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Why California’s S.B. 250 is bad for cats

S.B. 250 is a proposed bill that is really just more of the same in California—a bill that would hurt cats by penalizing the volunteer caregivers and low-income pet owners who care for them. S.B. 250 would push government requirements on citizens without providing them with ways to meet those requirements. Because the bill would cite anyone helping cats who has not yet spayed or neutered the cat, regardless of their ability to pay for surgeries or trap a cat, S.B. 250 would discourage care for cats. If S.B. 250 were passed, it’s the cats who would suffer.

What California—and the rest of America—needs is a game changing bill that will support volunteer caregivers who donate their own time and money to help cats. As the sole national organization dedicated to protecting and improving the lives of cats, Alley Cat Allies knows that the only laws that are supportive of cats, their owners, and caregivers will actually increase care and neutering of cats. Where neighbors are supported by community programs that provide affordable, available spay/neuter and Trap-Neuter-Return, including education and outreach, they are able to take action to improve the lives of cats. Punitive laws like S.B. 250 only serve to discourage those activities.

Good laws help good people do more good. S.B. 250 is just the opposite—it would penalize low-income cat owners and the very volunteer caregivers who are doing the most to help cats.

  1. S.B. 250 applies to feral cat caregivers.The bill clearly applies to feral cat caregivers, and anyone who cares for cats on their property. The bill creates the new legal category “custodian” to apply to caregivers, defined to mean any person who undertakes the “personal care and control of a cat, or any person who intentionally provides care, security, or sustenance for a cat on the person’s property for any period exceeding 30 days.”

    This definition plainly includes any person caring for a cat on their property, but it is worded imprecisely enough that any caregiver could fall under its definition if they are determined to undertake “the personal care and control of a cat.” The definition is so vague that anyone who gives any care to cats, even a bowl of water, could be cited.

  2. Creating the legal category “custodian” for feral cat caregivers sets a dangerous precedent.By classifying caregivers as “custodians,” S.B. 250 would expose these volunteers to citations and other penalties for their community service on behalf of feral cats.

    The classification of “custodian” does not currently exist under California law. This bill creates a new legal category, which could then be subject to future legal requirements. Passing S.B. 250 would establish a precedent for feral cat caregivers to be subject to legal requirements just because they care for cats—opening up a legal pathway for caregivers to be cited just for being a caregiver.

    Feral cat caregivers are not owners: they are volunteers who donate their time and money to care for cats, stepping in to improve the well-being of the stray and feral cats in their neighborhood. Feral cats are not socialized to people; they are not adoption candidates and do not belong in pounds and shelters. Beacause they provide a service to the cats and their neighbors, it is wrong to impose on them fines, fees, and citations.

  3. Under S.B. 250, feral cat caregivers could be cited.Under S.B. 250, if a person who feeds cats is unable to neuter all of the cats, that person could be cited. No matter the challenge faced in trapping and neutering cats—including covering the cost of neuter surgeries. If even one cat is left unneutered, the feral cat caregiver would be in violation of the law. Feral cat caregivers have enough challenges; they should not be cited for their inability to neuter a cat. These volunteers need support, not a citation.
  4. Pet cats of low-income families would be hurt by S.B. 250.S.B. 250 harms pet cats in low-income families because many of those families cannot afford the cost of a full-priced spay/neuter surgery. A recent peer-reviewed study by researchers at Alley Cat Allies found that among low-income owners of intact pet cats, cost is the number one reason people give for not neutering their pets. S.B. 250 does nothing to lower the cost or expand the availability of affordable spay/neuter services, and may even encourage these owners to surrender their pets.

    While affordable spay/neuter options exist in some parts of California, in many areas they do not. But even where they do exist, spay/neuter services may not be accessible. What low-income owners and many volunteer caregivers need are spay/neuter resources and support. The reality is that without adequate access to low-cost or subsidized spay/neuter services, some caregivers and families will not be able to neuter the animals they care for. It is wrong for the government to mandate a service when that service is unavailable to many citizens.

  5. Alley Cat Allies supports increased resources for cats and caregiversAlley Cat Allies believes that any law applied to feral cat caregivers should support their efforts, not be a barrier to their success. When caregivers are given the proper resources to get cats neutered, including access to affordable neuter services, more cats are neutered.

    Alley Cat Allies has long promoted Trap-Neuter-Return as the gold standard for caring for feral cats and provided support and advice to countless groups, organizations and individuals practicing Trap-Neuter-Return across the country. Caregivers are to be encouraged and rewarded, not penalized simply because they do not have access to affordable spay/neuter services.

  6. S.B. 250 harms cats because it discourages cat care.

    Bills like S.B. 250 harm cats because they discourage caregiving. Instead of providing resources for improved cat care, this bill would cite caregivers and owners who are unable to neuter every cat they care for. Our experience is that laws which cite caregivers and owners send people underground, where they are less able to receive support for their efforts and worse, discourage people from caring for cats at all. This bill reinforces and expands the current system of penalizing owners and caregivers who care for animals. S.B. 250 would further burden volunteer feral cat caregivers and it would target low-income pet-owning families. Because it discourages cat care, S.B. 250 makes it more likely that cats will be sent to pounds and shelters, where 70% of all cats entering are killed, including virtually all incoming feral cats.