Legislative Watch Followup: California Sees Healthy Pets Act Passed

After a long process of debate that attracted “raucous crowd[s] of supporters and opponents of the mandatory sterilization ordinance”, California bill AB 1634 was passed in Los Angeles on February 27.

The bill, also known as the Healthy Pets Act, was enacted to “prohibit any person from owning or possessing any cat or dog over the age of 6 months that has not been spayed or neutered, unless that person possesses an intact permit, as defined.” (AB 1634)

Controversy surrounded the bill, however, as provisions were proposed to “authorize a local jurisdiction or its authorized local animal control agency to allow for issuance of an intact permit for one male and one female dog per household in order to allow the dogs to produce a single litter of offspring, subject to specified criteria,” (AB 1634).

First affected will be the “average” pet owner. There is an exemption for animals that compete in shows or sporting competitions, police K-9 dogs and professionally bred animals.

But breeders contend that the spirit of the bill — along with other language that dictates ongoing, strict regulations for pet breeding — led professional breeders to oppose the bill as a hindrance to their livelihood and property rights.

The bill, which goes into effect on October 1, 2008, is not a new piece of legislation; Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, D-Van Nuys — as the principal author of the bill — saw the same measure fail last year. After it was amended, the bill gained a foothold. Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa sponsored the amended version of AB 1634. Celebrities such as Diane Keaton, Ben Stein, Bob Barker and Jorja Fox lent their names to a letter urging people to favor the measure.

Nonetheless, opponents of the bill cited research conducted by the AVMA as evidence that mandatory sterilization (at ages as young as four months) could result in complications and was a decision best made by the pet owner, rather than the government.

Mandatory spay/neuter bills have been introduced for consideration in Arizona and Hawaii during the 2008 legislative session, and two states have passed legislation that affects pet population, said Adrian Hochstadt, legal counsel for the American Veterinary Medical Association.

The introduction of similar laws affecting all pets — for example, Ordinance No. 290 in Louisville, Kentucky—is leading opponents to fear that a precedent has been set for more states to enact prohibitive breeding laws.

As California residents adjust to the new regulations, it is likely that more opposition will challenge future legislation in other states to reform currently passed laws—casting a light on other states as similar bills may be introduced.

More information:

"L.A. pet law requires pets sterilized at 4 months"

AB 1634

Ordinance No. 290

"Save Our Dogs" website opposing AB 1634

NEWStat Legislation & regulation