By Matthew Culmore
Why AB 1634 is Bad
July 4, 2007
What is AB 1634?
AB 1634 is a bill introduced into the California State Assembly by Lloyd Levine, an Assembly Member from Van Nuys. It mandates that all cats and dogs be spayed or neutered—surgically sterilized—before they are six months of age. The bill purports to allow some animals to get an "intact permit" and avoid surgical sterilization, at least temporarily. Failure to comply results in a minimum $500 fine and forced sterilization of your pet.
The stated purpose of the bill is to solve the "pet overpopulation problem" in the state. The supporters of the bill assert that it will reduce the number of cats and dogs euthanized—killed—in shelters. The supporters also assert that it will improve pet health.
The biggest problem with the bill is
It won't work.
There are a huge number of other problems with the bill. We have tried to describe as many as we can in the rest of this page, but we have not covered them all. We are experts on working dogs. Our knowledge of cats and show dogs is limited. We know that there are problems with the bill that impact cats and show dogs that are not covered below. Each problem has a description followed by a short summary. Most of the summaries have one or more links to supporting information or a more in-depth analysis.
The Bill will Destroy Working Dogs
Breeders must be businesses
In order to get intact permits under the breeder section a breeder must be a business. Under IRS rules, almost all working dog breeders are hobby breeders, not businesses. It would be a violation of Federal tax law for them to claim to be a business and in many cases would violate local zoning ordinances.
The dog must "belong to a recognized registry or association"
This is just stupid. Dogs don't "belong" to registries. A court could reasonably interpret this to mean the registry had to legally own the dog. Idiotic.
But assuming they mean the dog must be registered with a "recognised registry or association" in order to qualify for an intact permit, that means the registry or association must be approved by the local animal control agency. A large percentage of working dogs are not of any particular breed or are of a rare breed. Working dogs of no particular breed will be wiped out for sure. Working dogs of rare breeds are at the mercy of the local animal control agency. That's if they meet all the other qualifications, which they almost certainly would not.
Must have competed within the past two years
One way to qualify for an intact permit is to show or compete with the dog. The dog must have shown or competed in an event approved by the local animal control agency within the past two years. So, you show the dog and get a permit under this section, then for whatever reason stop showing and retire him/her for breeding. Even if he/she is a good breeding animal, you must sterilize him/her two years later. So you jump through one hoop only to have the rug pulled out from under you two years later.
Puppies must be in training for a title at six months of age
If you can prove to the local animal control agency that your six month old puppy is in training and is too young to have yet competed, then you can get a permit. First, how do you prove a six month old puppy doing sits and downs on the kitchen floor is in training to do anything. It's foolish. Second, what does "too young" mean? It could mean the minimum age set by the organization. For example the minimum age to enter an AKC obedience trial is six months. Is a seven month old puppy too young? Not according to the AKC. Almost no one wants to start a six month old puppy in performance competition. This kind of vague language in a law sets citizens up for arbitrary and unreasonable interpretation and enforcement.
The dog must have a title by three years of age
If the dog is over three years old, it can no longer be considered in training. It must have earned a title. In some sports it is common for a dog to not earn a title until well over three years. The males of some breeds aren't even shown until they are five years old or more. Most people are not professional trainers. It may take them several (more than three) years to title a dog. They might have to take a break from training or the dog may require a break from training. This creates incredible pressure to title the dog and rushing to title a dog is always a mistake.
Stock dogs don't earn titles
Most working stock dogs never earn a title. They are never in training to earn a title. They just work stock. Even sport herding organizations like USBCHA are adamant about not granting titles. Since stock dogs don't earn titles they cannot qualify for an intact permit.
Beef cattle are a $1.5 billion dollar industry and sheep are a $54 million dollar industry in California. No one knows what would happen if stock dog breeding is wiped out as AB 1634 would surely do. The conservative estimate is that 15% of the California ranchers would go out of business without the help of their dogs. That's $233 million of lost agricultural production. It could be more, much more.
