Where are Shelter Intakes coming from ?
why pet identification and owner registration should preceed any other attempts to legislate pet breeding and spay/neuter
This is a letter to legislators, not only in California where as I write AB 1634 is still pending, but everywhere that any form of legislation aimed to reduce shelter intakes and shelter killings is being contemplated.
Make no mistake : I am as opposed to pets being discarded into shelters or on lonely country roads as is anyone in this world, and even more opposed to the death toll that results. I've "put my muscle where my mouth is" for twenty years doing Rescue and foster care for discarded dogs. While I think the best way to encourage owner responsibility is by education, I am not against legal penalties for those who remain irresponsible. Yes, there is plenty of irresponsible breeding and ownership.
But right this moment there is no really reliable evidence as to what portion of shelter intakes originated with the serious and self-labled responsible breeders and what portion originated with puppy mills, backyarders breeding for the bucks, or ordinary people's "oops" litters and "friends and family" litters. I've rescued some dogs who quite clearly did come from the very best lines because they were gorgeous and correct in temperament ; I've rescued others who could not possibly have come from respectable breeding and others who came with documentation proving they originated with breeders widely known to be irresponsible. In over 80% of the cases, it is impossible to guess where the dog originated.
We need to know the real source and cause of the problem before we can design an appropriate solution.
I sent this letter below to my state Senator and state Assemblyperson, both of whom I actually did vote for at the most recent election. I also sent it to others on the relevant committees.
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I am one of your constituents and I voted for you at the last election. Whether I vote for you ever again (and I do vote at every election) will depend on your votes on pet issues. Please recognize that AB 1634 is badly flawed and inappropriate as a solution to a problem whose dimensions and causes have not been properly defined. Vote AB 1634 down and then look for a more appropriate approach, one that includes a better definition of the problem and its actual causes.
My detailed discussion follows below. I have been in dogs all my life and have been in dog Rescue for over 20 years. I am not a dog breeder. I am more earnestly devoted to reducing shelter intakes and killings than you can possibly imagine.
Trying to craft a rational and fair pet licensing and breeding law such as the current California AB 1634 (in any of its various incarnations) is like a doctor trying to prescribe a cure without first diagnosing the disease.
Right now no one really KNOWS where the shelter intakes (dogs and cats) are originating. The serious goal-oriented breeders, often termed "hobby breeders" because they almost always lose money on every litter, believe that the sources for the vast majority of shelter intakes are the "backyard" or non-goal oriented or money-making oriented small scale breeders and the large scale "puppy mill" breeders and their pet store sales outlets. While it is probably true that for every puppy born to a hobby breeder, there are dozens or hundreds born to the large and small scale breeding for money breeders, and because the latter do not take the care in screening and educating their puppy buyers that the hobby breeders (mostly) try to take, it is also probable that each of their puppies has a higher risk of later being discarded into a shelter.
But as of right now , NO ONE REALLY KNOWS.
Before we start legislating against any set of breeders or pet owners and demanding they take the irreversible step of altering their dogs and cats, would it not be wise to GET REAL EVIDENCE of which types of breeders or owners are really causing the problem of pets being discarded into shelters ? If we knew that , then legislation could be crafted against those who are causing the problem and those who are not significant causes could be left to continue their benign activities in peace.
To that end we would first need a SYSTEM of PET IDENTIFICATION and OWNER REGISTRATION. I propose that we need a system similar to the DMV registration of motor vehicles. Unlike motor vehicles, dogs and cats are not created with a VIN number (though they do each have a unique DNA profile which shows their 50% relationship to each of their parents). To create the equivalent of a VIN number, we would need to legislate to REQUIRE every puppy and kitten bred or sold in California to be either MICROCHIPPED or TATTOOED for permanent unique identification.
Microchips are unique identifiers that usually will be effective for a lifetime (though occasionally one ceases to work) and that can be read by a scanning device without anyone having to lay hands on the animal. The only argument against microchips is that for cats there is a legitimate worry that they might provoke initiation of Fibrosarcoma cancer at the site, just as (rarely) some kinds of vaccinations are known to do.
Tattoos are safe, but have the drawbacks that there is no one system for creating individually unique identifiers, though perhaps such a system could be designed, and there is a tendency for tattoos to become less legible as the animal ages.
To create the equivalent of DMV registration of ownership, we simply need an equivalent system of registering the breeder and first owner of every puppy or kitten born in the state or imported into the state and/or sold in the state, then every transfer of ownership thereafter would need to be recorded in the state database. Likewise adult dogs and cats imported into the state to reside in it would have to be registered with ownership into the database. For puppies and kittens sold through pet stores, ideally both the breeder and the pet store would be specified on the registration, but if the breeder is not known then let's at least specify the pet store as point-of-sale. For strays not previously micro-shipped or tattooed who are adopted out of the shelters, the chipping or tattooing would be done at the shelter and the shelter would be registered as the point-of-origin.
