Animal protection bills await Gov. Schwarzenegger's signature following the close of state legislative session
As California's legislative session drew to a close last week, one big winner in the fight for animal-protection issues emerged: Assemblyman Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara), who introduced three bills that passed California state Assembly and Senate votes and now await Gov. Schwarzenegger's signature.
The first, A.B. 241, is called "The Responsible Breeder Act of 2009" and imposes a limit on the number of unsterilized dogs and cats an individual or business can have for the purposes of breeding for the pet market. (Don't get hot under the collar, animal breeders -- the "magic number" the bill would impose is 50, far more unaltered animals than any responsible breeder would ever consider having at one time. Even so, the American Kennel Club opposes the bill, offering a statement that read in part, "AKC believes that the quality of a breeder is not determined by the number of animals he has, but by the care the animals receive.")
A.B. 241 applies only to adult animals (so puppies and kittens too young to be spayed or neutered don't enter into the total) and the operative phrase in its text is "for sale" -- so shelters, rescue groups and veterinary facilities would be exempted. Failure to comply, should the bill be enacted into law, would be a misdemeanor, and a window of time would be given for owners of more than 50 unaltered animals to either rehome the excess animals or have them spayed or neutered.
The second, A.B. 242, addresses the issue of dogfighting by substantially increasing the penalties for spectators caught attending fights. Current law provides a maximum sentence of 6 months of jail time and a $1,000 fine. A.B. 242 would double the maximum jail time and increase the maximum fine fivefold, making the maximum penalty, should it be enacted, one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Nava's final animal-welfare bill, A.B. 243, would prevent those convicted of certain animal-abuse crimes from being able to own or care for other animals after their conviction. (Current law allows judges to impose a mandate preventing an offender from owning animals in the future, but Assemblyman Nava's bill would require that this mandate be imposed for those convicted of certain crimes against animals.)
"We commend lawmakers in California for passing this raft of legislation to protect animals from cruelty and abuse, and especially Assemblyman Nava for his effective leadership," Jennifer Fearing of the Humane Society of the United States said in a statement. "The anti-cruelty laws of a state are a reflection of our basic values and attitudes toward animals, and this collection of bills is a measurable step forward for the state of California."
The three Nava bills -- as well as a bill introduced by Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez which would outlaw the docking of cows' tails; a bill introduced by Torrance-based Assemblyman Ted Lieu that would outlaw roadside and parking-lot sales of animals; and Montebello senator Ron Calderon's bill which would authorize the seizure of property and profits from convicted dogfighters to be used for the purpose of benefiting abused dogs -- next go to Gov. Schwarzenegger's office for signature.
Another animal-related bill, S.B. 250, also known as the "Pet Responsibility Act," failed to win passage. S.B. 250 would have required that California dogs -- with the exception of service animals, hunting dogs and police dogs -- either be spayed or neutered or face increased licensing fees. (S.B. 250 would also have required that free-roaming cats be spayed or neutered.) But Florez, who backed the bill, said his work on its behalf was far from over and announced he planned to reintroduce it early next year.
In a statement, Florez pointed to the spread of "untruths" as one reason S.B. 250 failed to pass an Assembly vote during the recently-expired legislative session. "No responsible pet owner has to worry that the 'puppy police' will come knocking at their door," the statement continued, referring to a criticism that came from some who opposed it. "No one is going to force you to get your dog fixed if it gets out of the yard once. This bill is a tool for local animal control to use in dealing with irresponsible pet owners whose chronic disregard for the law is taking a financial and emotional toll on taxpayers, pet lovers and shelter workers."
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-- Lindsay BarnettPhoto: Assemblyman Pedro Nava (right) shakes hands with California State California Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico (D-Newark) after passing a solution to close the state's budget gap July 24. Credit: Max Whittaker / Getty Images