July 10, 2008

Return of the disaster that is AB 1634

This mess of a bill is scheduled to be heard on Monday, July 14. Contact the committee members, and please check out this terrific letter from Save Our Dogs — it's so terrific and so important, I'm reprinting the whole thing here:

RE: AB 1634 as amended June 18, 2008 — OPPOSE

Save Our Dogs opposes AB 1634 as amended June 18, 2008. We applaud the effort to narrow the bill to one that targets only irresponsible pet owners. Unfortunately, as written, this bill has several severe flaws that would leave millions of responsible dog and cat owners in California vulnerable to unsubstantiated complaints, would establish a system of penalties with no Due Process right to challenge them, and would establish into state law a false and counterproductive finding that spay/neuter is an appropriate remedy for a wide range of animal control infractions. Save Our Dogs is a grassroots coalition of over 120 organizations united to save California’s working dogs from AB 1634. Among our coalition are the two largest associations of K9 law enforcement officers in the nation, California’s largest K9 search-and-rescue organization, the world’s largest guide dog and assistance dog umbrella and advocacy organizations, as well as numerous stock dog and hunting dog organizations in California.

Save Our Dogs recommends the following modifications to AB 1634 to insure that it doesn’t have the unintended consequence of unfairly targeting responsible dog owners:

1. If a dog is picked up by Animal Control for being "at large", on the 1st or 2nd offence the owner who picks their dog up from impound would be ordered to pay a fine. The shelter may insert a microchip into the dog either in addition to the fine or in lieu of the fine, at the discretion of the local jurisdiction. The owner will be notified that he has the right to a hearing and appeals process to challenge the "at large" finding and fine. After the 3rd time an intact dog is picked up by Animal Control for being "at large", the owner who picks the dog up from impound will be ordered to either pay a fine or spay/neuter the dog, at the discretion of the local jurisdiction. The owner has a right to challenge the "at large" finding, fine, and sterilization order in a hearing and appeals process. A spay/neuter order would be voided with written notice from a California-licensed veterinarian that sterilization is medically ill-advised for the dog. Shelters may not hold dogs pending payment of the fine, pending proof of spay/neuter, or pending the hearing and appeals process.

2. Dogs would not be classified as "at large" if they are SAR dogs, hunting dogs, police dogs, detection dogs, herding dogs, or other working dogs who became loose while working or training for work. Dogs involved in competitive dog sports including but not limited to obedience, protection, agility, hunting, and flyball are not "at large" if they became loose while engaging in or training for those competitions in a setting where these events or training are allowed. Dogs are not "at large" if they became loose because of natural or man-made disasters, or the actions of someone other than the owner. Local governments may define other exemptions from "at large" status.

3. Save Our Dogs recommends that the impound fines not be increased from current law. While it appears logical that bigger fines will lead to better compliance, experience shows that bigger fines leads to fewer releases from impound because owners cannot afford to pay the fines. Bigger fines = more dogs euthanized in shelters.

4. The complaint-driven section of AB 1634 that refers to nearly all other animal control infractions should be deleted entirely. This section is without merit. It would not benefit society even if its very troubling due process deficiencies were corrected, and it establishes a false and dangerous precedent about the scope of the problems that spay/neuter can address.

5. The many references in AB 1634 to humane societies and SPCAs should be removed. They appear to grant sweeping animal control law enforcement powers to private organizations. It is already the case that some local governments contract animal control authority to their local humane society or SPCA. But this is done on a case-by-case basis, with prescribed limits, at the discretion of the local government. Removing references to humane societies and SPCAs from AB 1634 would maintain the status quo in this respect.

Save Our Dogs agrees that it is in the public's interest to sterilize the intact dog that is habitually "at large" due to owner negligence. The "at large" dog that is picked up and impounded 3 times by Animal Control has probably been "at large" not 3 times but dozens of times. “At large" intact male and intact female dogs are at risk of being a source of the unplanned litters that get relinquished to public animal shelters. The "at large" intact male dog is at risk of burdening responsible owners of intact females if these males roam until they find a female in estrus, jump a fence or through a window, and impregnate the female. It is in society's interest to prevent these outcomes of chronic irresponsible dog ownership. Sterilization will not stop dogs from being “at large” or make their owners responsible, but it will at least reduce the burden on society that these dogs impose.

Unlike the case of dogs that are "at large" due to owner negligence, there's no reason to believe that any other animal control infraction can be mitigated by sterilization. If an owner walks his dog on leash into areas where dogs aren't allowed, or doesn't clean up after his dog defecates, sterilization will not reduce the odds of this happening again. Owners cited because their dogs have expired rabies tags, are not wearing current rabies tags, or are unlicensed do not have any lower risk of repeating these infractions if their dogs are sterilized. In recent years a considerable body of conflicting evidence has been published in the scientific literature about the effects of sterilization on aggression in dogs. As such, no scientifically-defensible case can be made for the state to compel sterilization for aggressive dogs. Other remedies and punishments are appropriate in all of these cases, such as citations, fines, muzzling, confinement, etc. But sterilization is an inappropriate remedy for nearly all animal control infractions.

AB 1634 also contains no recognition of Californians’ Constitutional right to Due Process. In no circumstance may government fine or otherwise penalize its citizens without access to a process of administrative, civil, or criminal hearings to determine culpability and allow the accused to make their case. Yet AB 1634 establishes a system whereby unsubstantiated complaints, impoundments that had mitigating circumstances, and no system of Due Process would result in fines or government-ordered sterilization of dogs. This would amount to state-sanctioned vigilantism.

Save Our Dogs fully supports the section in AB 1634 that withholds state funding from local governments who fail to report their shelter statistics to the state. A first step to solving any problem is data. Complete and accurate shelter statistics are vital in efforts to identify the local programs that are enjoying success in reducing impounds and euthanasias. In recent years a large and increasing number of California jurisdictions have failed to report their shelter statistics to the state, as already mandated under state law. Apparently many local governments don’t perceive an incentive to obey this state law, since there is currently no penalty for violating it.

Save Our Dogs urges that AB 1634 either be defeated or amended as noted above. Thank you for your consideration.
Hat tip to Terrierman via the Pet Connection Blog. See y'all at the fax machine —

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