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October 24, 2006 > Victory for California Animals!

Victory for California Animals!

by Nancy Lyon

California's animals were granted greater protection last month with the passage of legislation that will give animal control agencies greater power to enforce animal protection laws.

In September, the Governor finally signed into law vital and long overdue legislation - the Anti-Chaining Bill, SB 1578 introduced by Senator Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach). This bill was a squeaker and whether he would sign it was seriously in question. Although it had strong public support for passage, it sat on his desk while it was decided whether it was a politically smart move. Based on heavy documentation that SB 1578 had serious public safety and humane considerations the delay was difficult to understand.

With its final signing, animal control and humane officers now have the power to cite for prolonged chaining where in the past if there were food and water available they were unable to protect the hundreds, maybe thousands, of dogs from leading miserable lives on backyard chains.

SB 1578 will also reduce the number of dog bites and dog attacks in California. Research has shown that chained dogs are 2.8 times more likely to bite than unchained dogs because they feel the strong need to protect their territory and have no way to flee from threats. California now becomes the second state in the nation to ban the chaining of dogs as a primary method of confinement. It's hoped that other states will follow suit for the well being of children and dogs.

OHS and other humane organizations and individuals have long worked to educate people of the dangers of leaving animals unattended in vehicles in even warm weather. Yet each year companion animals die in overheated vehicles as temperatures rise. Unfortunately, it's not unusual for animal control agencies to receive large numbers of calls urgently asking for help for animals trapped in unventilated and unattended cars. Since education has not sufficiently improved human behavior educational approaches must now be integrated with enforcement activities.

Thanks to State Senator Liz Figueroa (D-Fremont) who authored Senate Bill (SB) 1806 it will now be unlawful to leave a companion animal unattended in a motor vehicle under conditions - such as extreme heat - that could endanger the health of the animal.  Way to go Liz!

On another front, the hard lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina's animal victims have not been forgotten.  Living in earthquake country as we do, it's long overdue that we have protections for our animals when the Big One or some other disaster hits. It's just a matter of time and planning - and viewing it as important. Currently there are no concrete plans in place locally to deal with what will be done to assist with our animals in an emergency situation.

The good news is that on September 29, 2006 Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law a bill that changes California's disaster plans to require consideration of household pets, service animals, horses, and livestock.
Assembly Bill 450 authored by Assembly member Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/Daly City) takes a much needed step to ensure that evacuation efforts can run more smoothly without evacuees being faced with a terrible choice of having to evacuate without their animal companions, or to stay in an area and risk imminent danger. It requires the Department of Agriculture, the Office of Emergency Services, and other agencies involved in disaster preparedness to develop a memorandum of understanding (MOU) or plan that includes the needs of service animals, livestock, equines, and individuals with household "pets" following a major disaster or emergency.

In contrast, on the federal level there is great concern for the first amendment right of free speech and the safety of members of the animal welfare community. H.R. 4239, sponsored by House Representative Thomas Petri (R-WI), the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) is a bill that could make it a crime punishable by imprisonment to cause any business classified as an "animal enterprise" to suffer a loss of profit-even if the company's financial decline is the result of legal activities, such as peaceful protests, consumer boycotts or media campaigns. The term "animal enterprise" would include manufacturers, distributors and sellers of animals or animal products, research facilities, pet stores, breeders, zoos, rodeos, circuses, and animal shelters and the like.

The animal protection movement strongly opposes acts of violence, including vandalism, property damage and trespass, but this bill threatens to criminalize as "terrorism" otherwise lawful, constitutionally protected acts often utilized by citizens and organizations to effect change. Lawful and peaceful protests that, for example, urge a consumer boycott of a company that does not use humane procedures, could be the target of this provision if the activity results in damage to the finances of the company.

The bill would also make it illegal to expose cruel conditions at facilities such as puppy mills and research labs, if exposure of such conditions-even if done lawfully-would result in economic damage to the animal enterprise. There is no exemption in the bill to exclude "economic damage" that results from the disclosure of information about a company's treatment of animals, which is disclosed through public information.

The AETA has already unanimously been passed in the Senate, and a vote in the House is expected very soon. It can only be hoped that the purveyors of fear and intimidation - not to mention corporate greed and power  - will not prevail.

One of my favorite passages is by renowned anthropologist Margaret Mead who once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Individuals of vision, courage, and tenacity have devoted much of their lives to ending animal abuse. Their fight to end indifference to the mistreatment of other species has led to dramatic changes in the way society views and treats animals.

The present question is are they now to become criminals because of a governmental system that has apparently lost not only its reason but also its compassion?

It was surprising that usually animal-friendly federal legislators California Senator Dianne Feinstein and California Representative Pete Stark not only supported but also co-sponsored these bills in their respective congressional posts. If you share our concern and question the wisdom and legality of infringing on our Constitutional rights, let them know your thoughts. Senator Feinstein 415-393-0707; Rep.Stark 510-494-1388.

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