Opponents target Levine spay/neuter bill with seven initiatives

Opponents of Assemblyman Lloyd Levine’s mandatory spay/neuter bill have filed seven separate initiatives with the Secretary of State’s office. They hope to insert changes in the state Constitution barring any law mandating that owners spay or neuter their pets.

All seven measures are being pushed by members of a loose coalition calling itself We the People PETS (WPP). Jill Holt, a dog breeder and organizer who is listed as the sponsor of the one of the initiatives, characterized the effort as “totally grassroots.”

“I may spend some quality time in front of a Wal-Mart with a clipboard.” Holt said.

Bill sponsor Judie Mancuso also said some of the initiatives would have far more wide-ranging effects than just preventing a mandatory spay-neuter law. In some cases, she said, they would implement unrelated regulations long sought by breeders, the AKC or big agriculture—and harm the state’s budget in the process. Mancuso also said these interest would be in a position to bankroll a campaign if made the ballot, and that many of the people involved in the initiative effort are dog breeders who belong to AKC-affiliated clubs.

"The American Kennel Club, as not-for-profit 501 (c4), spends money on our own lobbying efforts in order to stand up for the rights and viewpoints of our constituents, which are responsible dog owners and breeders. The AKC has never had any contact with an organization known as the WPP," said AKC Spokesperson Lisa Peterson in a statement. "During the course of our efforts to oppose the draconian mandatory spay/neuter provisions in AB 1634 the AKC employed a professional lobbyist and sent existing staff and materials to California to help organize responsible dog owners and breeders." 

A Democrat from Van Nuys, Levine is planning on bringing back AB 1634 in January after it stalled this session in a Senate committee. He has been talking to several Senators about amendments. The bill passed the Assembly by a one-vote margin in June, without a single Republican vote.

But he said his office hasn’t really been talking to the outside opposition, because they’ve made it clear that they won’t accept any spay/neuter law. While he admits the flood of initiatives caught him somewhat off guard, he said he wasn’t worried. Levine said he doubted any of the initiatives would qualify, and that there would definitely be money available to oppose them if they did.
“It’s easy to get worked up,” Levine said. “It’s a lot harder to get the signatures.”

Holt claimed her group could get the signatures just using volunteers, and that people would be eager to sign. She also said the initiatives would largely be commercial-proof, no matter how much money the “animal rights” side might throw at it. She and other sponsors have said that “radical” animal rights groups like People Against the Ethical Treatment of Animals are behind AB 1634.
The seven initiatives came in simultaneously, all marked as received by the Secretary of State’s office on Oct. 1. Each addresses a different issue, according to Diane Amble, who is coordinating the campaign. She was also involved in bringing descendents of television’s Lassie and Jon Provost, the actor who played Timmy Martin on the show in the 1950 and 60s,  to the Capitol to oppose the bill shortly before it stalled in the Senate Local Government Committee in early July.

All seven measures would appear to block implementation of AB 1634 if it were to pass. Holt is sponsoring a measure that would declare animals to be property—and making any spay/neuter bill contend with property rights law. Another measure would cap local animal registration fees at $50. A third would prevent state and local governments from mandating the implantation of microchips in “any human or animal.”

Amble said each effort was moving forward independently, with only loose central coordination. “It’s all the people who were woken up by AB 1634,” she said. “We find we’re each better off doing our own thing.”

Another measure would outlaw forced sterilization of either humans or animals. Sponsor Dianne-Margaret Hedgcock, a 63 year-old special education teacher from Redlands, said she was motivated in part by the state’s past history of sterilizing the mentally disabled and forcing contraception on welfare recipients.

“California has a nasty history of sterilizing people against their will,” Hedgcock said. She later added, “I don’t think the state of California should be making laws that affect people’s reproductive rights or animals reproductive rights,” Hedgcock said.

Mancuso said the effort to link rhetorically link animal and human rights was disengenous, given how many people on the anti-1634 side are breeders who are seeking to avoid taxes and regulations. She said most are affiliated with the AKC, which has been accused in recent years of registering known “puppy mills”—that is, high-volume dog breeders with low safety standards for animals. Lobbying reports show the AKC spent $50,000 opposing AB 1634.

“It’s not animal lovers versus animal lovers,” Mancuso said. “It’s animal caregivers versus people who are making money off of animals.”

Peterson counterd these accusations, stating: "The AKC spends $6 million annually to inspect breeders who register their litters with us. In order to remain in good standing with the AKC, breeders must be in compliance with our rules and regulations including our care and conditions policy, proper dog identification and recordkeeping practices."

Mancuso cited two of the measures as being the most worrisome. Both were filed by a San Francisco resident named Albert S. Scaletti. The Farm Animal Protection Act would mandate standards for farm animals, such as requiring “no less than a range of 1 to 1.5 square feet of usable space per laying hen.” She said that measure is actually supported by big agribusiness because it would mandate weak levels of protection while preventing more stringent measures.

The other measure, the Pet Animal Protection Act, would place strict limits on euthanasia for any animal shelter that receives any state funds—which is most shelters, according to people on both sides. The measure includes would have the state subsidize low-cost spay/neuter services, but would also get rid of the requirement that animals adopted from shelters must be sterilized.

The measure would actually save the state money, Amble claimed—up to $250 million a year in money not spent on, among other things, disposing of carcasses. She said that nearly two-thirds of the animals killed in clinics statewide are feral cats. The initiative would call for these unclaimed cats to be sterilized and returned to where they were found, helping stabilize the feral cat population. It would continue to call for almost all pets being adopted out of shelters to be spayed or neutered.

She also said the number of animals being euthanized each year in California has dropped by more than half since 1980, showing that education for pet owners is working. Holt claimed that about three-quarters of all pets in California are now sterilized anyway.

Mancuso disputed this, saying the initiative would impose heavy costs on the state as it heads into a likely budget crisis. On Monday, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered cuts in state agencies after reports showed the state could be $10 billion in the red for the current fiscal year. She pointed to SB 1785, a bill from then-Senator Tom Hayden requiring shelters that lengt
hened the amount of time shelters must hold animals before euthanizing them. While she supports the Hayden bill in principal, she notes that the Controller’s office has found it has cost the state a cumulative $125 million in extra costs since it went into effect.  

“They’re driving people crazy over at the Capitol,” Mancuso said of the initiatives. “The fiscal impact is huge.”

An LAO analysis of the initiative found that most of the costs would be borne by local governments, except for the clause calling for more training for shelter workers.

Amble characterized the WPP as part of a new movement that is bigger than the initiatives. They had their symbolic beginning, she said, at an Assembly Appropriations Committee hearing on AB 1634, when opponents were not allowed to speak.

“We realized they didn’t care about us,” Amble said.

Levine had a slightly different read on the opposition, saying they have repeatedly failed to recognize there is a problem of far too many animals being euthanized.

“It’s a small group of people really care about this but haven’t realized the rest of the world doesn’t agree with them,” Levine said.

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