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Pet microchipping bill heads to governor, but other animal welfare efforts come up short

Only one of three bills championed by animals rights groups emerged from the California Legislature this year, a session where the COVID-19 pandemic hung over Sacramento like a wet blanket.

On Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk, awaiting a signature, is a bill requiring all Fluffies and Fidos to be microchipped before leaving animal shelters and rescues.

“Honestly, we’re long overdue for this bill to be law,” said Judie Mancuso, founder, CEO and president of Social Compassion In Legislation, which pushed this and a long list of animal welfare bills in Sacramento. “With all of the disastrous stuff that’s happened in 2020, this should be one good thing coming out of it.”

An adopted cat looks out of its box at the LA Animal Services East Valley Animal Shelter in Van Nuys in July. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker, contributing photographer)

SB 573 by Sen. Ling Ling Chang, R-Diamond Bar, would require microchipping for all dogs and cats, whether the animals are getting new homes or being reunited with their owners. It has not been an easy road: An earlier version was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011.

“Under current law, local agencies and shelters can — and should — require animals to be microchipped before being released. There is no need for state law to mandate the procedure, which would then require the state to pay for it,” Brown said then in his veto message.

Newsom vetoed a similar bill by Chang last year, saying, “I am supportive of the important objective of this legislation to reunite more pets with their families and thereby decrease the number of euthanized animals in California. However, by requiring microchipping as a condition of reclaiming a pet, the bill has the unintended consequence of creating a burden for those who may already be struggling with the basic costs of caring for their pets and thereby do not have the financial capacity to pay for the microchip implant and the annual fees.”

The bill on Newsom’s desk now addresses that concern by adding an economic hardship exemption, though owners would be steered to rescue groups that can help with the bills, as well as low-cost services.

Frustrating year

Mancuso’s group had a dozen bills working their way through the legislature B.C. — before COVID — but had to whittle that down as the pandemic took center stage.

The 12 bills were reduced to just three: The Chang microchip bill; a trophy-hunting ban that would have prohibited Californians from possessing taxidermy souvenirs of majestic African wildlife, by Sen. Henry Stern, D-Canoga Park; and a re-do on the animal blood bank bill that Newsom vetoed last year because it didn’t go far enough, by Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita.

Greyhounds in their kennels at Hemopet in Garden Grove. (File photo by Leonard Ortiz,Orange County Register/SCNG)

The blood bank bill would have done exactly what Newsom asked for: Phase out “closed colony” blood banks like Garden Grove’s Hemopet, where dogs are kept in cages for months and years to harvest their blood for sale, while also legalizing a more humane, volunteer animal blood donation system. The chair of Assembly Agriculture Committee declined to give the bill a hearing because it wasn’t directly related to COVID-19, and supporters fear animals will die from a blood shortage as a result.

The trophy ban bill, SB 1175, was a nail-biter to the end. It passed the Senate, was approved by the Assembly with some amendments on the last evening of the legislative session, then headed back to the Senate for a procedural concurrence vote. The session officially ended at midnight, and there was chaos as some lawmakers tried to push bills over the finish line while others endeavored to delay bills they didn’t like. The clock ran out and Stern’s trophy bill died without that final procedural vote at the stroke of midnight — as did many other bills.

Opponents of the bill argued that many African countries rely on revenues from trophy hunting to pay for conservation, and so the ban would be counterproductive.

“I’m devastated,” Mancuso said after the session ended. “Physically ill. I haven’t been able to sleep. I wake up in the middle of the night thinking of the blood bank bill. For me, this is about saving animals’ lives. It’s heart-wrenching.”

In any other year, all three bills may well have landed on the governor’s desk. Lawmakers and activists say they will regroup and try again in the next legislative session.

Source: Orange County Register

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