A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

Apr 30, 2014

Don't Judge a Law by its Title

Courtesy Google images
In my capacity as both your spcaLA President and as chair of the State Humane Association of California legislative committee, it has been my responsibility to draft, study, support, oppose, testify, and ponder new or amended legislation affecting the welfare of animals. As many of you know it can be a very taxing, confrontational and contentious business. That said, when all involved behave professionally, with integrity and without personal animus – a lot gets accomplished and our constituency benefits. Unfortunately, that is not always the case and it is very disappointing to see members of our animal welfare community conduct themselves in a sub-standard manner.

It is common for  exogenous parties, out of state organizations, lobbyists, and public relations operatives with no knowledge of local laws or the industry to place bills with attractive and important captions before the legislators and the public, which, if read carefully, actually say something else or accomplish nothing. They award plaques, form little clubs and flatter the elected officials, which, might be tolerated if Californians and our animals benefited from these efforts. It is, however, more common that the passage of a title is all we get and our pets get nothing. Frequently, it is ONLY the headline that is necessary for these operatives to spin an agenda and try to claim a hero's reward when passed.

Most people don't or should not have to read the laws carefully, but should be able to rely on the representations made by their elected officials and those advocates they assume are trustworthy and allow for the honest difference of opinion. It is easy to say a bill is lifesaving for cats or provides funding to shelters. It is harder to study the language and see how that is not so and that the funding may be illusory. Most people want to believe the spin but also resent when they have fallen for it. A good example was the attempt to pass a mandatory spay/neuter bill a few years ago to reduce pet overpopulation. Sounds good - right? When the text included a clause that permitted every household to have one litter it became necessary to oppose the bill. Not so good. Many thought we were insane to oppose the bill because they were unaware of what the language actually said.

We must not play the role of pawn in these games or election campaign strategy. Let us resolve not to support bills where the title promises protections that the text does not deliver or that are motivated by intentions contrary to the best interests of California and its residents.

It is incumbent upon our elected officials to regulate meaningfully. They must understand what is relevant and necessary for us and not be fooled by those who would misuse the legislative process to promote an agenda that is not commensurate with those interests or misuse the process themselves. Let us resolve to let these legislators know that we will read the drafts, speak our minds, and expect them to be mindful that their written words match their verbal assurances.

   “Laws, like the spider’s web, can catch the fly and let the hawk go free.”      Spanish Proverb

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Apr 26, 2014

Are There Bugs in My Bangs?

I have been inside more "hoarding houses" than anyone should ever have to. They are scary, dark, smelly and exude
anguish, sorrow and hostility. Junk is piled from floor to ceiling, and, if animals are also hoarded, covered in poop, pee, puss and puke. Dead animals lie in the debris mixed with live pets that are starving, sick and suffering. A "true" hoarder considers this a loving environment and neither seeks nor accepts intervention willingly. They often attack.

Though the A&E Network series has generated awareness of this phenomenon which spans all socioeconomic classes, it has made the problem "cool". Cat lady action figures, board games, art projects and clothing have all populated the market place and people feel comfortable referring to themselves as 'hoarders" if they have a lot of shoes.

It should not ever be "in" or "hip" to be a hoarder. Ironically, "true" hoarders think they are fine and become insulted at the mention of that word. That is why they never ask for help, volunteer to participate in a study or agree to star in an A&E reality show. If they possessed that level of awareness - they could be helped.

Rather, we find them, usually on the receiving end of a warrant. By the time they see me it's a law enforcement matter and too late to fix - even if they ever acknowledged that they needed to.

So please, let's try to locate these souls when intervention is possible. If you see or smell something, say something. Think before you drop an animal with that nice person down the street instead of driving to a shelter. When you notice unusual infestations, piles of junk and nauseating odors, report it to the authorities. Every living thing in that house needs help

After stepping outside one of these houses to talk to someone - I thought I saw something move in my bangs. Don't send me back inside one of those places. It is not entertainment. It is horrible.

Apr 17, 2014

Convicted! You Can't Just Beat an Opossum to Death Because She is an Opossum

Courtesy Google Images

It doesn't matter if you think an animal is a nuisance or a pet, gratuitously injuring or killing her is a crime in California.

Jose Chavez, took a wooden stick to a fence outside his apartment where a mother opossum and her babies lay.   Chavez then struck the mom in the head, knocking her from the fence.  She attempted to escape, but Chavez took her, with babies attached to her, to and beat her until he killed her. Then, Chavez placed the dead mom and her live babies in a plastic bag and put them into a dumpster.

Your spcaLA Humane Officers investigated after which Chavez was charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty where he ultimately struck a plea bargain.

It doesn't matter that some animals may be characterized as nuisances, used for food, displayed in circuses or scare you for no reason. It does matter that they be treated humanely. It is simply shameful, particularly, as in this case the opossum was scared, protective of her litter, and tried to escape that this beating occurred. 

Were I able to wave my wand and outlaw all abuses and exploitation of our animals - i would. Until then - show a little respect or expect to be prosecuted.

Apr 3, 2014

Need Action: Help Ban Whales at SeaWorld

Assembly Bill 2140 entitled the "Orca Welfare and Safety Act",  introduced by Assemblymember Richard Bloom, would ban holding whales captive in California for entertainment purposes, would create an orca retirement program and ban captive breeding programs among other things. 

It is absolutely unacceptable that we, enlightened denizens of the 21st century should tolerate exploiting animals for entertainment purposes. Sticking a whale in a tank for his or her lifetime away from his or her social group, and sentenced to swim in circles and perform tricks is simply awful and certainly not the lesson we want to teach children. Are we mentoring respect for our animals and environment or are we teaching children how to be cruel and exploitative of our planet.

SeaWorld is, of course, fighting to defeat this bill.

Please locate and contact your representatives , urge them to support AB 2140 and spread the word!