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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

California Raises the Bar for Animal Protection

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger yesterday signed 35 bills into law, and not lost among the flurry of action were two major pieces of animal protection legislation—strengthening the state laws regarding pet trusts and downed animals.

Gov_schwarzenegger Leona Helmsley famously left $12 million of her estate to care for her beloved Maltese dog, Trouble. While the size of the gift was indeed rare, the desire of pet owners to make sure their companion animals receive lifetime care was not at all unique. More and more people are preparing for their pets’ future by including instructions as part of estate planning. Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia have passed laws that recognize pet trusts, which are funds specifically set aside to pay for your pet’s care after you are gone.

California’s previous pet trust law had no teeth, and there was no way for courts to ensure that the wishes of the deceased would be honored and the money would actually be used for the pet’s care. Thanks to S.B. 685, introduced by Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo), pet trusts will now be enforceable, and Californians can have the peace of mind that their dogs and cats will not be left out in the cold.

California also had one of the nation’s first laws prohibiting the abuse of downed animals—those who are too sick or injured to stand and walk on their own, and are often prodded and dragged to slaughter with electricity and heavy machinery. But after The Humane Society of the United States’ investigation earlier this year at a Chino slaughter plant, it was clear that the laws needed to be strengthened.

Thanks to A.B. 2098, introduced by Assemblymember Paul Krekorian (D-Burbank), the state law has received a major upgrade. The new law prohibits a slaughterhouse, stockyard, or auction from selling meat or products from downed animals for human consumption. It also requires immediate action to either humanely euthanize a downed animal or provide immediate veterinary treatment. It’s another positive policy outcome resulting from the fallout of this year’s downer scandal, and another step forward to protect food safety and animal welfare.

“I am committed to ensuring California’s food supply is safe and secure,” said Governor Schwarzenegger after signing the bill. “With today’s action, we are strengthening California’s food safety laws and sending a message that violating these laws will not be tolerated.”

While California is leading the way, we are hopeful for further action in the U.S. Congress to strengthen the federal laws on these very same issues, by passing the Charitable Remainder Pet Trust Act and the Downed Animal and Food Safety Protection Act. In the meantime, we are grateful to Governor Schwarzenegger for signing these two bills and for toughening California’s animal protection laws—just as he has previously supported a wide range of legislation to protect pets from being left in hot cars or chained for long hours, to crack down on animal fighting, to protect California condors from toxic lead shot poisoning, to strengthen the veterinary requirements for rodeos, and to include animals in disaster planning and domestic violence orders.

I think we can speak for Spunky, Sarge, and Gustav—the governor’s yellow Lab, cockapoo, and chocolate Lab—in saying thank you as well.

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