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Commercial Sales, Custody, Cannabis and Crisis; California Steps Up for Pets with New 2019 Laws

Pets and the people who love them had reason to celebrate at the stroke of midnight on January 1 here in California.  Four reasons, actually.  Four new laws now on the books advance the welfare of pets being sold in pet stores, fought over in divorce court, and treated medically.

The law causing the most excitement among a vast number of animal advocates in California and beyond is Assembly Bill 485, The Pet Rescue and Adoption Act which bans the sale of commercially raised dogs, cats and rabbits in pet stores across the state.  

This bill requirespet stores to obtain such animals from a public animal control agency or shelter, society for the prevention of cruelty to animals shelter, humane society shelter, or rescue group that is in a cooperative agreement with at least one private or public shelter.  Further, all sales of dogs and cats authorized by this provision must be in compliance with laws requiring the spaying or neutering of animals.

“This is an exciting day for pets in California,” Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell, an author of AB485, said in a news release from Social Compassion in Legislation, the bill’s sponsor. “This is a big win for our four-legged friends, of course, but also for California taxpayers who spend more than $250 million annually to house and euthanize animals in our shelters.”

Although AB 485 was signed by former Governor Jerry Brown in October 2017, it didn’t become law until January 1, 2019.  Prior to the signing and ever since, proponents and opponents alike have been weighing in.

Supporters include several animal welfare organizations in California and across the country, including Pet Assistance Foundation, Long Beach, CA; Companion Animal Protection Society, Cohasset, MA; Best Friends Animal Society, Kanab, UT; American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; and Humane Society of the United States.

Francis Battista, co-founderof Best Friends Animal Society, said in a statement on the organization’s website, “Assembly Bill 485 will help put an end to the suffering of animals in commercial breeding operations (the majority of which are in the Midwest) by banning the sale of dogs, cats and rabbits from mills.”

On the opposite side of the kennel fence are organizations such as American Kennel Club, National Animal Interest Alliance, andPet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC).

Dustin Siggins wrote an op-ed piece appearing in the San Francisco Examinerin September 2017 which expressedthe opposing viewpoint.  At that time he was director of communications and public affairs for PIJAC,nonprofit organization with a membership representing all segments of the petindustry, as well as petowners.  His comments included:

“Illegal breeders are already prohibited by federal law from selling to stores.  

“…national surveys show that two percent of cats and four percent of dogs come from pet stores – compared to about 35 percent of dogs that came from rescues and shelters.

“AB 485 may prevent lawful, licensed breeders and many hobby breeders from providing healthy pets to Californians.  Consumers will therefore be driven to buy dogs, cats and rabbits from unethical businesses.

“Denying Californians their choice of cat, dog or rabbit will disproportionately harm people who desire – or require – puppies and purebred dogs.

“Proponents of AB 485 cite Los Angeles’ 2012 ban as an example for state legislators. However, public data shows that the ban has borne mixed results – adoptions are down, and both intake of pets and euthanasia numbers were already dropping.” 

Will The Pet Rescue and Adoption Act do as its authors and supporters intended: keep puppy mill dogs and cats out of California, thus putting a dent in sales for mill breeders, and reduce both the population of animals in California shelters and the euthanasia rates?  Or will the opponents be proven right?  For now, California is being looked upon across the country as a leader in pet advocacy.

Violations Uncovered

“We’re thrilled with the inception of the bill,” said Frank Corvino, deputy director of Riverside Dept. of Animal Services (RCDAS).  He added, however, that it didn’t greatly affect RCDAS because there was only one store under the department’s jurisdiction, in Palm Desert, which had been selling puppy mill puppies and that store ceased selling any dogs once the bill became effective. 

RCDAS’s jurisdiction includes all unincorporated territory in Riverside County as well as  nine cities in Riverside County.  The department also provides sheltering services for six cities in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

It’s a different story in southwest Riverside County where Animal Friends of the Valleys (AFV) has animal services contracts with five cities.  In February KGTV in San Diego broke the story of an investigation by San Diego Humane Society (SDHS) into puppy mill dogs being sold at a store in Escondido (San Diego County).  The puppies were being supplied by Bark Adoptions, a nonprofit organization in Menifee (Riverside County), which, in turn, gets animals from supposed nonprofit rescues located outside of California.  

