By Rachel Tennenbaum

On April 10, a bill will be heard at the Capitol that, if passed, will require California pets to be spayed or neutered.

State Assembly member Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) introduced Assembly Bill 1634 (AB1634), otherwise known as the California Healthy Pets Act, as an attempt to address the issue of the 800,000 animals abandoned yearly in California.

This legislation mirrors similar mandatory spay/neuter laws passed in counties across California. In 1995, Santa Cruz County was the first to pass such legislation.

Under the act, all cats and dogs over four months would be required to undergo surgical alteration, a process that can cost anywhere from $125 to $600. Purebred and specially trained workforce dogs however can obtain exemption from the requirement, as can older and weaker pets.

Pet owners in California who choose not to follow the law will be issued warnings and later citations. All money gained from these citations would go toward funding low cost spay and neuter programs, which are already available throughout the state.

Santa Cruz County offers a fully operating example of AB1634. Since the implementation of the mandatory spay and neuter law, the number of stray animals has been cut by almost 50 percent.

Three animal help groups operating in the area—Santa Cruz County Animal Services, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), and Project Purr—already offer low-cost spay and neuter programs; the SPCA even offers low cost surgery on a case-by-case basis.

Lisa Carter, Executive Director of the Santa Cruz SPCA, said, “We have done between 700 and 800 surgeries through the SPCA and have heard only positive feedback.”

Thanks to a donation by late philanthropist John Strauss, Santa Cruz County Animal Services implemented a free spay and neuter program for all low-income Santa Cruz residents last month.

Project Purr also has a program called TNR (Trap/Neuter/Release) where feral cats, too old to be domesticated, are caught, surgically altered, and then released back into feral colonies.

Some are concerned that low-cost spay and neuter programs enable irresponsible individuals to own pets, but Santa Cruz veterinarian Dr. John Clay responded, “While that might be a problem, low cost programs allow more people to have animal companions in their lives, which is important.”

Spayed and neutered animals also make healthier pets. For example, spayed female cats and dogs are less likely to suffer from mammary tumors, and neutered males are less likely to act out aggressively.

California residents are paying around $250 million a year to house animals in shelters. Over half of these animals end up euthanized. If AB1634 passes, money would be put towards funding low cost surgeries, eventually lowering the cost of keeping strays in shelters.

Groups against AB1634 argue that the proposed law is too strict and the financing involved too high.

The American Kennel Club has posted an argument against AB1634 on their website, explaining that owners of unaltered purebreds would be required to annually purchase a license for their pet, which might lead to owners having to pay exorbitant fees.

Others feel that veterinarians will support the bill simply because they will profit from the surgeries.

Dr. Clay said that he does not necessarily make profit off of his low-cost surgeries, but that as a veterinarian it is his duty to the pet population to continue these alterations.

Though the number of strays in Santa Cruz County has fallen, Santa Cruz County Animal Services statistics show that in 2006, 1,852 cats and 1,387 dogs were found stray, and 1,596 cats and 476 dogs found were euthanized.

Brandon Wallace is a first-year student at UCSC and proud owner of a six-year-old coyote-Labrador mix. Brandon adopted Roxie from a shelter where spaying and neutering was a condition of adoption.

When asked how he felt about AB1634, he replied, “The proposed law is not invading privacy. Rather it will offer a positive impact. It is about limiting the number homeless animals with no one to care for them.”

Some feel that owners should have the right to breed their pet if they so chose, and that this proposed new law is too invasive.

“People want to show their children the miracle of birth,” Carter said. “I tell them to bring their kids to the shelter to see the consequences.”