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Barking Up the Wrong Tree

June 30, 2002

Last week, animal rights activists persuaded the Animal Services Commission, the city board that oversees animal shelters, to replace Los Angeles' system of animal "ownership" with "guardianship." We're not kidding.

The top dog behind the reform, Elliot M. Katz, president of a national group called In Defense of Animals, persuaded Berkeley and West Hollywood to adopt a similar reform last year.

Wrapping himself in the historical mantle of liberator, Katz holds that "just as women used to be the property of husbands and blacks the property of whites, [so pets] should be more than just property to people."

Or as Tahoe, a self-described "2-year-old canine," howled in a letter published last year in the Bark, a quarterly dog-enthusiast magazine in Berkeley: "I cannot be owned any more than my guardian's human son can be owned.... Frankly I find it demeaning to put me in the same category as his cellular phone and Dodge Durango."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday July 06, 2002 Home Edition California Part B Page 22 Editorial Pages Desk 1 inches; 47 words Type of Material: Correction
Animal guardians--A Sunday editorial should have noted that former American Humane Assn. official Gini Barrett ended her affiliation with the group last year. Also, she has not taken a public position on the issue of animal "owner" versus "guardian."

Katz and local activists like Gini Barrett of the American Humane Assn.'s film and TV production unit claim that the change would be cost-neutral and would encourage "the positive treatment of the physical, behavioral and psychological needs of pets."

In fact, it's unlikely that a fluffy new term would do much to change the irresponsible attitudes of people who abuse pets by, for example, failing to spay and neuter them or letting them run loose, too often to die under the wheels of a car. Unfortunately, the name change could expose city workers, veterinarians and others to the legally murky claims of a fuzzy new animal rights legal movement.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Law Assn., the claims that could be filed on behalf of animals that are no longer deemed property could include "physical and/or mental pain and suffering ... loss of being able to breed or sire offspring ... [and] false imprisonment by being caged by a veterinarian." Frankly, these fears sound fanciful, but it is a waste of vets' time to have to worry about such scenarios.

It's hard to believe that this measure will get as far as a vote in the Los Angeles City Council, which could consider the reform as early as July 8. It might not be the silliest thing ever brought before the council. But when animal control workers struggle to curb packs of street dogs and shelters have to kill pets as fast as the legal deadline allows, it is definitely superfluous.

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