Many stock dog owners don't own agricultural land
A stock dog can qualify for an intact permit if the owner lives on or owns agricultural land. Many working stock dog owners would not qualify. They live in town. They may work stock for a living and not own any stock or land at all. They may lease the land or they may graze their stock on government land. The Goats-R-Us people who do fire control don't own or lease any land. People pay them to graze the goats on their land for fire control. None of these dogs would qualify for the stock dog exemption.
The stock dog exemption protects only the current generation
There would be no future generations of California-bred stock dogs, because very few of them are "used for herding or guarding livestock" when they are puppies. Almost all of the future generation of working stock dogs would be subject to mandatory sterilization before they would be eligible for an intact permit. This destroys the breeding population.
There are no breeding programs for working dogs in California
If the "owner is a legitimate breeder of working dogs" then they can qualify for intact permits, subject as always to approval. How does one prove one is a "legitimate breeder of working dogs"? There is no way to identify a working dog breeder. Anyone can make that claim and it is either impossible to prove or impossible to dispute. A working dog occasionally comes from a backyard breeder. Does this make that irresponsible breeder a "legitimate breeder of working dogs". If a person with extensive experience with working dogs decides to make a commitment to breeding, is that person a "legitimate breeder of working dogs" even if they have yet to breed a litter.
How do you prove that you are "legitimate breeder of working dogs"? There is no organization or association that does such a thing. If you claim you are trying to breed working dogs, then does that make you a "legitimate breeder of working dogs"? If so, then anyone can qualify because anyone can say that. Somehow I doubt that such a claim would convince the local animal control agency, but there is no other criteria available. That the bill contains such language shows that the author knows nothing about working dogs.
This is a tiny overstatement. There are two breeding programs for working dogs in California, Guide Dogs for the Blind and Canine Companions for Independence. They produce dogs for their own programs. There are 15 other assistance dog programs in California and they depend on hobby breeders. Police departments depend on hobby breeders. Search and rescue depends on hobby breeders. There is no certificate or permit or license that identifies these hobby breeders as "legitimate breeders of working dogs". It's just what they do.
Much of the breeding stock for working dogs is owned by people who are not breeders and so don't qualify for intact permits
Most importantly, much of the breeding stock for working dogs, males and females, is not owned by breeders. Many females are sold with breeding contracts where the breeder retains the right to breed the female two or three times. The dog is owned by a person who is not a breeder, but is still a vital part of the breeding stock for future generations of working dogs. In other cases females owned by non-breeders mature into exceptional working dogs and the owner becomes a breeder pass on these fine qualities. Most of the male breeding dogs are not owned by breeders. Breeders have their hands full with their retired breeding females, their current breeding females, and the potential future breeding females. Males take up space and it is easy to get access to a good one when needed.
Breeding working dogs means selecting dogs that have proved their working qualities, including long term health and a long working life. These qualities cannot be judged at eight weeks when the puppies go to their new homes. It cannot be judged at six months when the puppies must be sterilized under AB 1634. It often cannot be judged at three years when the dog is required to have earned a title. The best breeding dogs are the mature dogs that are still healthy and still working at five, six, seven years old or older. A breeder cannot keep, train, and work every puppy until five years of age, so most go to other owners who are not breeders. Then, years later, the breeder decides which of these adult dogs owned by non-breeders should be used to produce the next generation. This only works if most of the dogs in the working dog population are kept intact. Indeed, this is how working dog populations have been maintained for thousands of years.
You cannot identify a future working dog at six months of age
At six months of age a future working dog and a family pet are the same. There is no way to tell them apart. Around a year to 18 months of age potential working dogs can be tested and candidates selected for training. At two to three years of age a working dog begins his or her career. Prior to that the dog was just a pet and so would not qualify for an intact permit under the working dog sections since they have not even been identified as future working dogs and so are not being in any way "prepared for duties as a legitimate working dog."
