The state of California is in for a very interesting succession of years. And that is putting it mildly! In the words of it’s governor: “California’s day of reckoning is here … Our wallet is empty. Our bank is closed. Our credit is dried up.” Next year, the state will have a 24 billion dollar budget hole and efforts to anticipate it so far have failed. Among programs that are now up for the chop are education, health care, and social welfare. Also, as was mentioned earlier, state politicians have indicated that they will not shy from taking more from resident “sinners,” and – an increased tax on cigarettes and alcohol being all but confirmed - we may, if we maintain close attention, be able to catch the definition of “sin tax” expand as the state coffers empty. While this news may provoke smokers and drinkers to frantically reach for their respective product, there is one group of Californians that welcome the states expanding grab for cash. The marijuana lobby (which, unfortunately, is not yet a spot where we can go to chill out) is enjoying a burst of positive press, and support from state and federal politicians. But this is old news. The economic crunch becomes interesting when it manifest itself in unexpected areas. Here is one: the budget deficit has measurably changed the state’s attitude towards pets; and, as it turns out, Fido’s dollar value is not that high.
The California state budget currently sets aside 250 million dollars for animal shelters and related expenses. With legislators desperate to limit nonessential spending, the recipients of this money are being prepared for a drastic cut. One form a cut may very likely take is in Senate Bill 250, which was passed June 2, 2009, in the California State Senate. Senate Bill 250, an eponym for the current expenditure, would mandate the spaying and neutering of all household cats and dogs. Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez (D-Shafter) believes that the bill will greatly reduce the amount of euthanizing the state now performs, which is done in response to the overwhelming number of strays received. When implemented locally, the law has demonstrated success. In Santa Cruz, after instituting a similar code for domestic animals, euthanasia performed on strays dropped by 60%.
The bill now waits for a vote from the California State Assembly. In the likely event that is passes and is signed into law, a quick summary of the key points:
- Forthwith, dogs/cats that have been spayed/neutered are “altered.”
- Any unaltered cat six months or older must remain indoors.
- An owner or custodian of an unaltered dog shall have the dog spayed or neutered, or provide a certificate of sterility.
- If an unaltered cat or dog is impounded, an owner must either prove that they are sterile or prove that they intend to pay a veterinarian to spay/neuter their pet.
- An owner may apply for a license exempting their pet from sterilization.
- Licenses will usually be provided for pets that are intended for breeding, hunting, or other means of labor.
Do these provisions signal an end to pet rights and freedoms? Would a more accurate (and more titillating) title for this article be Lawmakers Neuter Lady and Kill the Tramp? The answer is not really. It is apparent that, while the new law is strict, it would not force too great a change on most pet owners. It has long been California policy to require most dog and cat owners to spay/neuter. Any animal bought from a state-run shelter or pound will have had the operation. The law, if passed, will have the effect of bringing all California cities up to the standards of Santa Cruz, thus working to shorten the budgetary gap.
But on the broader point, I am curious: do animal rights activist really argue there is a multiplicity of rights owed to animals? Once they have won the battle for an animal’s right to be free from unnecessary cruelty (a battle which is very hard fought and yet to be concluded) does anyone contest that there is franchise yet to be gained? It would seem at least elementary in proceeding to provide animals with a right to life (bringing their total rights to two), but even the People for the Ethic Treatment of Animals (PETA) treat this as implausible. And recently, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s announced that the next state budget will allow state-funded animal shelters to euthanize impounded pets after three days of being unclaimed (current law mandates six days). To the state, the value of animal life has a monetary number, and – on balance – money takes priority. Which begs another interesting question: as state funding for domestic animals disappears, will animal rights activists more and more advocate what PETA refers to as the “compassionate option”? The state is already shifting its massive agency in this direction, and the opposition so far has come largely from animal rights lobbies. It will be fascinating to observe and see whether or not group member’s objectives on this subject are altered by our new economy.
A bonus thought: is it too fantastic a scenario where similar fertility requirements are mandated for people? Current census figures place the world population at close to seven billion. Estimates range in how many people the earth can reasonably sustain but most scientists agree that the earth will not sustain the human population at its current rate of growth. If we think of the stray pets in California as a microcosm of the world in 50 or 100 years time, does the idea of breeding restrictions still seem fantastic? Could we begin to see widespread embrace of what China lovingly refers to as family planning? And, finally, would that be such a bad thing?