2000 by Taimie Bryant, PhD
Audience: Executive Leadership, Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers, Veterinary Team
Chapter 747, Statutes of 1998 (AB 1856, Introduced by Assembly Member Vincent: Requires animal shelters to spay/neuter cats and dogs prior to adoption)
What It Does
Chapter 747 requires, for the next five years, sterilization of dogs and cats before they are adopted into new homes from animal shelters or from private rescue/adoption groups. The law is premised on the fact that cat and dog overpopulation is driven directly by failures to neuter/spay. Homelessness, abandonment, cruelty, and increases in feral cat and dog populations are all by-products of insufficient spay/neuter. Although many shelters and rescue groups were voluntarily sterilizing cats and dogs prior to release, this law legally obligates shelters and rescue groups to play a leadership role in reducing pet overpopulation through spay/neuter. Every adoption becomes an opportunity to educate not just that new adopter but everyone else that person tells about his or her new companion and the circumstances of the adoption. Every person who receives an explanation as to why he or she cannot adopt a breed-able animal from the shelter will be made aware of the cruelty and problems of pet overpopulation.
Chapter 747 also addresses overpopulation borne of roaming unaltered cats and dogs by creating civil fines for people who redeem unaltered cats and dogs from the shelter. In addition to any other fines or penalties, owners of unaltered pets must pay a $35 fine for the first instance of reclaiming an unaltered cat or dog, $50 for the second occurrence, and $100 for any subsequent instances.
There are a few exceptions to the pre-release sterilization requirement. Chapter 747 does not apply to dog or cat breeders; nor does it apply to private individuals who sell or give away their cat or dog or their cat's or dog's offspring. Chapter 747 covers only (1) adoptions subsequent to the initial transaction between a breeder and purchaser/adopter, and (2) that take place through a public or private shelter or through a rescue group. The law also provides exceptional rules for counties with human populations of 100,000 or less. In those counties, dogs and cats can be adopted from shelter or rescue/adoption groups without pre-release sterilization if the following two conditions are both met: (1) there is a written agreement that the adoping party will have the pet spayed or neutered within 30 business days, and (2) the adoping party pays a deposit (of not less than $40 or more than $75 dollars). New adopters who fail to abide by the agreement are subject not only to loss of the deposit, but they may also be required to pay civil fines. Finally, there is also an exception allowed for cats and dogs, who, for medical reasons certified by a licensed veterinarian, should not be spayed or neutered.
Spay/neuter of companion animals is absolutely essential in reducing the myriad of problems associated with there being too many companion animals for too few companion humans. Accordingly, this is extremely significant legislation, despite any of its limitations or exceptions. This law places shelters in the role of preventing pet overpopulation rather than simply dealing with its effects. Ideally, shelters will be able to educate a broad spectrum of the public and forge collaborative working relationships with veterinarians. At the very least, shelters will not be contributing to the number of companion animals killed in shelters; they will not be killing offspring of cats and dogs they adopt out. Shelters need to be clear with the public about the reasons for their stance on spay/neuter because some people still come to shelters for breed-able animals and still do not understand the link between breeding their cats or dogs at a time when there are already more cats and dogs than society can absorb. Chapter 747 is strong in providing specific penalties for adoping parties who fail to abide by their spay/neuter agreements (in counties with 100,000 people or fewer) and in giving enforcement power to the shelter or rescue group with which the agreement was entered. It is also significant that the law reaches those who already care for cats and dogs, not just new adopters, by penalizing people who contribute to cat and dog overpopulation by allowing their unaltered companion cats or dogs to roam. Moreover, all fines and unclaimed deposits are, by this law, to be utilized for humane education and spay/neuter programs.
