Part 1: Debating Spay and Neuter

judie mancusoAnimal crusader takes on overcrowded animal shelters 
The bill that would make fixing your pets the law in California was actually born far away in a New Orleans shelter. That’s where Judie Mancuso, who’d flown down from her home in Laguna Beach to aid the post-Hurricane Katrina animal rescue effort, concluded that enough was enough.

“When I walked into that shelter and saw that every animal in there was unaltered–animals who’d been running loose on the streets!–I thought, we have a huge crisis on our hands,” she says. “I knew my next goal would be to put together a statewide spay/neuter bill.”

Not being a resident of Louisiana, she settled for introducing the bill in her own state of California, and hopes doing so will inspire more states to take action.

Chucking the “pinky in a dam” approach
Mancuso’s activism began long before then. In 1990, a TV special on pet overpopulation turned her from a carefree, meat-eating high-tech professional into a vegan animal rescuer. “It showed all these healthy, beautiful, wonderful animals going to the euthanasia table,” she recalls. “I was just blown away. I couldn’t believe that’s how we dealt with the problem.”

She started raising money for shelters, fostering animals, trapping feral cats, and staffing adoption events. Just prior to her fateful trip to New Orleans, she’d even quit her information technology job to devote herself full-time to animal rescue work. She and her husband, Rolf Wicklund, had already decided to forgo kids for the cause.

But it felt a bit like sticking her pinky in a dam that was constantly springing more holes–an estimated 800,000 holes a year, according to one estimate of how many dogs and cats are abandoned in California each year. Roughly half those animals are euthanized.

“Every time we’d make some headway and save a couple animals, someone would dump more,” says Mancuso wearily. “The litters just kept coming through the door. Oh my god, kitten season…!”

Crafting a new rescue strategy
While setting up yet another adoption event with fellow volunteers to place still more homeless animals, the talk kept circling back to the same question: Why aren’t more people spaying and neutering their pets? Since Mancuso had observed, time and again, that many owners can’t be bothered, she decided it was time for a new strategy.

When she got back to California, Mancuso asked Ed Bok, general manager of Animal Services in Los Angeles, to work with her on crafting a mandatory spay/neuter bill. He agreed, and the two started making the rounds, visiting animal care and control officers, veterinarians, police officers, breeders, and service dog groups for help in turning the idea into AB 1634, or the California Healthy Pets Act.

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