Editor's Note, May 17, 2022 - California Assembly Bill 1881 has officially been amended to remove the word “rights”. While AKC did not get every amendment we requested, we thank the author for agreeing to this compromise and addressing our primary and most significant concerns. The bill is now officially called "Dog and Cat Welfare" and AKC is neutral with these amendments.
No one supports animal cruelty. And everyone would agree that having a pet comes with an important responsibility to ensure that animal’s health and well-being throughout its life.
So on the surface, Assembly Bill 1881 – the “Dog and Cat Bill of Rights” – seems harmless, and something that may even do some good.
But there’s a reason that the American Kennel Club has been joined by veterinarians and other animal experts in strongly opposing this bill. When you look closely at the actual language in the bill, AB 1881 does something entirely different: It sets the precedent for a radical shift in the legal status of animals and who is responsible for pet care decisions.
In public statements, the author of AB 1881 has stated that the purpose of this bill is to serve as a reminder to pet owners of the many duties and responsibilities that come with obtaining a dog or cat in California. However, AB 1881 goes much further by declaring that dogs and cats have “rights”. AKC joined with numerous animal welfare organizations in asking that the word rights be removed from the bill so that it could truly be educational and informative in nature. However, this amendment was rejected, along with a request that the bill clearly state that it does not change the legal status of animals.
Currently, in California, pets are legally considered property. While pets are of course a beloved part of our lives, this legal status is essential in ensuring that it is clear who has responsibility for the animal’s care and well-being. This also keeps the legal status in line with the current penal code regarding penalties for theft of a pet in California.
The act of rejecting these two simple amendments –amendments that would meet the stated objective of providing education to new pet owners – gives us reason to believe that the intent of HB 1881 is more than simply promoting responsible pet ownership.
Should this bill become law, it could undermine the rights of California dog owners and their veterinarians to make appropriate health care decisions and take the best possible care of their beloved pets.
For example, does the statement that a right to a life free from fear and anxiety include never taking a pet to the veterinarian if it makes them feel anxious? If a dog gets upset when being leashed or in a fenced-in backyard, should they be allowed to roam free in order to protect their mental health?
Or does a right to veterinary care mean that owners must consent to every veterinary treatment – regardless of circumstances?
Passage of HB 1881 would be harmful to pets and the public. Activist suits to determine whether a pet’s rights have been violated could overwhelm court dockets – while the pets themselves suffer in limbo. Meanwhile, the costs to owners and local governments will accumulate and place additional, unnecessary burdens on the backlogged judicial system, without benefitting pets.
The proposal also places already strained local animal control professionals in a virtually impossible situation of determining whether a pet’s theoretical “rights” are being respected.
We greatly appreciate that some amendments we requested – such as removing the word guardian – were included in the latest draft of the bill. However, AKC cannot support AB 1881 until it is clear that it does not implicitly or explicitly alter the legal status of animals in California.
We urge California lawmakers to look past the rhetoric and see that words have meaning – and the words of AB 1881 are harmful for dogs and dog owners. To truly improve the well-being of pets in California, let’s focus on resources for enforcement and education about responsible pet ownership –not radical theories that could completely change what it means to be a pet owner in the state.