From the Los Angeles Daily News...
SACRAMENTO - Faced with an onslaught of passionate opposition, a San Fernando Valley lawmaker withdrew a bill Wednesday that would have forced most California pet owners to spay or neuter their dogs and cats.
State Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, D-Van Nuys, pulled AB 1634 just hours before a key Senate committee vote he was certain to lose.
While the measure is dead for this year, Levine vowed to revive it next year, but in what could be a vastly scaled-back form.
"While I'm disappointed," he said, "I'm optimistic ... we're going to be able to solve the problem."
The move was a clear setback for spay-and-neuter advocates who say a statewide law is the only way to reduce the hundreds of thousands of pets euthanized at shelters each year.
But vocal critics and opponents - led by the well-organized breeder community - howled that it was too broad, would punish responsible pet owners and was a stark example of government overreaching into people's lives.
The debate escalated into one of the Capitol's fiercest battles this year, with each side hiring lobbyists, creating Web sites and bombarding legislators' offices with faxes and e-mails.
Levine said he remains committed
Still, he expressed frustration with opponents, whom he said showed no willingness to compromise.
"Every time we put an exemption in the bill," he said, "they tell me it's not good enough."
Levine's bill would have barred anyone from owning a cat or dog older than 6 months that hasn't been spayed or neutered. Exceptions were carved out for animals handled by licensed breeders, show animals, police dogs and a few others.
People caught with "intact" pets would receive a citation and have 30 days to prove that their pet had been fixed. Violators would have faced a $500 fine per animal.
As it became clear that a majority of committee members were prepared to vote against his bill, Levine offered drastic revisions.
One suggestion was to amend it to apply only to people cited for other pet-related offenses, such as letting their dogs run loose or illegally housing too many of them.
Other pet owners who keep their dogs and cats confined, but choose not to have them spayed or neutered, would not be affected.
Senators said they were encouraged by the offer but balked at adopting last-minute changes, so Levine dropped the bill.
Supporters of the bill were disappointed, although they acknowledged that it was better to withdraw it than have it voted down.
"It is a shame," said Woodland Hills resident Charlotte Laws, president of Directors of Animal Welfare, which represents animal issues on the city's neighborhood councils.
"I'm sad to hear it's been shelved, but I'd rather it be shelved than die. I don't understand why there was so much passion behind defeating this legislation. It's just mind-boggling."
Cathie Turner, director of the Woodland Hills-based Concerned Dog Owners of California, which opposed Levine's bill, said many pet owners would be willing to work with Levine next year on alternatives to controlling the pet population.
She said the state, for example, should do more to encourage pet owners to microchip their animals to cut down on the number of lost or abandoned pets.
The state also should take a more voluntary, incentive-based approach such as reduced or free licensing fees for owners who microchip and spay or neuter their animals.
"Positive reinforcement works better than negative punishment," said Turner, a Sylmar resident who owns three golden retrievers. "We need to apply that across the board."
She said mandatory spay/neutering often fails or causes negative consequences because some pet owners who oppose the practice will then stop licensing and vaccinating their animals.
Opponents staged a rally after the bill was withdrawn - dogs in tow - outside the Capitol.
Like Patriot Act?
One foe called Levine's bill more far-reaching than the Patriot Act, the controversial law that expanded federal powers to combat terrorism.
"People are screaming that's intrusive, and here they want to check under Fido's tail," said Kathy Cress of Campbell, whose pet beagle, Lou, sported a "No on AB 1634" T-shirt. "How far are you going to take it?"
But supporters of the measure also promised they'd be back next year.
"I'm very happy it didn't go away," said Mary Catalano, who rescues cats and dogs in Los Angeles. "If you're a human being and have compassion, a heart, this is something that is good."
Staff Writer Harrison Sheppard contributed to this report.