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West Hollywood May Ban Cosmetic Surgery for Pets

February 07, 2005|Patricia Ward Biederman | Times Staff Writer

Cosmetic surgery may be all the rage in Southern California, but one Westside community is considering banning it -- for animals.

The city is pet-friendly West Hollywood. And at today's meeting of the City Council, Mayor John Duran will introduce a motion to ban the cropping of animals' ears, docking of their tails, surgical procedures to silence them, defanging and other operations performed for "noncurative" reasons.

Such procedures, which Duran and others believe are painful, purely cosmetic or serve only the desires of pet owners, are banned in a number of European nations. If passed, West Hollywood's ordinance would be the first of its kind in the United States, Duran said.

"West Hollywood has had a historic record of enacting progressive policies regarding the care and welfare of animals," said City Councilman Jeffrey Prang, co-sponsor of the motion.

Indeed, dogs and other pets in West Hollywood may think they've died and gone to heaven. Four years ago, the city ruled that its pets don't have owners; they have human "guardians." Next, the 2-square-mile city became what was believed to be the first in North America to ban the declawing of cats and other animals. Last year, it began regulating the pet-grooming industry, making sure animals had fresh water and requiring local practitioners to report grooming-related injuries within 24 hours.

A two-time former mayor, Prang proudly led the "pet-guardian" drive. "West Hollywood was the second city after Boulder, Colo., but now there are a bunch of cities," he said.

He also led the fight to regulate the pet-grooming industry.

If West Hollywood does ban cosmetic surgery for animals, Prang said he believes other communities would take notice and consider their own bans.

"We recognize we have an opportunity to provide leadership on public policy," Prang said. "Somebody always has to be first. Animal welfare is something West Hollywood feels strongly about."

The small city is so pro-pet that many restaurants bring bowls of water to dogs lounging next to patrons dining outside. More than a decade ago, the city barred landlords from separating seniors or disabled tenants from their pets.

A civil rights attorney, Duran said about 80% of the city's residents are renters -- many single, many gay, many older.

"So often, family for our tenants and renters are the dog and the cat," he said.

Moreover, Duran said, the vision that residents have of their progressive community typically includes being "a cruelty-free zone" for animals.

He predicted that veterinarians might oppose the proposed ordinance, as they did the ban on declawing. In 2004, the California Veterinary Medical Assn. asked the state's Department of Consumer Affairs to determine whether local ordinances such as West Hollywood's supersede the California Veterinary Practice Act. The agency recently issued a legal opinion that they do not.

"We're really not trying to regulate their practices," Duran said. "We're saying we find [noncurative surgeries] incompatible with our core values. If there were a therapeutic reason to clip a dog's ear or tail, we wouldn't want to interfere with that."

As for the argument that if cosmetic surgery is good enough for people, why not for dogs, Duran doesn't buy it. People can decide for themselves, he said. Animals can't.

Veterinarian Mark Hiebert, head of emergency medicine and surgery at TLC Pet Medical Centers, is dismayed that the mayor and City Council are considering another ordinance that might interfere with what veterinarians and owners decide is best for the animals they care for.

Hiebert's West Hollywood clinic doesn't do tail-docking, which is extremely painful, he said, or ear-cropping, which is purely cosmetic. But he thinks the city lacks the jurisdiction to ban all noncurative procedures. And he think it's odd that the city hasn't even discussed its concerns with its veterinarians.

It's unsettling, he said, when City Hall passes laws affecting veterinarians' practices without consulting them or in the absence of a compelling problem. "It's like your Mom and Dad setting a curfew when you're not even coming home late," Hiebert said.

Darla Dorr, a past president of the Los Angeles Doberman Pinscher Club, has been breeding Dobermans for almost 40 years.

"It's not cruel," Dorr said of the ear-cropping her dogs have undergone by a veterinarian who specializes in the procedure. If young animals are given proper postoperative care, she said, "pretty soon, the puppies are racing around the house as if nothing's been done."

She said she believes the treated dogs are less prone to serious ear infections.

Duran said he didn't know whether the majority of the council would endorse his motion at today's meeting.

If the idea passes, the city attorney will draft an ordinance, which will be presented to the council. If it passes after a second reading before the council, it will become law 30 days later.

Duran is a pet guardian himself. He said he looks after three lovebirds but is too busy to take care of a dog. "I just can't stand the idea of a dog being locked up all day," he said.

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