There are no breeding programs for police dogs or search dogs or most other working dogs. There are only two breeding programs for guide and service dogs in the state. All the other guide and service dog programs rely on private dog breeders. At six months of age, when they must be sterilized, many of these dogs are in pet homes. They cannot be considered for work at that age; they are too young to even be tested. In many cases their owner has no idea that dog will ever be a working dog.
Working dogs have been bred for hundreds or even thousands of years to work all day, seven days a week at physically demanding jobs. We don't make these dogs work. We make them stop. Working dogs have an innate drive to work that is unimaginable until you have actually tried to live with one. This drive to work does not fit into a modern California lifestyle for most people. On occasion, a puppy buyer gets a dog with an exceptional desire to work, more than the owner can stand. These are the real working dogs. This very drive to work that is so valuable in the future police dog, herding dog, or search dog, makes the dog a very difficult pet. Many pet owners meet the challenge and find a way to keep the dog occupied. Others, realizing that they have "too much dog", return the dog to the breeder who easily finds this hard charging dog a police, search or other demanding working home. Up until the moment the owner realizes that he/she has too much dog, the dog is just a pet and so does not qualify for an intact permit.
General Problems with the Bill
It misstates the problem.
The bill and its supporters describe the problem as "pet overpopulation". That is not an accurate characterization. There are not too many dogs being born. If so, there would be an excess of puppies in California shelters statewide. The overwhelming majority of dogs euthanized in shelters are adult dogs. There is in fact a shortage of puppies, especially of smaller breeds. Most shelters place all their adoptable puppies in days, sometimes hours. Those shelters that do have more puppies than they can place transfer their excess to shelters that do not have enough puppies. If you doubt that there are not enough puppies consider that the US Border Patrol estimates that 10,000 puppies a year are smuggled into San Diego from Mexico. If there were an overpopulation of puppies who would risk a Federal prison sentence to smuggle puppies.
The real problem is not overpopulation, but rathera lack of knowledge about dogs by their owners. Research by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy shows that most owners who surrender dogs to the shelter are woefully ignorant about dogs. They have unrealistic expectations when they get a dog. They know nothing about how to raise or train a dog. And they have no knowledge of how to solve the inevitable problems that come up. Education, not sterilization, is the key to reducing the number of dogs euthanized in shelters.
Their results suggested that education and counseling of pet owners before and after they acquire a pet, and providing temporary housing for pets when owners are experiencing a personal crisis may reduce relinquishment of pets.
— Exploring the Surplus Cat and Dog Problem
If you doubt our comments here, please read this letter (www.naiaonline.org/issues/John_Hamil,_DVM_letter_to_CVMA.htm) from the former President of the CVMA (California Veterinary Medical Association). Look very closely at his credentials and background.
It assumes that the population is supply driven.
The bill tries to address the straw man "pet overpopulation" problem by attacking the supply, the intact dogs. This assumes that the number of puppies produced in the state exceeds the demand. This is quite simply false. As pointed out above tens of thousands of dogs are imported into the state each year from other states and countries. Almost all of the puppies domestic and imported find homes. This is clear evidence that the number of puppies is driven by pet owner demand, not by supply. If the supply of puppies in the state is reduced, pet owners will get their puppies from outside the state or from underground sources within the state, such as the Mexican puppy smugglers.
The responsible law abiding local breeder that educates prospective owners and stands behind her puppies will be the one wiped out by AB 1634. The out-of-state breeders who cannot take such care will fill the demand. The bill will result in more dogs being surrendered to the shelters rather than fewer.
It not only won't work, it will have the opposite effect.
Mandatory spay/neuter laws have failed everywhere they have been tried. Santa Cruz County, the supporter's poster child, showed a 46% drop in the number of dogs killed between 1995 and 2002. California as a whole showed a 65% drop. Counties adjacent to Santa Cruz did even better. Santa Clara County showed a 93% drop. San Francisco became No-Kill which means no adoptable animal was killed. If Santa Cruz is a success, our dogs can't afford any more such successes.