If such a registration database were in operation for a number of years , say 5 years, we would learn source of every shelter intake, whether owner surrendered, placed in the Night Deposit, or picked up as a stray. We would know the last registered owner, who would be directly responsible for causing the problem, and we would know the point-of-origin source, ie the breeder and/or the pet store that was responsible for the existence of this dog or cat. We'd know whether one type of breeder or another was the main original source of abandoned animals, thus indirectly responsible for causing the problem, and knowing that then we would be able to legislate accordingly. If it were found that the large scale breeders and pet stores were actually the main source of the shelter burden and , more importantly, the main source of those pets that are un-adoptable or not adopted and subsequently killed, then we would know that legislation had to be directed against these sources. Perhaps pet stores should be required to do pre-sale spay/neuter or perhaps they should be forbidden altogether to sell puppies and kittens under the age of 6 months. (Nothing should forbid or burden stores from hosting pet adoption days for local SPCA and other Rescue groups.)
If all dogs and cats were permanently identified and their owners registered, then we would also have the ability to identify and punish those owners whose behavior was causing problems. Those owners whose pets "got out" repeatedly could be fined on an escalating scale and could be required to alter the pet the second time it was picked up. Those whose unleashed unfenced dogs or cats bit or scratched someone could be made to take financial responsibility, and for animals with a pre-existing record of dangerous behavior owners might be subjected to criminal penalties. Owners who fail to reclaim their pets from the shelters could be fined severely and those who abandon pets on remote country roads could be fined even more severely.
Meanwhile, LACKING EVIDENCE of which kinds of breeders are the originating source of shelter intakes, if the legislature feels that there is such a "crisis" of shelter intake numbers and shelter kill numbers that some regulations MUST be made right now, then at least let's be rational enough to see that the larger the scale of the breeding operation ie the more puppies and kittens produced per year, the more likely it is that this operation is making a larger contribution to the problem.
Thus if we really *must* legislate today, we should be legislating to control the LARGE SCALE BREEDERS and the PET STORES that are their essential merchandising outlets. These large scale breeders should NOT be free to churn out large numbers of puppies or kittens merely because they have a business license or a business license plus a kennel license. They should be subject to the same requirements or more stringent requirements that are currently proposed in AB 1634 as applying to the small scale and hobby breeders. After all , the LARGE SCALE and COMMERCIAL breeders are opperating as professionals, so they should be held to a HIGHER standard , not a lower standard.
Let's require that the LARGE SCALE breeders, which would be DEFINED IN TERMS OF NUMBERS of PUPPIES / KITTENS PRODUCED ANNUALLY, (either the number produced the previous year or perhaps the average of the yearly number produced in the preceding three years or perhaps the highest annual number produced during the previous three years ) buy an "Intact Permit" for every intact animal over age of 6 months and require that to be eligible for that permit that animal must meet the same qualifications currently proposed in AB 1634 (ie to be in training for competition or have earned a competitive title if over 3 years old or be qualified as a service dog or law enforcement dog or be in a recognized breeding program for service or law enforcement dogs) plus some kind of genetic health testing requirements, eg that they have been tested and found clear of the two or three most important inheritable health problems known in that breed.
Alternatively there is a simpler route : recognize that both ALTER status and TRAINING status equally affect the risk of a dog or cat being discarded into the shelter system. Both ALTER and TRAINING also affect the chances of an owned dog becoming a nuisance or danger to the public.
I would urge that the "Canine Good Citizen" test , which is accessible to any normal temperamented dog and any reasonably diligent owner, be considered a sufficient "title" for these purposes, or at least that the CGC be considered sufficient if passed within the previous two or three years or if passed on three previous occasions. As above, and for the reasons stated above, this licensing scheme would apply to animals owned by large scale breeders as well as to those owned by anyone else.
Yes, of course, cats must be licensed and vaccinated against Rabies, and they should pay the same top level and bottom level fees as for dogs. No question at all about this. Cats are more than half of all shelter intakes and a lot more likely to be killed for lack of an adopter.
For cats, since training and training titles are not really an option, either there is a two way dichotomy between the very high intact fee and the very low altered fee or else perhaps there could be a three tiered fee structure with
And whatever is done , the problem of unowned feral cats will remain. Legislating against owners will not solve the problem of unowned feral cats.
Pam Green , "du Clos de la Fourrière" dog rescue
(20 years in dog rescue ; NOT a breeder)