BILL ANALYSIS SENATE LOCAL GOVERNMENT COMMITTEE Senator Gloria Negrete McLeod, Chair BILL NO: AB 1634 HEARING: 6/25/08 AUTHOR: Levine FISCAL: Yes VERSION: 6/18/08 CONSULTANT: Detwiler DOGS AND CATS Background and Existing Law The Legislature has declared that the overpopulation of dogs and cats is "a problem of great public concern," noting that overpopulation causes public health problems, affects local animal control departments, and results in euthanizing too many cats and dogs (AB 1856, Vincent, 1998). Local animal shelters must care for stray and impounded dogs and cats for six days before euthanizing them (SB 1785, Hayden, 1998). In 2008-09, local governments claimed about $23 million for the costs of this state mandated local program. The State Department of Public Health tracks local shelter statistics by requiring local officials to report rabies cases. State law requires animal control agencies and shelters to spay or neuter the dogs and cats that they sell or give away. For dogs and cats that are injured or too sick to be spayed or neutered, state law requires the adopter to agree to have the animal sterilized at a later date and pay a sterilization deposit. State law requires fines for the owners of nonspayed or unneutered dogs and cats that are impounded: First occurrence: $35. Second occurrence: $50. Third and subsequent occurrences: $100. The funds must be spent for humane education, spaying and neutering, and administrative costs (AB 1856, Vincent, 1998; SB 1301, Vincent, 2004). Officials regulate dogs and cats under a mix of state laws and local ordinances. Some cities and counties have ordinances that require owners to spay or neuter their cats and dogs. State law allows cities and counties to adopt programs to control dangerous dogs that are more restrictive than state law, but these local ordinances AB 1634 -- 6/18/08 -- Page 2 can't be breed-specific (SB 428, Torres, 1989). However, local officials can adopt breed-specific ordinances for their mandatory spay or neuter programs and breeding requirements (SB 861, Speier, 2005). Despite these regulations and despite the availability of low-cost spay and neuter services, some groups believe that legislators should do more to reduce the overpopulation of dogs and cats. Proposed Law Assembly Bill 1634 requires the owner of a nonspayed or unneutered dog or cat that is the subject of a complaint to be cited and pay a civil penalty in addition to any other fine, fee, or penalty. For dogs, the bill specifies these civil penalties: First occurrence: $50. Second occurrence for the same dog: $100. Third occurrence for the same dog: mandatory spaying or neutering, with the owner paying for the procedure's cost. For cats, the bill specifies these civil penalties: First occurrence: $50. Second occurrence for the same cat: mandatory spaying or neutering, with the owner paying for the procedure's cost. When issuing a citation, the local animal control agency must give the animal's owner information about the availability of spaying and neutering services. The owner must pay the civil penalty within 30 business days. The local animal control agency must waive the penalty if, within 14 days, the animal's owner presents proof from a veterinarian that the animal was spayed or neutered. AB 1634 defines a "complaint" as an oral or written complaint to the local animal control agency that the dog or cat or its owner has violated state laws relating to dogs or cats, or any local animal control ordinance. A "complaint" also includes the observation by an employee or officer of a local animal control agency of behavior by a dog or cat or its owner that violates those state laws or AB 1634 -- 6/18/08 -- Page 3 local ordinances. "Complaint" does not include excessive noise by dogs or cats, and does not include excessive dog barking. The bill allows local officials to adopt more restrictive ordinances or penalties. For the owners of impounded nonspayed or unneutered dogs, AB 1634 increases the existing fines from $35 to $50 on the first occurrence, from $50 to $100 on the second occurrence, and from $100 to mandatory spaying or neutering on the third occurrence. For the owners of impounded nonspayed or unneutered cats, the bill increases the existing fines from $35 to $50 on the first occurrence, and from $50 to mandatory spaying or neutering on the second occurrence. AB 1634 prohibits the State Controller from releasing payments that reimburse local agencies for the state mandated local costs of impounding stray and abandoned animals until the Controller determines that the local agency has complied with the State Department of Public Health's rabies reporting regulations. The bill declares that this provision modifies the payment methodology, but does not suspend the state mandated local program. Comments 1. Responsible actions . Tackling the problems caused by dog and cat overpopulation requires the combined