Spay and Neuter Redux

Nothing seems to inflame political passions more than pets.

Even though heavy on exemptions, a measure by Sen. Dean Florez aimed at encouraging more spaying and neutering of dogs and cats faced a rocky hearing on the Senate floor.

On nearly every other issue, Florez, a Hanford Democrat, would have had the unflinching support of at least 21 of his fellow Democrats, assuring passage in the 40-member house. Not when it comes to pets.

On June 1, Florez’s bill, SB 250, stalled on a 16 to 15 vote even though it is more permissive than a similar measure killed last year on the Senate floor. Last year’s bill, AB 1634, generated some 10,000 letters on each side of the issue – infinitely more than would a budget, no matter how grievously out of balance.

The measure escaped out of the Senate with 21 votes on June 2 – the bare minimum needed for passage. Two Democrats refused to vote for it. One voted against it.

Florez would require the owners of unsterilized dogs six months of age or older to do one of three things: sterilize the dog, get a certificate of sterility or file for a license to keep an unaltered dog, if local laws allow.

Unsterilized cats older than six months would be forbidden to roam outdoors under the bill. The owner of an at-large cat must sterilize the feline or obtain a certificate of sterility.

The vote on Florez’ bill comes a week after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger quietly proposed to reduce the period local animal shelters must keep strays from seven days to 72 hours, a change in law he backed four years ago then rapidly withdrew in the face of pet owner outrage. 

Florez portrays his measure as a cost-saver. More spayed and neutered dogs and cats mean less euthanized animals, which costs $250 million annually, according to Florez.

“We’re in it to save money,” Florez said, allowing as to how he was crafting an amendment to the bill to address the “concerns of the Cattleman’s Association and the California Farm Bureau regarding “working dogs.”

Sen. Dave Cox, a Carmichael Republican who represents a largely rural district stretching to the Oregon border took umbrage with Florez’s proposed amendment.

“I submit to you every dog is a working dog,” Cox rumbled “(Freshman Sen.) Tony Strickland has a little bitty dog. That dog’s job is to make Tony happy. To get on his lap and lick his ears. Rudy Dog’s only job is to guard the house. It’s a working dog because its doing something in the family. If we’re going to exclude one dog you ought to exclude them all.”

Republicans offered several other criticisms of the measure, which now goes to the Assembly, including the often-used “one-size-fits-all.” A policy that might work well in Cox’s part of the state is likely not the one that suits Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Sen. Joe Simitian, a Palo Alto Democrat and one of two Democrats who declined to vote for the bill, questioned Florez at some length about the impact of the bill on local ordinances regarding spaying and neutering.

Florez said his measure would set a base while localities would be free to impose more stringent spaying and neutering requirements, a power they already have whether or not Florez’s bill is signed into law.

Florez is a candidate for lieutenant governor in 2010.


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