Los Angeles Times
March 8, 2005 Tuesday
Metro; Metro Desk; Part B; Pg. 1
For years, Rich McLellan has been pushing a futuristic
solution to the number of stray animals in California.
He wants to require everyone who sells a dog or cat to
install a microchip beneath the animal's skin. The transistors, McLellan
says, would make it easier to locate lost pets and would help authorities
assess the sources of animal overpopulation.
"The fact that we don't have identities for dogs and cats
other than a tag -- which can be lost -- or anything else is a crime,"
said McLellan, a retired Los Angeles emergency room doctor who runs an
animal advocacy group. "We have identities for microwaves."
McLellan's idea has foundered in Sacramento, done in not
just by unsympathetic legislators but also by other animal activists. His
experience is not that unusual, but some animal groups are banding
together to try to rectify the situation.
McLellan's proposal lost by one vote in the California
Senate in 2002 after 35 animal groups, including some representing
breeders, kennel clubs and veterinarians, opposed it.
California is known nationally for innovative laws on
animal issues, measures alternatively hailed as farsighted or mocked as
flaky. But some ideas are endangered by wrangling within the state's
fractious animal rights lobby, whose diverse members often fight like,
well, cats and dogs.
Groups last year were divided over whether to agree to a 7
1/2-year delay before a ban on force-feeding ducks to make pate would
begin. They have clashed over spaying laws, how quickly animal shelters
should be allowed to euthanize strays and whether cat declawing should be
Such internecine sniping has contributed to the defeat of
several proposals over the years. But it has long been accepted as
inevitable; advocates are often zealous crusaders with sometimes divergent
beliefs about what is best for animals.
This year, however, 17 advocacy groups are trying to
evolve into a different sort of political species. They have formed their
own coalition and hired Political Solutions, a Sacramento lobbying firm
chosen not for its passion for creatures but for its connections to
legislators in both parties.
Members of the California Animal Assn. have committed to
jointly backing a few bills each year. And in a move that many animal
advocates find heretical, the members of the group have pledged not to
fight a measure the association has agreed to back even if they disagree
with some of its provisions or compromises made along the way to winning
"We need to work together and not embarrass ourselves,"
said Teri Barnato, national director of the Assn. of Veterinarians for
Animal Rights and one of the new group's founders.
Members have also pledged not to do anything illegal --
such as breaking into animal slaughterhouses to document conditions there
-- as a way to push legislation.
Lawmakers who have carried animal bills in the past, often
facing ridicule by colleagues and the public, are encouraged. "I think
you're starting to see a changing in the guard from the old way to the new
way," said Assemblyman Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys).
"The old guard was very limited in terms of
professionalism," Levine said. "You could tell that they were the
activists -- I love them, they're great people and we're on the same side
-- but they were the people who smelled like cat pee. Their hearts are in
the right place, but sometimes when you're lobbying, it's not very
The alliance includes groups devoted to changing the
treatment of animals in circuses and rodeos; to the way wildlife is
trapped; to the manner in which farm animals are raised and slaughtered;
to veterinary topics; to issues involving domestic pets and strays.
Still, a number of advocacy groups, including the
influential Humane Society of the United States, have so far declined to
join the coalition. Some have qualms about the groups' rules on dissent;
others take umbrage at the idea that a professional lobbyist can be as
effective as a passionate amateur.
"We've had quite a bit of good legislation passed without
a professional lobbyist," said Eric Mills, coordinator of Action for
Animals, based in Oakland.
He said that many of the members of the new alliance are
from Southern California and aren't in the Capitol often enough to
effectively lobby for themselves. "They don't really know the ins and outs
of politicians, what works and what doesn't in Sacramento," he said.
For many years, there has been some attempt at
coordination led by Virginia Handley, Sacramento's unofficial dean of
animal activists. Handley has been around the Capitol since the 1970s and
was tutored by the mother of California's modern animal rights lobby, the
late Gladys Sargent.
Handley organizes a monthly legislative session for animal
advocates, in which they critique one another's ideas. But joint positions
are not embraced, and some activists have come to view the forum as a
venue for Handley to press her favored bills.
Handley has resisted attempts to form such binding
coalitions in the past. "There have been bills in the past about which I
remained silent for the sake of keeping harmony and which I now regret,"
she wrote to her fellow animal advocates at one point years ago.
But Handley and some other veteran activists say they
welcome the alliance's hiring of a professional lobbyist.
"There are many times that I would rather work with
opposition than the animal groups, because they are very naive about the
legislative process," said Beverlee McGrath, the western affairs director
of the Doris Day Animal League.
The first test for the alliance comes this year over two
bills. One sponsored by Assemblywoman Lori Saldana (D-San Diego) would ban
certain methods of killing animals in backyards and farms, such as running
them through wood chippers or suffocating them in bags. The other,
sponsored by Sen. Carole Migden (D-San Francisco), would add spent hens
and game birds to the list of animals currently protected under
California's Methods of Slaughter law, which regulates how food producers
can kill animals.
It is too early to say how the new association's bills
will fare. One bad sign is that the group initially had difficulty finding
lawmakers to sponsor them, succeeding just before the deadline for
legislators to submit all their proposals for the year.
The alliance is already considering which bills it wants
to endorse in next year's session. McLellan's microchipping proposal is up
Even groups known for aggressive tactics, such as People
for the Ethical Treatment of Animals -- PETA, now a coalition member --
are hopeful the new approach will work.
"One of the motivations behind CAA was to present a little
more of a professional face to the Legislature, a little less
confrontational," said David Middlesworth, PETA's Sacramento
representative, "and I think ultimately it will be more successful."
Lead article (Pg B1 -- front of Metro section) on animal
advocacy in the legislative field in Californian. Nice opportunity for a
letter to the editor on any of the issues addressed in the article, such
as companion animal overpopulation or treatment of 'spent hens'. The Los
Angeles Times takes letters at [email protected]
Yours and the animals',
(DawnWatch is an animal advocacy media watch that looks at
animal issues in the media and facilitates one-click responses to the
relevant media outlets. You can learn more about it, and sign up for
alerts at http://www.DawnWatch.com.
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