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California legislature approves bid to ban tail-docking for cows

September 3, 2009 |  6:45 pm

Dairy cows

The California Assembly voted today to approve a bill that would ban the docking of cows' tails in the state except in the case of medical necessity.  The bill has also passed a state Senate vote, meaning its only remaining hurdle to be enacted is a signature from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But that signature may be hard to come by.  During the state budget standoff in early July, Schwarzenegger derided the bill in a very public forum -- his Twitter feed, which recently passed the million-followers mark -- writing in 140 characters or less that rather than focusing on the budget, "the Legislature is about to debate whether cows can keep their tails while we're in a fiscal crisis."  And the Governator didn't stop there; he went the extra mile and had a YouTube video produced to illustrate his point.

Supporters of the bill were quick to take offense, with Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, calling Schwarzenegger's record on animal-protection issues "pitiful" and asserting that in "panning this legislation, he's not helping California make tough choices -- he's just acting like a demagogue and a bully."

The legislator who introduced the tail-docking bill, Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez (D-Shafter), also responded with criticism to the tweet-and-video business, calling on the governor to "stop tweeting his obsession with cow tails and start tweaking the budget to move us toward a solution." 

"I do not understand why the governor would spend his time and the state’s resources mocking the prevention of animal cruelty," Florez said in a statement, adding that he was proud to have introduced the bill.

With this sizable, snark-filled backstory, it's unclear whether Schwarzenegger will be inclined to sign the bill -- but it's also worth noting that, in the past, he even referred to himself in a letter to the Assembly as "an animal lover" who has "supported strong animal welfare laws and provided funding to ensure the humane treatment of animals."

Today, Pacelle appealed to Schwarzenegger to support the bill, despite the past unpleasantness between the governor and the Humane Society. "By signing this legislation, Gov. Schwarzenegger can halt the cruel and inhumane tail-docking of tens of thousands of cows in California," Pacelle said. "All animals deserve humane treatment, including animals raised for food, and there’s no excuse for this needless mutilation of animals."

Earlier this week, following debate on modifications to the docking bill, members of the Assembly got a little raucous when Democrat Isadore Hall III of Compton called for a voice vote, our colleagues at the L.A. Now blog reported:

He got a bit more than expected, as legislators on both sides of the aisle mooed their approval in place of the traditional "aye."

Laughing, Hall deemed the amendments adopted.

The practice of docking cows' tails is already outlawed in many parts of Europe, including the U.K. and the Netherlands, and is opposed by the American Veterinary Medical Assn. except in special circumstances.  It's already illegal in California to dock horses' tails; the new bill would tack on the words "and cattle" to language of the existing law. 

Humane Society, ASPCA condemn Schwarzenegger plan to shorten animal shelter hold requirements
Bills affecting farm animals make their way through California legislature

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Dairy cows feed at a dairy farm near Visalia.  Credit: Phil Hawkins / Bloomberg News

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