California Bill 1634
Dr. Jacklyn E. Hungerland, Ph.D.
Since you are reading this magazine, you have some level of interest in dogs. You might be a breeder, an owner, a professional handler, a photographer, a show superintendent, a club member, a judge, a dog sitter, a groomer, a vendor or a loving admirer of your neighbor’s dog. Representatives from every one of these groups from all over California were present in Sacramento at the April 24 reading of Assembly Bill 1634, which proposes a universal spay/neuter law in the state.Whatever your interest in dogs, you must begin to take responsibility to protect your civil rights to be involved with dogs without government supervision and control.
If you live in California I hope you have been aware of and concerned about AB 1634, which would require spaying/neutering of all dogs over the age of four months. The reported purpose of the bill is to control the overpopulation of pets and reduce the numbers of unwanted pets euthanized in shelters, as well as to reduce costs related to shelter expansion and personnel costs. Even if you do not live in California you need to be aware of this movement because this is not just about California; it is likely coming your way.
Bombarded by objections, the author of Bill 1634 has made amendments that will grant some exemptions. This has undisclosed major effects:
1) It pinpoints all responsible dog breeders who will, if necessary, comply with the law;
2) It leaves a residue of people who will not comply with the law (“backyard” breeders, homeless people with dogs, poor people who cannot pay for surgeries or fees);
3) It opens the floodgates for the mass importation of dogs/puppies from outside the state that are exempt from the law;
4) It imposes a heavy fiscal penalty on local, county and state agencies which must enforce the law; and
5) It discriminates against dogs and dog owners because cats are a major percentage of unwanted pets found and euthanized in shelters.
This bill has been in the works since February of this year. At its first public hearing where individual testimony was allowed, we (the dog advocates) dropped the ball. Very few of us even attended. They (the animal rights activists) appeared in great numbers and had their say in support of the bill. We had little support from AKC or the National Animal Interest Alliance (NAIA) at that point, and little response from other organizations in the dog fancy. The result? This failure got our attention!
Fanciers Mobilize into Action
Between February 23rd, the date of the first public hearing, and April 24, the next committee hearing on the bill, the Internet was on fire with posts and cross-posts to raise awareness about the urgency for action Professional handlers in California organized and papered dog shows with informational fliers, directions to get to the State Capitol and the meeting room and instructions on appropriate dress. Signs were created, but because support personnel did not obtain appropriate permits to gather and demonstrate, we were not able to use the signs on the day of the meeting. We did, however, have two kinds of large buttons to “Stop AB 1634” and “No on AB 1634 – It’s Wrong.” Consequently, even though no one was allowed to speak at this committee meeting, we were clearly identifiable.
By word of mouth and Internet communication, fanciers agreed to gather at the Capitol at 7:00 on Monday morning for the 9 a.m. meeting. We gathered at three different portals, prepared to fill the 60 available seats in the committee room. Into the building and up the elevators, we arrived at the one door to the committee room; however, we were not just at the door… we filled the corridor and were down the steps and through the hallways. The Sergeant-at-Arms had to be called to clear pathways for staff and committee members. There were more than 350 of us present! For reasons of safety some fanciers were asked to go to other rooms where they could watch the committee proceedings on television.
We Rally and Take Action
Following the committee meeting, where the bill passed through committee by a vote of 7 to 2, our group went to a meeting room that had been reserved by AKC. The room was inadequate for the unexpectedly large crowd – too small and with no sound equipment. The AKC representatives appeared to be overwhelmed by the crowd. A few packets were given out which focused on information sharing and were designed to be given to Assembly members. Unfortunately, all of us realized that the time for information sharing and education is past. The time for voter pressure is now!
As we left the building we collected on the Capitol steps but, lacking a permit, had to move to the public sidewalk. It was announced that a Political Action Committee (PAC) had been formed that would spearhead information and activity processes. NAIA came on the scene and although earlier involvement by the organization would have been ideal, we welcome their support, which must be nationally-focused. Following the rally, many of us went directly to the Assembly Speaker’s office and to the offices of several assemblypersons where we engaged in the important face-to-face contacts that we encourage everyone to do.
The bill next goes to the Assembly Appropriations Committee, where individuals may again speak. It is critical once again for us to make a show of numbers. If it passes that committee it next goes to the Assembly for a House vote, and if passed there then moves to the state Senate. There is further legislative process after that before the bill goes before the Governor.
In order to stop the bill every voting person in California who opposes AB 1634 must advise their assemblypersons and state senators that they are opposed to the bill. Any communication must be brief and clear. The legislators are not interested in details about those they hear from at this point. They only care that you vote, since they all have elections coming up. They also care about money – money coming into their coffers and money they will be blamed for spending for enforcement of state laws.
Again, letters to legislators must be brief and concise. For now and for future reference in other states, all that is needed in a letter is a brief introduction of yourself and a statement that you oppose the bill in question, with your urging that they vote against the bill. Sign the letter with, “Your constituent,” and your name. A postcard with the same information works as well. Letters can be mailed or faxed and should include your name and address. Of course the same would apply if you were writing in support of a bill. Letters, postcards, emails and faxes are counted because they represent voters and votes.
This is what we have learned in California. We hope you will not have to fight this battle or one like it in your state, but we have learned a lot and hope that our experiences will guide your actions.
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