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State law would require sterilzation of dogs and cats

By KELLY NIX

Published: June 15, 2007

LAST YEAR in Monterey County, more than 1,000 healthy, adoptable dogs and cats were euthanized because homes for them couldn’t be found.

But the SPCA of Monterey County says the California Healthy Pets Act, which would require pet owners to spay and neuter their dogs and cats or face fines, would help lower that number.

“We believe it will go a long way to reduce the euthanasia of healthy companion animals in this county and state as well,” said SPCA spokeswoman Beth Brookhouser.

The proposed legislation, Assembly Bill 1634, which just passed the state assembly and is on its way to the Senate for consideration, could also reduce the number of “backyard breeders.”

The act would require the sterilization of most cats and dogs by the time the pet is four months old. Pet owners who don’t comply would be fined $500, which would be waived if the pet was then spayed or neutered.

The bill’s opponents warn of unintended consequences of universal spaying and neutering.

“This bill comes with a noble-sounding name but AB 1634 will not improve the health of California pets,” said Patti Strand, director of the National Animal Interests Alliance, which calls itself an animal welfare group. It says its members include breeders, trainers, veterinarians, and research scientists.

The group claims regulation could bring a flood of animals from Mexico, which the group alleges is the source of about 10,000 illegal dogs brought to California each year.

Strand said the bill would create a “vacuum, effectively outsourcing pet production to other countries that don’t come close to reaching U.S. standards of animal health, care or quality.”

And some believe the bill could create an influx of pets in shelters and more euthanasias since some pet owners might abandon or give up their pets if they can’t afford to alter them.

Brookhouser said the SPCA offers low cost, $5 cat neuters. The cost is nominal because neutering a cat is the simplest sterilization procedure among cats and dogs. The SPCA currently charges $110 to spay a cat, $135 to spay a dog and $110 to neuter a dog.

About 800,000 animals end up California animal shelters every year and about 50 percent are euthanized, according to state figures. Last year, 1,326 dogs and cats considered healthy, adoptable pets, were euthanized in Monterey County, according to the SPCA.

The bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, a Democrat from Van Nuys, contends the act would help alleviate the financial burden on taxpayers. It costs about $250 million every year to shelter and euthanize cats and dogs.

The law would exempt purebred dogs and cats whose owners obtain a permit, dogs who work as guide dogs or law enforcement dogs and animals that a veterinarian determines it’s unsafe to spay or neuter,

“This bill could go along way to help cut down on the illegitimate breeders out there,” Brookhouser said.

The legislation could prevent irresponsible backyard breeders from continuing since it would require all breeders to purchase a permit.

The bill allows professional breeders to continue to breed and sell their animals as long as they obtain a permit for a “nominal fee,” expected to be less than a few hundred dollars a year.

Backyard breeders are usually not affiliated with breeder organizations and don’t adhere to many breeding standards.

Brookhouser said the SPCA recently took several pit bull and beagle-mix puppies surrendered by a local backyard breeder who was unable to sell the “designer dogs” because of their odd mix.