November 25, 2011
Dear "Dog News" magazine:
We would like to respond to Mr. Shaun Coen's "Off the Leash" opinion column of October 14, 2011. In that column, Mr. Coen indicated his support for California's AB 1121, the puppy licensing and seller reporting bill, sponsored by the "Concerned Dog Owners of California". While we find Mr. Coen's comments to be generally very insightful, this time we must disagree with his assessment and analysis in regard to this bill.
The assumption made is that legislation is needed to address "overpopulation" of dogs in the state of California. In fact, this assumption is untrue. Our shelters are not being inundated with dogs. According to publicly available statistics for 2010, there was ONE live dog entering a shelter for every 89 residents in our state. That is a shelter intake rate of slightly over 1% per population. It is not unreasonable to expect that out of 89 people, one might need to surrender a dog due to loss of a job, home foreclosure, or other social problem. Also, many people take their dogs to the shelter specifically for end-of-life euthanasia. These dogs also count as intakes and deaths in the statistics. The focus should be on re-homing those animals who are adoptable; instead, we are "crying wolf" regarding canine shelter intakes.
In fact, some areas of the state have such a shortage of adoptable dogs that some private rescues actually import dogs from Mexico, Taiwan, and Romania. Just last Wednesday, on Thanksgiving Eve, over forty "rescued" Beagles were flown from Spain into Los Angeles, to be put up for sale by a private rescue group. Such operations demonstrate that we have homes waiting for adoptable dogs.
The vast majority of shelter intakes and deaths are feral cats who have no owners, are not vaccinated for rabies and are not licensed. Laws do not affect animals who do not have owners. Responsible dog owners have been unfairly tagged by animal rights groups as somehow to blame for feral and stray animals entering shelters. AB 1121 merely feeds into this anti-dog owner/breeder fanaticism.
Education regarding the need for responsible ownership, (which includes proper leashing and confinement of pets) has served as an effective deterrent to unwanted litters, as evidenced by shelters numbers plummeting in our state over the past 40 years, in the face of a burgeoning human population. This great success has been accomplished WITHOUT the use of coercive legislation such as mandatory sterilization or requirements to report puppy buyers to the state.
Governor Brown vetoed AB 1121, stating: "licensing and tracking of dogs is quintessentially a local function." However, the licensing and tracking of dogs is an over-reach of government authority on any level, when that function extends beyond the basics of necessity for rabies control. With our state facing its worst financial crisis in history, it seems ludicrous that we would propose the establishment of an expensive new bureaucracy in the tracking of dogs. Such programs always require additional funding for implementation…money that we can ill afford.
Currently, veterinarians in the most populous counties in the state are already subject to requirements for mandatory reporting of rabies vaccinations. Further reporting by sellers is duplicative and unnecessary. Another concern is that, under the seller reporting requirements in AB 1121, the exact determination of who would be considered a "pet dealer" is vague and open to interpretation. Creeping incrementalism is par for the course when it comes to legislation, and any seller reporting proposal would likely be amended in the future to include everyone who sells or offers pets for "adoption".
We wonder where you derive your figures for dog licensing fees? Certainly not from California localities, where license fees are rarely set as low as $17, even for altered dogs who receive deep discounts. Costs for dog licenses in some areas are exorbitant. In the City of Los Angeles, a dog license costs $100, and if your dog is intact you are also required to pay an additional $235 per year for an intact permit.....even if the dog is never bred. $335 per year for a dog license? Is it any wonder that few dogs are vaccinated and licensed? Yet the license fee for an altered dog is $20. Reduced license fees for altered dogs or puppies are inherently unfair and discriminatory against responsible owners of intact dogs. Many large breed dogs are not physically mature until two years old or even later; but in order to obtain discounted license rates, their owners are strong-armed into sterilizing before maturity, potentially adversely affecting long-term health and shortening their lifespan.
Independent rescues would be adversely affected by the reporting and record-keeping requirement contained in the puppy licensing/reporting proposal. Most private rescues operate on a shoestring budget. Fewer people will adopt from a rescue group, knowing that their information and sale will be reported to the state. Fewer rescued animals successfully re-homed means more shelter deaths.
This proposal will result in noncompliance, as breeders avoid the reporting requirements and as buyers seek animals from out of state or via anonymous internet transactions. Nonprofit rescue groups will find it more difficult to place their animals in homes, and as a double whammy, they will also find it burdensome on their volunteer-based organization to have to comply with the reporting and record-keeping requirements.
Mr. Coen also recommends that government-mandated microchipping be implemented. When shelters are required to microchip dogs upon release, as was proposed here in California and thankfully defeated at the state level, shelter adoption fees rise to include the cost of the microchip. Again, higher adoption fees means fewer shelter pets adopted. Microchips also have inherent health risks involved with their insertion. Owners should decide if they wish to use permanent ID, and if so, if they would like to use microchip technology or instead opt for the more visible forms of ID such as tags, tattoos, or even freeze branding.
California Federation of Dog Clubs was a sponsor of "Molly's Bill" (medical exemptions from rabies vaccination). We believe that government must look to science, as was done with "Molly's Bill", and rationally evaluate the evidence before declaring that legislation is necessary or advisable.
Knee-jerk proposals like dog seller reporting, mandatory microchipping, and differential licensing fees for select groups are poor ideas which will only backfire. Instead of improving conditions for dogs and their owners, fewer rescues will be adopted, the costs of ownership will spiral out of control, fewer owners will afford to keep their pets, and more pets will be remanded to shelters, and perhaps even killed, instead of remaining in their homes.
Understanding the dynamics of punitive legislation is essential in order to progress to a more compassionate society. Not only are seller reporting requirements onerous, but the expectation of widespread spay/neuter is also unwise and unreasonable. We could take a lesson from European countries, where pet sterilization is the exception rather than the rule. In Norway, pet sterilization without medical necessity is illegal, yet they have no pet overpopulation crisis. Responsible ownership, fostered by collaborative, supportive programs and positive attitudes rather than punitive measures, is the key to the solution of shelter issues.
It's time for the Golden State to stop trying to balance animal control budgets on the backs of conscientious dog owners and breeders.
California Federation of Dog Clubs