LOS ANGELES, CA – Concerned Dog Owners of California filed a lawsuit the last week of April 2008 against the City of Los Angeles, seeking to overturn a new ordinance mandating the spaying and neutering of all dogs.
The lawsuit is primarily based on constitutional grounds, and alleges that the ordinance violates the civil rights of dog owners in several ways.
The American Sporting Dog Alliance believes that the importance of this lawsuit extends far beyond the City of Los Angeles. It marks the first of several anticipated legal challenges to onerous laws and ordinances as dog owners turn to the courts to fight for their rights on constitutional grounds. This lawsuit is based on legal issues that exist in every state.
An estimated 1.85 million Los Angeles residents have at least one dog or cat. The ordinance mandates the sterilization of all pets at four months of age. An exemption can be obtained by purchasing a breeder’s permit, for a dog registered with an approved national registry and is being shown or used in competition, and for other categories such as seeing-eye dogs and police dogs. Fines and penalties are provided for violations.
The American Sporting Dog Alliance (ASDA) strongly supports Concerned Dog Owners of California in this lawsuit. Mandatory sterilization laws and ordinances violate the basic rights of dog owners in many ways, and ASDA considers them a major part of the hidden animal rights agenda to eliminate the private ownership of animals. We urge our members and all dog owners to offer their full support to Concerned Dog Owners of California, and also to financially assist this group to pay for the cost of the lawsuit. They can be reached online at http://www.cdoca.org/.
Here is a summary of the legal issues in the lawsuit:
- It violates the rights and familial relationships of 650,000 pet-owning households.
- The options provided in the ordinance to avoid pet sterilization are not constitutionally valid. It infringes on basic rights of freedom of association, freedom of speech, the guarantee of due process and freedom of religion.
It won’t work. The evidence is clear in communities that have passed similar ordinances. Similar ordinances have been proven to increase the number of dogs euthanized, increase shelter admissions, increase the costs of dog control programs and increase noncompliance with licensing requirements.
- It will increase the number of puppies born, because people will choose to get a breeding permit and to breed their dog simply to avoid mandates to spay and neuter.
- It exposes pets to unjustified risks to their health. Current research shows that many significant and sometimes fatal health problems are associated with sterilization, especially at a young age.
- Pet owners are threatened with immediate and irrevocable injury when the ordinance takes effect October 1.
Existing laws are not being enforced. An estimated 75% of the pets in the city are not even licensed. Other proven means of reducing shelter admissions and euthanasia rates have not been tried.
Much of the ordinance, including the basis for exemptions, is arbitrary and capricious, ambiguous and discriminatory.
- The lawsuit states its case succinctly: “Owners who wish to keep their healthy pets unaltered have no constitutionally valid options to the MSP (mandatory spay and neuter) ordinance. Although the ordinance provides for six alleged ‘exemptions,’ and a breeder’s permit, these exemptions and the breeder’s permit are, in actuality, nothing more than arbitrary and capricious compelled associations that violate an owner’s fundamental free speech rights.”
- The ordinance forces a dog owner to join an organization approved by the city, and to identify her/himself as a breeder, which is state-compelled speech, the document says. By requiring the city to approve of a dog owner’s membership in an organization, such as a dog registry or club, government is both compelling membership and dictating a list of acceptable organizations that a person is forced to join. The ordinance then mandates that a dog must compete in an event sanctioned by one of those approved organizations, or is in the process of being trained to compete.
- To obtain a breeder’s exemption, a dog owner also is compelled to join one of those approved organizations and identify him/herself as a participant of that organization, which is an infringement of free speech, the documents show. The right of free speech is infringed by forcing a dog owner to identify her/himself as a breeder on government documents that are available to public inspection.
- In essence, a person is forced to say, “I am a breeder,” even if the person does not consider her/himself to be a breeder, or if he/she is personally opposed to breeding.
- Documents were attached to the court filing to show examples of harassment and vilification of breeders that were distributed by the groups that support the ordinance. In essence, identifying oneself as a “breeder” exposes the person to danger, harassment and defamation of character as consequences of government-compelled documents.
- Several religious groups prohibit their members from sterilizing an animal. These groups include Orthodox Judaism and the Jehovah’s Witness faith. Members of these faiths are unable to sterilize their pets without violating their religious beliefs, which puts the city in the position of violating their constitutionally protected freedom of religion. Los Angeles has the second largest community of Orthodox Jews in the nation.
- The ordinance also gives the city the power to forcibly seize and confiscate pets that are not spayed or neutered, if their owners are not granted one of the arbitrary allowed exemptions. This violates the pet’s owner constitutionally guaranteed rights of due process under the law, that also are violated because the ordinance does not provide recourse through a hearing.
- Forcing a dog owner to spay or neuter also represents an unconstitutional “ taking” of property rights, as the ordinance compels taking away the value of a dog’s reproductive capacity, and due process is denied.
To compel pet sterilization also is to deny an owner the freedom to act according to her/his own religious beliefs, personal ideology or political viewpoint, all of which are protected under the U.S. and California Constitutions.
The lawsuit also contends that the City of Los Angeles has failed to take far less draconian actions that have been proven to reduce the number of animals entering shelters, such as enforcing licensing requirements (a reported 75% of the dogs in Los Angeles are not licensed), offering low-cost licensing for puppies that would allow their owners to be educated about the issues, or mandating permanent identification of pets so that animals taken to the shelter could be returned to their owners.
- Because of the reported dangers of spaying and neutering (especially at an early age) shown in numerous research findings, the city also is denying dog owners the right to protect their pet’s health and infringing on the relationship between a pet owner and his/her veterinarian.
- The ordinance also infringes upon the basic concepts of the liberty and happiness of a pet owner, and also of the relationships between an owner, her or his family, and the pets that are part of their family. Although most pet owners consider their dogs as family, rather than property, they are legally defined as personal property and protected as such under the fundamental right of property in the California Constitution. The ordinance is an arbitrary and capricious “taking” of those property rights by government, especially since the evidence from other communities shows that the ordinance will be counterproductive to its stated goals.
The lawsuit also alleges that the ordinance contains much vague and ambiguous language, such as undefined concepts like “adequately trained” and “poor health,” or not stating clearly what registries have been approved, and which have not.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to declare the ordinance unconstitutional, and to order the city not to enforce it.
Please feel free to use any information contained in this report, and also to cross-post it and forward it to your friends.
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