May 22, 2007

Shelter dogs, stockdogs, and one bad bill

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"This DOG - ID#A545335.
I am a female, tan Pit Bull Terrier.
The shelter thinks I am about 5 years old.
I have been at the shelter since May 19, 2007."
For more information about this animal, call:
San Jose Animal Care & Services at (408) 578-PAWS.

Try this: go to and enter the name of a California city or county. Check some shelters, then click on "I lost my pet" and "DOGS" and see what comes up. Click "Breed" and they'll give you an alphabetical rundown --- "breed" being a shot in the dark in most cases.

You’ll find all kinds of mixed breeds. You'll find breeds that have been in the movies or on television: a Dalmatian or two, a few Jack Russells. You'll find pages of Chihuahuas and “Chihuahua mixes,” “chow mixes,” “shepherd mixes,” “lab mixes.” And pit bulls. Dozens -- hundreds -- of pit bulls. Page after heartbreaking page of pit bulls. In some California shelters they make up more than 80% of the dogs impounded, according to one shelter director. Some 20,000 pit bulls are euthanized each year in Bay Area shelters alone.

And while all those unwanted pit bulls are being killed, San Francisco area shelters and rescue groups are transporting van-loads of non-pits from Central Valley shelters to the Bay Area, to fill the consumer demand for... well, for dogs that don't look like pit bulls.

California’s shelter dog population, in other words, largely reflects the high-volume production of several disastrously popular breeds. (Cats make up the majority of animals impounded and euthanized throughout the state. Try comparing the number of homeless dogs to the number of homeless cats at

You might want to keep all this in mind the next time a proponent of mandatory spay/neuter puts on her sanctimonious face and announces: If you have an unaltered animal, you’re part of the problem.” Because the supporters of a seriously idiotic bill moving through the California legislature this month think all dog breeders are to blame for the state's homeless pets. And if you don't breed, but choose to keep your dog intact for health reasons, you're part of the problem, too. Why do you hate shelter puppies?

California Assembly Bill 1634 seems to have been written by well-meaning people who "love" dogs but don't actually know anything about them, and who "hate" breeders but don't know anything about them, either. AB 1634 would require most of the state's dogs to be spayed or neutered before they reach the age of four months. The bill contains a few confusing, poorly-written exemptions --- and gives a free pass to puppy mills and pet shops.

AB 1634's authors claim it's based on a Santa Cruz County law, but the two pieces of legislation have nothing in common:

Santa Cruz County Code: Regulation of Animal Breeding

AB 1634 [enter the bill number for the latest version, plus analyses]

(Amazing that in Europe, Norway's Welfare of Animals Act prohibits the spay/neuter of dogs "unless it is necessary from a medical point of view." Sweden's Animal Protection Act concurs: it's unethical to spay/neuter without medical cause.)

"If you have an intact animal, you're part of the problem." That's a quote from the bill's campaign director, speaking in a promotional video. At one point the "interviewer" suggests that dogfighters must want to keep their pit bulls intact so they'll be more aggressive in fights, and the campaign director says: "I think you're answering the question of who the opposition is."

For the record, allow me to present a few members of the opposition.

Best Friends Animal Society, Alley Cat Allies and No-Kill Solutions are just three of the animals rights/animal welfare/animal rescue groups opposed to mandatory spay/neuter.

BAD RAP has changed their initial, wholehearted support to qualified support, with strong reservations.

Canine Companions for Independence opposes the bill, as do other service dog organizations.

The North American Police Work Dog Association opposes the bill, as do other police dog and search and rescue dog organizations.

I'm a life member of the American Border Collie Association. Here's our latest letter in opposition. An exerpt:

"If AB 1634 is enacted [...] you will have legislated out of existence the amazing sheepdogs and cattledogs of California, at enormous cost to the livestock producers and livestock industry of the state."

AB 1634 requires 1) registration papers and 2) proof of showing in order to obtain an "intact permit." Yet some of the best working stockdogs and livestock guardian dogs in California are not registered. Many are never shown.

Since early March, ranchers and others who depend on good stockdogs have been told that a stockdog exemption would be added to the bill. In an email to one stockdog owner, the bill's campaign director stated that AB 1634 "will be changed just as you are suggesting."

That was four revisions --- and two committee votes --- ago. There is still no exemption for stockdogs and livestock guardian dogs.

Now we know why.

ABCA Director Eileen Stein asks, “[W]hat about the assurances Levine's staffers and the "Campaign Director" gave that the working dog issue would be dealt with? Were they just deliberate lies?” Her guess is as good as mine.

It breaks my heart that there are so many homeless pit bulls and so few people willing to adopt the good ones --- and there are good ones. I have two wonderful pit bulls of my own, both adopted from the local pound, and I contribute to local shelters and to BAD RAP.

But I also have a flock of sheep and working border collies --- and it's just nuts to imagine you can save shelter animals by exterminating California's stockdogs and livestock guardian dogs.

Shelter animals deserve better than AB 1634. The state deserves better. To learn what you can do to help oppose this badly-written, unworkable bill, click here: What You Can Do.

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