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Help Animals ... and People Too

Commentary | VOICES / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY ISSUES

July 03, 2004|Heidi Rechteger

Let me start by saying that I am a fanatic about my two cats, rescued from a no-kill shelter. They are my pampered babies, and neither my husband nor I have the slightest doubt that in my dotage I will be a crazy Cat Lady. Therefore, I was not pleased to read last week that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was considering repealing the state law that requires animal shelters to hold stray animals for a minimum of six business days before euthanizing them.

The governor's proposed changes would have allow shelters to kill cats and dogs within 72 hours, and all other animals immediately. He would also have eliminated the requirement that persons charged with cruelty to animals be prevented from owning a pet for three years. This affront had animal lovers so outraged that the governor dropped the plan hours after it came to light. Pet owners vote, apparently. However, appalled as I was about this, I was more than a little horrified that the good citizens of California were so exercised over this issue. Where is the outrage over the governor's cuts to healthcare, welfare and education?

Under Schwarzenegger's budget, California's long-standing commitment to provide quality higher education to its citizens is being undermined. High school students who qualify to enter the UC or Cal State systems are being turned away as these universities' budgets are slashed. A low-cost college education has been the gateway to the middle class for hundreds of thousands of Californians; this opportunity is now denied or deferred.

Despite some revision of his original draconian cuts, the governor's budget still calls for a cut of more than $400 million in the CalWORKS welfare-to-work cash grants received by 480,000 needy families. This money benefits kids. Whatever you may think of welfare moms, these children are not responsible for their families' situations.

Further, the governor wants to make a $147-million cut in payments to 1.2 million recipients of aid to the aged, blind and disabled. Some of these are little old ladies, folks.

That evening, I tuned in briefly to one of those conservative radio call-in talk shows. The buzz about the proposed cuts to shelters had the host and her callers atwitter. They were referring reverently to "the Hayden Law," named for its author, former state Sen. Tom Hayden. The same Tom Hayden, normally reviled by this crowd, who was a founding member of Students for a Democratic Society? The same Tom Hayden who was married to Hanoi Jane? That Tom Hayden?

The horror expressed at the possibility of animal abusers going unprosecuted is exceeded only by my horror that in all the times I have listened to one of these talk shows, never once have I heard callers decry with equal vociferousness the abuse of innocent children. One caller, in discussing the sum that would be saved by eliminating the Hayden Law, said, "$14 million is a small amount in the grand scheme of things." I can imagine this same caller hyperventilating to Rush Limbaugh about the gigantic sum of $14 million going to welfare cheats.

Friends, let's put this in perspective. My religious tradition, Judaism, prohibits deliberate cruelty to animals. That same tradition states that the saving of a human life is primary, superceding all other religious laws. Rabbits, turtles and, yes, even cats and dogs are not people. Let's keep the governor on the right track as he tries to balance the state budget. Get worked up about the governor's disregard for your fellow citizens.

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Heidi Rechteger is a clinical social worker at a Los Angeles hospital.

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