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August 2, 2011 > Ohlone Humane Society: Of laws, cocks, sharks... and politics

Ohlone Humane Society: Of laws, cocks, sharks... and politics

By Nancy Lyon

While the Congress of the United States stands toe-to-toe in a battle over the financial fate of the nation, California has moved forward in animal protection reform. Governor Jerry Brown has signed into law legislation that will tighten the State's laws protecting animals and expanding punishments for animal neglect and cruelty.

On July 26th, Senate Bill 917, authored by Senator Ted W. Lieu, a far-reaching law that banned the sale or give-away of animals as part of a commercial transaction such as roadside displays and parking lots. This would include such dealings on any street, highway, public right-of-way, parking lot, carnival, or boardwalk, or to display or offer for sale.

The bill, a combination of two bills vetoed at the last minute by ex- Governor Schwarzenegger last year, had significant bi-partisan support. The law now increases fines and possible jail time for those convicted of animal neglect to levels consistent with penalties for felony animal abuse. The enforcement and penalty for violating this law is mandated to fall to local peace officers, animal control or humane officers.

The Governor also signed into law an important bill that is long overdue. Senate Bill 426, authored by Senator Ronald Calderon, stiffened California's inadequate anti-cockfighting laws. Both houses of the legislature unanimously approved the passage of SB 426 which allows landlords to evict tenants using their property for animal fighting, or keeping animals for use in animal fighting.

Cockfighting is a cruel and vicious blood "sport" that is outlawed in 50 states and a felony in 39. It is still not a felony to be a spectator at a cockfight in California, a problem that ties the hands of law enforcement when participants often abandon their birds and claim to have "only" been watching the fights.

Arizona and Oregon have strong anti-cockfighting laws that are enforced. This has moved cockfighters into California where laws are less stringent and potential punishment less intimidating. According to the Humane Society of the United States, since 2008, there have been more than 110 law enforcement incidences involving cockfighting in 36 of California's 58 counties. More than 21,000 birds have been found dead or alive in connection with the bloodsport during that time.

This year in California's Madera County, cockfighting was a regular occurrence near local schools and other public places. In an incident, 45 birds were seized by animal control and euthanized. Drugs and gambling are very often a large part of cockfighting making enforcement important to the safety of the communities they impact. The Madera bust included two teenage participants.

Animals are often sold in unregulated, outdoor venues; frequently in terrible conditions. The animals that are being sold often live in unsanitary crowded pens or cages, without food and/or water, in extreme heat. Some of these animals are so ill that they die shortly after being purchased, before they are thrown in the "pit" to fight for what little life is left in them.

If enforced, the passage of SB 917 BY Senator Ted Lieu, will give local law enforcement another weapon to put these hawkers of cruelty and violence out of business.

On a less promising front California Assembly Bill 376, authored by Assemblymember Paul Fong, which would ban the possession, sale, and trade of shark fins in the State of California is in jeopardy of being fatally weakened in an attempt to appease opponents.

Finning is the process of cutting off the fins of a shark and discarding the body at sea where the animals die slowly from drowning or infection. This practice is considered a wasteful and cruel practice that contradicts all principles of sustainable shark fisheries management and conservation. Over 73 million sharks worldwide are killed each year for... soup.

According to leading oceanic authorities, without regulation in many countries, the shark finning trade has grown over the past few years as demand has surged beyond sustainable levels for slow-to-reproduce shark populations.

The Shark finning bill which is basically a "no-brainer." The effect of killing sharks for luxury foods on the rapidly dwindling population of sharks, and consequently, the health and survival of the ocean's vital ecosystems is irrefutable although opponents of the bill question statistics supporting the bill.

These statistics show that California imports and re-exports shark fins from all over the world, including Asia. Approximately 85% of all U.S. dried shark fin imports come through California. Los Angeles and San Francisco, recognized points of entry for the shark fin trade. The U.S. accounts for 70% of all shark fin imports outside Asia.

As of last June there were more than 33 environmental, sports fishing, and humane organizations in support of AB 376. Concern for rapidly diminishing shark populations has resulted in shark finning being banned in many countries worldwide.

Politicians have made futile attempts to please all sides but no middle ground exists. They have only succeeded in watering down a piece of legislation that needs to move forward before it becomes so weakened as to be ineffective.

Please take a moment to pick up your phone and make your voice heard or email your state representatives. Remember, these representatives are just that - they stand for the voice of their constituents, so let them know your opinion.

AB 376 will be heard by the California Senate Appropriations Committee on August 15th and we strongly urge your support. The Senate Appropriations Committee can be reached by contacting Senator Christine Kehoe (Chair) (916) 651-4039; email: If passed in the Senate please, contact your local Assemblymember where it will go for a final vote. Also, ask Governor Brown at (916) 445-2841 to support AB 376.

Thank Assemblyman Fong for introducing AB 376 and ask that he keep the bill strong in support of a ban - (916) 319-2022; email -

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