It will hurt the good people and have no impact on the bad.
The vast majority of dog owners and dog breeders, like the the vast majority of shelter workers, animal control officers, or any other group, are good and responsible people. They vaccinate and license their dogs. They spay and neuter their dogs when appropriate. The pick up after their dogs in the park. These people will be the ones most likely to obey the draconian new regulations and the people who least need such oppressive oversight.
The very small number of people who are the source of the problem already do not vaccinate or license their dogs. They probably won't even know about the new restrictions and wouldn't care if they did. Some of these people make puppies for fighting, or to guard drug stashes or meth labs, or just to sell on street corners or at flea markets. These people already are ignorant of the law or ignore it. AB 1634 would be just one more law they ignore.
It puts veterinarians in a policing role, which will cause people to avoid taking their dogs to their veterinarian
The sponsors say that the bill is "just a tool" and that enforcement will only occur when the owner "comes in contact with animal control." But the facts prove otherwise. Even now an increasing number of local jurisdictions are contracting out the job of dog licensing enforcement to a company that is building a national database that cross checks rabies vaccination records with licensing records. Veterinarians must report rabies vaccination records as mandated by law, and in many cases this includes information on whether the dog is intact or not. It is no surprise that in jurisdictions where mandatory spay/neuter and similar laws are in effect that compliance to mandatory rabies vaccination requirements decrease. This is a serious public health concern since rabies vaccination of dogs is what protects humans from rabies. It is also an indicator that dogs get less veterinary care when these kinds of laws pass.
It is unpredictable
Every so-called "exemption" is subject to the whims of the local jurisdiction's animal control agency which will surely vary across the 536 different jurisdictions in California. A dog that might qualify for an intact permit in one house might not qualify across the street. A dog which has qualified one year might not qualify the next. No one can live with that kind of uncertainty. A breeder who somehow managed to jump through the hoops and keep some breeding stock intact, could be wiped out with a change in the political weather. A dog trainer could wake up one morning to discover that he or she could no longer get permits for the young dogs in training. Some people would stop doing what they love rather than run afoul of this law. Others would leave the state; we have been contacted by some who already have. Others would go underground.
It removes the ability of your veterinarian to make decisions
Although there are certainly some health benefits associated with spay neuter, they are almost certainly outweighed by the negatives when performed at such an early age. CCI studied early spay/neuter in 1990 and determined that health and behavioral consequences were unacceptable. Two particular consequences they noted, an increase in dog-on-dog aggression, and an increase in incontinence, both significant causes of dogs being surrendered to shelters.
We do not object to spay/neuter. Many dogs should be spayed or neutered at an appropriate age. What we object to is the state taking the decision out of the hands of the owner and veterinarian. The law cannot replace their judgment. The current CVMA president may be a supporter of the bill but the groundswell of opposition to the bill among veterinarians is overwhelming.
It will cause untold animal suffering
It is beyond question that sterilization at six months of age does have severe health consequences for some dogs. For example, it is ill-advised to neuter a male Rottweiler at six months of age. There is no significant health benefit for neutering a male dog at such a young age that cannot be obtained by waiting until he is physically mature. Rottweilers have a relatively high incidence of bone cancer, approaching 8% if the dog is intact but increasing to 28% if neutered before 12 months of age. About one in four Rottweilers sterilized at six months of age can be expected to get bone cancer. The risk is greatly diminished if neutering is delayed until the dog is physically mature, but the bill says six months.
Rottweilers are not the only dog that would be harmed. Other large breeds have similar problems with bone cancer. There are many other health and behavioral problems that are associated with early sterilization. We support voluntary spay/neuter at the appropriate age in consultation with your vet. The bill would take away the right of your vet to make medical decisions about your dog.
