Debate is raging over the proposed mandatory spay/neuter law for the state of California. I’ve been following the controversy loosely, because the issue is of interest to me. Personally, when I see an unaltered animal, my fingers itch for a scalpel. (I kid! My fingers itch for a free spay/neuter coupon from the Eileen Hawthorne Fund, of course, and luckily I have a handful to distribute.)

For people who haven’t been paying any attention to the spay/neuter discussion, California is trying to pass a law which mandates the spaying and neutering of all dogs and cats in California…with exemptions for breeders, purebreds, service animals, and animals with health problems. Honestly, the exemptions trouble me more than the law, in a way.

Opponents argue that responsible pet guardians already spay and neuter, and that irresponsible pet guardians will continue to leave their pets intact. This is probably true, especially since the law cannot realistically be enforced. Animal control officers will not be busting your door down to check for balls, although an unaltered animal spotted in the street will yield a ticket.

Others, pointing to success in places like Santa Cruz, point out that altering more pets in California will lead to less unwanted pets and overcrowded shelters. Santa Cruz has apparently seen a drastic reduction in unwanted pets crowding the shelter, along with falling euthanasia rates. I think that’s something we can all get behind. If there’s a 10% statewide difference as a result of spay/neuter laws, that is a good thing. For anyone who scoffs, 10% of dogs and cats euthanized annually in the sunny Golden State is 40,000 animals.

I also take issue with the exemptions, partially because I vehemently oppose breeding and the whole concept of “purebreds.” I agree with some critics who call the exemptions elitist, because they are. To me, it suggests that purebred animals have more of an intrinsic value than crossbreeds, and that is something that I do not agree with. How can a Scottish Fold be intrinsically of more value than Mr. Bell? Why is Mr. Shadow less worthy of reproducing than a Persian? How can you make comparisons like that in all seriousness? Let’s not even get into the genetic and physical issues with purebreds, which are so overbred that many of them have serious health problems.

I also question exemptions for service animals. Unaltered animals have more behavioural problems…which seems like something that you do not want in a service animal. Maybe I am misreading this exemption, and what they really mean is animals used to breed service animals, which could make more sense. The idea of perpetuating a calm, service oriented bloodline through breeding is logical to me. The thought of a blind man being dragged willy nilly through the streets by a dog who scents another dog in heat is, while slightly amusing, actually very troubling. Exempting animals for breeding service dogs, however, seems reasonable to me. (Of course, the opposition wants you to believe that service animals and police dogs will not be bred in California any more if the law passes, which is patent nonsense…most service animals are pure breds, and pure breds, apparently, are worthy of keeping their naughty bits.)

For animals with health problems, an exemption makes perfect sense, of course. Some animals do not tolerate anesthesia well, or they may be old, or sick. Issuing a compassionate exemption for the animal’s welfare is entirely reasonable. Individual veterinarians can make this determination, although there is a niggling concern in the back of my mind which brings up the possibility of pet owners bribing vets to certify their animals for a health exemption. (Yikes.)

Oh, pet owners can also purchase exemptions. Ah, classism.

My initial stance is to support the bill, because I think we need to promote a culture of spaying and neutering, and to send a message that California encourages altering pets. But I am open to persuasion on this one, because I can see some flaws in the bill as it stands. There is formidable opposition for the bill. Of course, organizations like the NRA, California Federation of Republican Women, and the American Kennel Club are backing the opposition, and I don’t support most of their aims. And organizations like the Humane Society of the United States, In Defense of Animals, the American Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights, BADRAP, and the SPCA are supporting the bill. Since I do believe in the causes of these organizations, I am inclined to weigh in on the side of support.

One of the things which has perturbed me about the debate is that it is being framed in the sense of owner rights. I understand that in most parts of California, pets are viewed as property. This is something which disgusts me. A living being cannot be property, regardless as to your feelings about souls and sentience. The very idea is obscene. I own my table…I take care of my cats. It also reflects poorly on responsible pet guardians who do spay and neuter, to be smeared with these blanket statements about “dogs needin’ to have balls!” It should be more frankly framed as an issue of vanity and castration anxiety, I suspect.

Spaying and neutering, the opposition claims, is not natural. This is true. Overbreeding freakish animals to the point where they cannot walk is also not natural. Rounding up animals and gassing them to death, also not natural. Has the behaviour of my cats changed because they are altered? Most certainly. They are more mellow, they do not get into fights, and they do not spray. One could argue that I am repressing their natural urges, but I am not sure that domestic dogs and cats are natural, anymore, since we have created them. And what we create, we should deal with, don’t you think?

The opposition also wants you to think that the bill will usher in a rash of pet smuggling from Mexico. Er…I really do not know how to respond to that. I don’t know if people are not reading the bill, or if they just don’t understand English. Puppy mills, backyard breeders, and registered breeders will be free to continue with their merry ways, ensuring a steady supply of puppies and kittens to the clamoring populace. Of course, people can also adopt an animal in need from a shelter, but I know that’s not nearly as “cool” as a purebred. The idea that the bill will result in a shortage of pets is rather amusing, but so very not true.

So, what do you think, gentle readers? Say yes to the snip? Or do you oppose AB 1634?

[Healthy Pets Act]