Reactions to Chapter 747 Within the Animal Welfare Community:
Not all contributors to pet overpopulation are covered by the law. Shelters claimed that burdening them with pre-release sterilization requirements would not be as helpful in reducing pet overpopulation as restricting so-called "backyard breeders," commercial breeders, and people who want their pets to experience the miracle of producing one litter. They are probably correct in that claim, particularly since they do so little by way of adoption, which is the trigger event for sterilizing a shelter animal. However, that does not lead to the conclusion that it was unfair or useless to enact this law. Enactment of this law is not a limitation on other means to address the remaining sources of pet overpopulation. Indeed, the ultimate successes from this law could pave the way for additional means of reducing pet overpopulation. Rarely can a single law completely eliminate such an entrenched, multifaceted problem.
Some shelters also claimed that the law would lead to the killing of highly adoptable kittens because veterinarians qualified to do early age spay-neuter are not available in some areas. However, the availability of qualified veterinarians is increasing, particularly in the wake of laws that create a market for such qualifications. Moreover, the law does not require the killing of kittens under the age of 6 months if such a veterinarian is not available. The law states that a cat or dog can be adopted without sterilization if a veterinarian certifies that there are health reasons for releasing the animal prior to sterilization. The adoping party is legally obligated to leave a spay/neuter deposit and to spay or neuter the animal within 14 days of veterinary certification that the animal is healthy enough (e.g., old enough) to be spayed or neutered. Pre-release sterilization is ideal, but no kitten need die because there are no area veterinarians qualified to do early age spay-neuter.
Another criticism was raised by The Fund for Animals, which claimed that no one would leave a deposit of $40 for a male kitten when the cost of neutering is less. This, too, is an unrealistic argument. Deposits should always be pegged higher than the cost of neutering because depositors are more likely to get their kitten neutered and retrieve the deposit than they would be if the deposit equaled the cost of neutering.
What Animal Activists Can Do With Regard to Chapter 747:
Animal activists will need to do the following to help insure the most effective result from this law:
(a) Read and retain a copy of the law so that you can be a source of accurate information for others, including your local shelter.
(b) Work with your shelter to increase adoptions by responsible people. People need to view shelters as a better place than other sources from which to get a companion. Increasing the demand for shelter/rescue cats and dogs will, hopefully, reduce the demand for cats and dogs from sources that do not support spay/neuter.
(c) Support efforts to find or encourage veterinarians to do early age spay/neuter.
(d) Follow up on spay/neuter agreements that have been used in lieu of pre-release sterilization in counties with 100,000 people or fewer. As shelter volunteers or as members of the adoping rescue group, urge those with authority to insure that spay/neuter has taken place or to initiate proceedings to fine violators of the agreement.
(e) Think of creative, effective ways to utilize unclaimed deposits so that the spay/neuter message is heard beyond shelter walls. Demand accountability for the expenditure of unclaimed deposits. They must be used only for spay/neuter programs.
(f) Document progress and anticipate the need for reenacting this legislation or enacting other legislation by January 1 of 2006, when this legislation expires.
Taimie Bryant is Professor of Law at UCLA School of Law. Along with several others, she assisted State Senator Tom Hayden in the research and drafting of legislation he introduced in 1998 for the purpose of reforming many shelter practices. Others involved in this research and drafting effort were Paula Kizlak, DVM (board member of The Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights), Bob Ferber (Deputy City Attorney for the City of Los Angeles), David Casselman (attorney specializing in government liability issues), and Lois Newman, founder of Cat and Dog Rescue Association. Many other people advised this group about the legislation, and there were others still who explained the bill and the need for the bill to legislators and their aides. Notably Richard McLellan, founder of the Animal Legislative Action Network, made this legislation a priority at the time of its passage and has continued to do so. Similarly, Kate Neiswender, former aide to Tom Hayden, and Teri Barnato, National Director of The Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights, have fielded questions and defended the legislation concretely for several years. In fact, the Hayden legislation has been very much a group effort from the beginning. And, because the legislation has been under attack for so long, the group involved in supporting it has continued to grow. All of the people, named and unnamed in this article, provided tremendous assistance and support to Tom Hayden.