SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Pet owners in California will soon be required to place a microchip in every dog and cat they sell, as well as obtain a permit for each animal to be sold, if a bill in the state legislature becomes law.

Senate Bill 236 by Sen. Jack O’Connell, D-Santa Barbara, would require anyone who wants to sell a dog or cat under 1-year-old to obtain a permit for an unspecified fee per animal from the local animal services agency. The permit would need to be obtained before advertising any such sale, and all ads would have to include the permit number.

Additionally, the bill provides that every time a dog or cat is sold in California, regardless of the animal’s age, it must be “microchipped” and the owner’s identification entered into a local or national registry. And every time ownership of the animal is transferred, the new owner’s information must be reported to the registry. Local officials would be charged with maintaining records regarding the number and type of dogs and cats sold, and the records would be open to the public, excluding owner- and former owner-contact information.

The bill is sponsored by Richard McLellan, M.D., of the Animal Legislative Action Network, a political action committee that supports animal-rights proposals.

“When an animal is first sold from a breeder into a new home, there’s usually a way of finding out who that original owner was. After that, if becomes much less easy to follow these animals,” said McLellan about the microchipping requirement. “We identify all sorts of things in our society for a number of reasons. We put serial numbers on VCRs and toasters,” but there is no permanent identification marker for pets. The bill would help create a paper or electronic trail for animals.

While the bill does not specify which manufacturer’s microchips are to be used, one of the most recent of such devices to enter the market is Applied Digital Solutions’ Digital Angel?. As reported by WorldNetDaily, Digital Angel? isn’t just for pets. Unlike its microchip ancestors, which were intended for animal identification and location only, Digital Angel? is intended for human use and can monitor vital physical functions such as heart rate and body temperature. Microchips are implanted under the skin of the person or animal.

According to McLellan, pet microchipping is beneficial for a number of reasons. It would facilitate the finding of lost dogs and cats and can aid in determining whether an animal was involved in a vicious attack. McLellan said he would prefer external identification, such as collars and tags, but “there’s very low compliance” with collar and registration requirements, he said. Also, people often lose dogs after giving the pet a bath, for which the collar and tags were removed. If microchipping were to occur when an animal is sold, the identification markers would be permanent.

McLellan asserts the bill is carefully crafted so that it is “not forcing anybody to do anything,” He believes the bill is “in the best interest of animal services and the animals and the owners.”

But proponents of the bill face an uphill battle in a legislature that says it is opposed to creating new crimes. And local animal services agencies are already overloaded and don’t want to take on new tasks, the activist acknowledged. However, if animal services agencies are given the opportunity and the funding “to do what we think is best for the animals and for those who lose their animals by accident,” the agencies may be willing to participate in the program, he said.

“If they have the ability, we believe they will do it,” remarked McLellan, adding that while the O’Connell bill does not ban or create a moratorium on breeding, the bill is intended to create an incentive to reduce animal-birth rates.

“Every time a dog or cat is born and you want to sell it, you have to buy a permit for that animal. That gives you a hurdle to jump over,” he said. “These are all things that make it more difficult to do business, but not impossible.”

And if it is later determined, should the bill be passed, that the new law is not working to reducing animal-birth rates, the Animal Legislative Action Network will pursue legislation mandating that breeders reduce birth rates.

“We believe that sellers are the only people who truly profit (in pet transactions), and there’s a tremendous incentive for them to sell. But there’s nothing requiring them to pay the burden of what it costs society at large to take care of the animals who don’t have homes,” the activist argued.

According to McLellan, 50 percent of California families don’t have pets, yet they are required to pay for animal services.

“There’s a tremendous desire among citizens to have puppies and kittens, but there isn’t the same sort of desire to have adolescent dogs,” he said. “When [the dogs] become problematic, they are pushed into shelters.”

McLellan originally wanted to include in SB 236 a reporting requirement for lost animals. The provision would have required animals to be reported within 72 hours after they are missed. If an animal is found and its records do not show it was reported missing, the most recently registered owner of the animal could be considered to have abandoned the animal, he said. Animal abandonment is a misdemeanor in California, where overcrowded shelters abound — particularly in the southern areas of the state — and animal euthanasia is a hotly debated topic in legislative committees.

“Responsible breeders realize that irresponsible breeding has created this crisis,” McLellan asserted.

Indeed, according to its position statement on canine population issues, “The American Kennel Club believes that the majority of unwanted dogs in the United States are the result of irresponsible breeding, irresponsible marketing, and owners who are unwilling to make a commitment to the care and training of their dog.”

However, AKC is opposed to SB 236.

“The irony is that SB 236 will, in fact, encourage some sellers to abandon more animals because they do not want to pay the permit fees or go through the hassle of obtaining a permit. Any funds that are generated will be eaten up by the overwhelming administrative costs of such a bureaucratic program,” writes the organization.

Regarding the microchipping requirement of the bill, AKC states, “As part of our ongoing efforts to promote responsible dog ownership, the AKC encourages dog owners to properly identify their pets. We believe, however, that the final decision about identification — whether by collar, tattoo or microchip — should be made by the owner, not the government. SB 236 is overly intrusive, cost-prohibitive to enforce, and discourages personal responsibility.”

The bill does not mandate that local agencies charge a fee for pet-selling permits, though it does authorize such charges. Any funds collected in accordance with SB 236 would be used to support the costs of maintaining the pet/owner registry, supplement costs incurred by local shelters and provide educational information on spaying and neutering pets, as well as the benefits of animal adoption.

Referring to animal lovers who “cannibalize” their lives by housing as many abandoned and shelter-rescued cats and dogs as possible, McLellan concluded, “This is an emotional issue for many, many people who are trying to stop the killing of animals in shelters. Allow them some relief from what they are trying to do every single day.”

SB 236 is scheduled for a hearing on April 17 in California’s Senate Judiciary Committee.

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