Spay-neuter bill gets gutted in committee

One of the most controversial bills of the year looks like it will finally get to the Senate floor soon–though is a very altered form.

AB 1634, from Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, D-Van Nuys, originally called for spaying or neutering of any dog or cat over six months of age, with exceptions for breeders, working animals and some others. As amended in the Senate Local Government Committee, the new version calls for the sterilization only of a dog that has been taken into the shelter system three times or a cat that has been in twice.

Levine met on Monday with Senator Gloria Negrete-McLeod, D-Chino, according to both offices. She said changes needed to be made to get the votes to get the bill out of committee and onto the Senate floor, and Levine agreed. Negrete-McLeod now appears as a principal coauthor on the bill.

"I don't think this will satisfy the extremists on either side of the, but this is better policy," Negrete-McLeon said. She added, "You have a bad dog, snip-snip."

Titled the California Healthy Pets Act, it was one of the most talked-about bills of last year. Legislative offices reported getting huge amounts of mail, phone calls, emails and faxes on the bill. Levine made several amendments last year, mainly around creating exemptions for particular classes of dogs and cats, as he tried to placate the opponents. But he said he was not disappointed over moving forward with a much less sweeping bill, noting that it will result in the spaying/neutering of some of the most problematic animals.

"It's the legislative process," Levine said. "You never get everything you want. The purpose of my legislation was to address the serious problem of cat and dog overpopulation. I feel that this will help us accomplish that goal. I'm not unhappy with it. One of the first things they tell you when you come to work in the Capitol is ‘never fall in love with your bills.'"

Judie Mancuso, the campaign director behind the effort to pass AB 1634, was less positive about the changes. For one thing, she said, the home foreclosure crisis is worsening the overpopulation problem at shelters as people give up pets when they move out of owned houses into rented apartments. For all of 2006, she said, California shelters took in 375,000 dogs, euthanizing 146,000. For 2007, shelters took in 419,000 dogs-but 10 counties have not yet reported all their numbers for last year, compared to only one that hasn't reported 2006 numbers. The 2008 numbers, she said, are looking even worse.

She also pointed to numerous other governments around the country-including the state legislatures of Arizona and Rhode Island-that have modeled bills on AB 1634.

"The rest of the country has long looked to our lead," Mancuso said. "The thing that concerns me is the message we're sending out is this is all we can do."

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