efforts of animal owners, pet breeders, veterinarians, private organizations, local officials, and state leaders. Many owners and breeders already control the number and sizes of their animals' litters. Many veterinarians contribute their services to free and low-cost spay and neuter programs. Private organizations actively educate the public about overpopulation problems and solutions. Local officials have adopted local ordinances to curb dog and cat overpopulation. Yet despite these efforts and some successes, California still endures the problems caused by overpopulation. AB 1634 confronts the problem of dog and cat overpopulation by building on the 1998 law that requires the owners of impounded animals to pay fines if their pets aren't spayed or neutered. The bill complements that 10-year old law by imposing civil penalties on owners AB 1634 -- 6/18/08 -- Page 4 whose animals' behavior generates complaints. 2. Says who ? The 1998 Vincent bill was clear --- if you dog or cat ended up impounded at the local animal shelter, you must pay fines that increase with each occurrence. Like the current law, AB 1634 applies penalties of increasing severity, but the triggering mechanism is a much vaguer "complaint" about a dog or cat's behavior. The bill's definition of "complaint" excludes excessive noise and barking, but a feuding neighbor's call could still send the animal control officer to your door. In the real world, it would be up to the local animal control officer's discretion to cite the owner. The Committee may wish to consider whether the bill gives too much discretion to local animal control agencies over when to cite owners for their dog or cat's bad behavior. 3. Personal responsibility, public regulation . Owning and caring for dogs and cats is deeply emotional for many people. Some pet owners resent even the existing state and local government limits on how they treat their animals, believing that these decisions are best left to the owners themselves. Responsible pet owners and breeders want what's best for their dogs and cats. Although many owners acknowledge the public health and public finance problems caused by unregulated pet overpopulation, they oppose government requirements for spaying or neutering animals. But not all animal owners are responsible. Uncontrolled litters result in inappropriate cross-breeding, feral cats, and unwanted dogs. Those who fail to take personal responsibility for their animals create expensive problems for all taxpayers. AB 1634 offers local officials the state law they need to focus attention on the dogs and cats that don't behave. 4. Three big problems . The 1989 Vincent bill identified three public policy problems that result from uncontrolled dog and cat overpopulation: public health, public costs, and unnecessary euthanization. The Legislature declared that the most effective solution is spaying and neutering. Some cities and counties already have mandatory spay and neuter ordinances. The earlier versions of AB 1634 would have created uniform, statewide program that would have relied on mandatory spaying and neutering of most dogs and cats, with limited exceptions. The June 18, 2008 version AB 1634 -- 6/18/08 -- Page 5 of the bill instead relies on local citations and gradually increasing civil penalties. The Committee may wish to consider whether AB 1634 really reduces the number of unwanted dogs and cats. Will the bill work? 5. By the numbers . For at least 50 years, the State of California has required local health departments to submit regular reports on cases of rabies among animals. The Veterinary Public Health Section of the California Department of Public Health collects these data into statewide reports. The state's reporting forms are so detailed that state officials can track the population of dogs and cats in local animal shelters. However, the results are reliable only if all counties report on time. To improve data collection, AB 1634 postpones paying local officials for their costs of the state mandated longer shelter stays until county health officials comply with the long-standing reporting requirement. With better data, the public can track the effectiveness of AB 1634. 6. Legislative history . When the Senate Local Government Committee heard AB 1634 on July 11, 2007, the bill would have prohibited the ownership of a cat or dog over six months old unless the animal had been spayed or neutered, or unless the owner had an "intact permit." Although it reviewed the bill and took public testimony, the Committee didn't vote. The June 18, 2008 amendments rewrote AB 1634 by deleting its prior contents and instead inserting the current language. The Committee will consider the amended bill at its June 25 hearing. Assembly Actions Not relevant to the June 18, 2008 version of the bill. Support and Opposition (6/19/08) Support : Infeasible to determine. Opposition : Infeasible to determine.