By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
L.A.‘s dog-breeding lobby is outraged by a proposed $100 fee on all unneutered dogs.
The high license fees are part of a proposal by Department of Animal Services General Manager Dan Knapp to combat the proliferation of unwanted cats and dogs in the city.
“For breeders to deny their contribution to pet overpopulation is like cigarette companies claiming nicotine is not addictive,” said one local advocate of the proposal, at a public hearing last year on the proposal.
A dog owner shot back, “My dogs are less likely to get pregnant than a teenager in this city.”
Across the city, the various sides in the debate have squared off at seven public hearings. The proposal, approved this month by the Animal Regulation Commission, is expected to be considered this month by the City Council’s Public Safety Committee. The City Council could take it up in March.
Under the proposal, the cost of a dog license for an altered pet would remain $10. But for dogs with working reproductive systems, the fee would jump from $30 to $100. A $100 breeding permit would be required for each litter of cats or dogs; now, there is a $50-per-litter fee for dogs only. The proposal does not require cats to be licensed.
Dog and cat breeders -- who refer to themselves as hobbyists -- are furious, and hired two lobbying firms to try to persuade the City Council to vote it down. Breeders insist that their hobby is not the source of pet overpopulation and that they should not be blamed for the roaming packs of dogs that terrorize residents in some council districts. “Because they can‘t get the irresponsible, they charge the responsible,” says Mary Di Biasi, legislative advocate for the California Federation of Dog Clubs and the Coalition for Responsible Dog Owners and a breeder of Welsh corgis. “Raising dogs is a hobby -- we don’t make money, no matter what you hear.”
Hobbyists say that kennel and cat-club rules prohibit the showing of altered animals in shows. So, they complain, Los Angeles residents who enter their animals in competitions would, in effect, be forced to pay the higher fees.
Animal-welfare advocates praise the ordinance as a step in the right direction, though many think the best response would be a moratorium on animal breeding in Los Angeles. They point to this morbid statistic: Tens of thousands of cats and dogs -- 59,663 last year, more than 1,000 a week that came into Los Angeles shelters last year -- were given lethal injections, their carcasses shipped off to a rendering plant.
Breeders protest that their hobby has nothing to do with the problem. But humane-community activists counter that up to one-third of the dogs dumped at city shelters are purebreds, and point to the variety of pure-breed rescue organizations, including ones for pug-dogs, Chihuahuas and boxers, that have more animals than they can adopt out.
Activists have lined up behind Knapp, an ordained minister and former executive director of the Sonoma County Humane Society. “One faction is to save lives, one is to produce lives. For one group it costs money to save lives. One group profits from lives,” said longtime animal-welfare activist Michael Bell in a phone interview.
Knapp downplays the differences. “Every single one of the hobbyists are good people,” he says. “As the hearings have gone on, you keep hearing, ‘Let’s come together.‘ For the first time in Los Angeles, or maybe even the state, these various groups are recognizing that there is a problem.”
It’s a politic analysis by someone who, in just 18 months on the job, has tiptoed with some success through the local animal-welfare minefield. Knapp has reorganized a department that an activist once described as “treating animals like so much solid waste,” and which had alienated the kind of animal-welfare organizations that have been essential to other municipalities‘ ability to reduce their kill rates.
He also weathered a potential disaster for a department that has been underfunded for years -- a state bill which came into effect last July that raises the standards for animal care at public shelters and requires a longer holding period before animals are killed. The city used to hold animals for 72 hours before putting them up for adoption, and for at least five days after that; now, the city can be required to hold them 30 days.
Knapp warns that it will take a six-month study to analyze the effect. “We’re more crowded . . . and the more crowded we are, the more problems you see in the pound,” he says.
Mayor Richard Riordan, during an interview last year at the East Valley Animal Shelter, credited the bill, authored by state Senator Tom Hayden, Riordan‘s former opponent for his mayoral seat, as the impetus for a 26 percent rise in the department’s budget this year, to almost $11.5 million -- the biggest increase in years.
Animal-welfare activists agree with Riordan when he also acknowledges pressure from his daughter, Kathy, whom he appointed to the Animal Regulation Commission in April. “My daughter, with Dan Knapp, is a leader,” Riordan said. “She‘s the one who protests outside my house when she disagrees with me.”