner.

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