Animal welfare sites and newspapers across the country have been all atwitter this week about Senator Dean Florez’ latest legislative proposal: SB1277, A pet abuser registry in California. In a nutshell (in case you were out to sea and missed it), Sen. Florez wants individuals convicted of felony animal abuse to have to register, much as sex offenders currently do, and to create a website where shelters and other pet sellers can check before adopting/selling/giving away companion animals. The registry and its upkeep would be funded by adding a tax to the sales of pet food.
To say that I’m conflicted would be an understatement. For all of the usual (and usually well-deserved) scorn politicians, including Sen. Florez, receive, let me go on the record as saying that when it comes to animal welfare I believe that Dean Florez is completely sincere in his desire to make California a better state for animals and a leader in animal protection in the country. I further believe that in my voting lifetime there has not been a politician in California who has tried to do more for animals --- both companion and livestock --- than Sen. Florez. Would that I could live long enough to find dedication like his on animal welfare issues to be more the rule than the exception.
I love the idea of a registry. I love that other people love the idea and would love to see it come to fruition. But I can’t, in all honesty, say that I’m for it.
First off, there’s the tax issue. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with paying more taxes for services, especially animal welfare services, but given where California is financially as a state, if there’s going to be a new tax created I’m not sure that tax should apply to one specific program --- even a program I like. Or if we are going to create a specific tax for an animal welfare program, how about creating a tax to provide funds for low-cost spay/neuter programs, something that California --- particularly the Central Valley --- has needed for decades? Paying an extra few cents for a bag of food in exchange for getting something as desperately needed as better subsidized spay/neuter is something I’d more than willingly do. At least I’d know that my money was going towards something that would truly have an impact.
Which brings me to point number two. In my heart of hearts, as much as I wish it weren’t so, I do not think that a registry will be an effective tool for preventing animal abuse. Registering an offender certainly won’t stop them from having a spouse, cousin, child or friend acquire animals for them, if they truly wish to get one. It won’t stop them from trolling the “free to good home” ads that populate Internet sites and newspapers, where the folks giving away pets aren’t as picky about prescreening adoptive homes as are local shelters. And it won’t stop anyone from picking up strays on the side of the road, of which there are many.
The needs of companion animals, especially in the Central Valley, are so great, yet gravely underfunded. If we are to create a new tax base for a companion animal cause, let’s make it one where the animals truly win and fund a program for low-cost spay/neuter instead.