Rover, Watch Out for the “Ball Police”

California dog breeders say spay-and-neuter law would cut them where it hurts

"Here's an analogy: imagine you're Jeff Gordon and you get a speeding ticket."

This, is how Judy Malone begins her passionate case against California Senate Bill 250, the mandatory spay and neuter legislation now making its way through the California Legislature. "Now, imagine that because of that one speeding ticket, you can never, ever drive a car again."

In other words, one infraction and you lose your livelihood.

Malone is a breeder of champion American Staffordshire Terriers (also known as American Pit Bull Terriers) in Gilroy. She fears a situation where just one violation of animal control laws could lead to her losing the right to own unaltered animals ... a situation Malone believes will come true with the passage of SB250.

Malone, and many other breeders, believe the legislation was dreamed up by animal rights activists and is meant to put all breeders out of business.

Of course, it doesn't read that way.

The bill, which was recently passed by the Senate and is on its way to the Assembly, states that every dog (and outdoor cat) must be fixed by six months of age unless its owner obtains a special, "unaltered" license. The licenses would be available, for a price, to all pet owners.

The stated goal of the bill is to encourage spaying and neutering of household pets in order to cut down on the close to one million unwanted dogs and cats born each year in California and the millions of dollars spent to care for, and ultimately kill many of them (the number 250 in the bill's name comes from the $250 million the bill's authors say would be saved with its passage).

Breeders, and others who oppose the bill (such as the American Veterinary Medical Association) say SB250 will, in fact, do just the opposite. They believe tighter laws and more expensive licenses will actually discourage many pet owners from getting their animals fixed and registered. Opponents fear an explosion in the unwanted pet population with SB250.

Henry Brzezinski doesn't agree.

"It works," is Brzezinski's brief assessment of SB250. He should know. Brzezinski is the head of Animal Services in Santa Cruz County, where an ordinance almost identical to SB250 has been on the books for more than a decade.

"It's a reasonable ordinance. It has worked in our county and I think it can work in California." Brzezinski points to statistics that show a 65% reduction in the number of animals his county has had to euthanize since the mid 1990's. He says no responsible breeders of dogs have been shut down as a result of their law.

Brzezinski says the greatest evidence of his county's success with a mandatory spay and neuter law may be the county's animal shelter itself. Less than one year old, the new shelter building is actually smaller than the one it replaced. Brzezinski says they are taking in fewer unwanted animals, so needed less space. "Who builds anything smaller these days?" Brzezinski adds.

Still, those who oppose SB250 say the numbers in Santa Cruz County are misleading. Bill Hemby, chairman of PetPAC, an animal owners rights group, says the downward trend in euthanization in Santa Cruz began before the newer, stricter law was passed. Hemby says if a reduction in unwanted pets and cats were truly the goal, simply enforcing existing laws would do the trick.

Judy Malone couldn't agree more. "Those need to be enforced. Not new ones added, adding to our costs and taxes. I mean look at our state right now. We cannot afford to have ball police, 'You’re dog’s got balls and running you down for it.' It's ridiculous, we cannot afford that right now."

What supporters of SB250 say though, is that what the state really cannot afford is doing nothing ... for more than one reason.


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