The sponsors say that the bill would be enforced only when an animal comes in contact with the animal control agency. Rather than inappropriately spay/neuter their dog or risk a $500 penalty, many otherwise law-abiding individuals will drop out of the system. They will not license their dogs. Afraid that their veterinarian will report them, they will not vaccinate their dogs. Although rabies is endemic in California, it is quite rare in dogs because of the success of the vaccination program. If vaccination rates drop, it will not be a surprise if the incidence of rabies increases. Untreated, rabies is effectively 100% fatal in dogs or humans.
It will destroy responsible breeding
We think it very unlikely for a six-month old puppy to qualify for an intact permit. Only large commercial breeders with their blanket exemption will be able to count on getting intact permits for their young dogs. Responsible non-commercial breeders will be forced to spay/neuter almost all of their puppies putting an end to breeding lines that stretch back decades. These breeders, who breed maybe a litter a year, from carefully selected stock, interview every potential owner, assist new owners in caring for and training their pup, and care deeply about every dog they whelp, will disappear. It is not the cost. They don't make money as it is. Most would be happy to break even on a litter; they usually lose money on dog breeding. They will disappear because the law requires them to spay or neuter their puppies and that requirement is for all practical purposes unavoidable.
The really crazy parts are the blanket exemptions for the most irresponsible breeders, the backyard breeders and the puppy-mills. The new backyard breeder exemption will let anybody keep two dogs intact long enough to have one litter, "so the kids can see the miracle of birth" or "becasue it is better to have a litter before spaying a female". If the supporters really want to do something positive, why are they so dead set on driving the responsible breeders out of business and giving the worst a free ride.
The original version of the bill allowed high volume commercial breeders to get intact permits without jumping through all the hoops. The latest version gives commercial breeders and medical research facilities a free ride. They don't have to get permits at all. It's not obvious from the text of the bill, but that's what the Federal Animal Welfare Act is referring to.
"Owner has considered having the animal microchipped"
What kind of law is that? Did you just consider having your dog microchipped? It's pretty hard to avoid considering it when I ask the question. How could anyone ever fail to satisfy that requirement.
It will wipe out rare breeds
The AKC registers 150 or so breeds. The FCI (the UN of the dog world) recognizes about 350 breeds. But there are many more breeds that that. Some are represented by only a few hundred dogs. It is far too likely that the owner of a rare breed will be unable to convince the local animal control agency that his or her rare breed dog deserves an intact permit. Given the tiny gene pool of some of these breeds, the loss of a single individual is a blow. Without a familiar name or a large organization, most individuals of these breeds will not be granted an intact permit and the breed will be lost in California.
It will wipe out performance bred dogs
There is nothing magic about a dog being a "pure breed". The very notion of "pure bred dogs" was invented in England in the late nineteenth century. Prior to then, dogs were bred for performance, regardless of "breed". Some still are. These dogs are not mutts. The parents are carefully selected and the pedigrees are known. However, no attention is paid to breed. If the breeder thinks that it would be good to mate an Aussie-looking male with a Border Collie-looking female, that is what he/she does. If the pups work, everyone is happy. With its unwarranted emphasis on "approved registries", AB 1634 would put an end to this kind of performance breeding. A large fraction of working stock dogs are of no particular breed. The only thing that matters is can the dog work stock. Similarly, many of the most successful police dogs in the world are not purebred dogs.
It includes no money for free or low cost spay neuter programs
The bill specifically limits the cost of intact permits to be "no more than what is reasonably necessary to fund the administration of that jurisdiction's intact permit program." Administering the intact permit program certainly doesn't include free or low cost spay neuter. Forced sterilization will have disproportionate impact on people of modest means and the bill offers no help.
And in the end the number of animals in shelters will only increase
And after all the destruction wrought by this bill, the situation in shelters will actually be worse than without the law. This article on an animal rights web site, makes the argument as well as any. Mandatory spay/neuter doesn't work.
A Last Thought
The United Kingdom has about twice as many people as California. Dogs are common. Spay/neuter is relatively rare. But in the UK in 2006, only 7,734 dogs were euthanized for lack of a home. A commonly seen bumper sticker there says
A Dog is for Life
Education, not sterilization, is the answer.