Steve MacKinnon, SDHS’s VP for Community Response and Chief of Humane Law Enforcement, stated in the news report that there appears to be nonprofits and rescue groups that have been set up specifically to act as pass-throughs for puppy mills.

Bark Adoptions also was supplying puppies to Bark Boutique, a pet store in the Promenade Mall in Temecula, which sells the dogs for thousands of dollars.  AFV has animals services contracts with both Menifee and Temecula.  According to a post in February on AFV’s Facebook page, the agency stated it had issued $30,000 in violations to the pet stores. 

AFV further stated, “These are puppy mill puppies and until we stop the money they will continue to find the LOOP HOLES!!!!  As soon as they (Bark Adoptions) get their 501c3 Letter of Determination they are legal again, tying animal controls hands.  You can file complaints on line to stop their Determination Letters.”

Pets Not Just Property

Pets are one of the many things couples fight over when going through a divorce.  While in California pets are considered to be community property, as of January 1, AB 2274 changes California’s Family Code to allow courts “upon request of a party to the proceedings”to determine which spouse is granted sole ownership of Fluffy or Fido, or if there will be joint ownership.  The bill also authorizes courts, again upon the request of a party, to order one of the parties to care for the animal prior to the final determination of ownership.

In a 2014 survey conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers,

27% of the respondents reported that they noticed during the previous five years an increase in the number of couples who have fought over the custody of a pet.  Dogs were the most disputed animal at 88%, cats 5%, ‘other’ types of pets combined for 6%, and horses 1%.

Supporters including the ASPCA said AB 2274 will lead to fewer homeless animals since some divorcing couples are forced to give up their pets to shelters when they cannot agree to a custody arrangement.

Brown signed AB 2274 in September 2018, making California on January 1, 2019, the third state in the U.S., behind Alaska and Illinois, to adopt such a law.

Different Kind of Pet Grass

California was the first state in the country to legalize medical marijuana (1996).  Now California has become the first state to legalize the professional counsel of medical marijuana for pets.  AB 2215 allows veterinarians to discuss the use of cannabis for their animal patients in their licensed practice while protecting veterinarians from disciplinary action or causing them to lose their state licenses.  However, the bill prohibits licensed veterinarians from actually dispensing or administering cannabis or cannabis products to animal patients.

The bill was strongly supported by the California Veterinary Medical Board because veterinarians were reporting they were treating numerous cases of cannabis toxicity in animals due to clients medicating their pets or due to accidental poisoning. 

And finally, there’s Senate Bill 1305, which also took effect on January 1, allowing emergency responders to provide first aid services to dogs and cats, such as opening and manually maintaining an airway; administering oxygen via mouth-to-snout, mouth-to-barrier ventilation, and mask; controlling hemorrhaging with direct pressure; immobilizing fractures; bandaging; and administrating naloxone hydrochloride (to reverse effects of opiate drugs or treat shock and spinal/brain injury).

SB 1305, however, does not require first responders to provide medical care.

Under this bill neither first responders nor their employers will be liable for civil damages or criminal prosecution if they provide pre-veterinary emergency care to an injured dog or cat at the scene of an emergency.  

It previously had been unlawful in California for anyone to practice veterinary medicine unless the person was a licensed veterinarian.  This included firefighters and paramedics who rescued dogs and cats from house fires or other emergencies.  Now, by receiving critical on-site emergency care before being taken to a veterinarian, it is anticipated that pets will have a better chance of surviving.

Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes (D-Riverside) was a co-author of both AB 485 and SB 1305 and voted for all four of the aforementioned bills.

Editor’s note: This article was written by Jean Clement for Foster Army Animal Rescue‘s newsletter, “The Wet Nose News.”