Woman Behind Landmark Spay/Neuter Bill
Animal activist Judie Mancuso spearheaded a bill to require Californians to spay/neuter cats and dogs. The woman behind the bill AB1634 is one of original-ARNO's founding coordinators, Judie Mancuso!
Update: Healthy Pets Act Passes State Assembly
6/6/07, Jason Kobely, News10ABC ~ By the slimmest of margins, a controversial bill that requires California dog and cat [guardians] to spay or neuter their animals passed the state Assembly [6/6/07]. The California Healthy Pets Act, which mandates spay/neuter for pets within four months of their birth, passed by a 41-38 majority in the State Assembly. AB 1634, authored by Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, D-Van Nuys, needed 41 votes to pass. The bill now goes to the State Senate for consideration…
5/15/07 The woman behind the bill AB1634
, By Lori Basheda, Orange County Register ~ So how does a pork chop-eating, nightclub-dancing Sicilian from St. Louis become a vegan animal rescuer who is now the driving force behind an impassioned campaign to curb pet overpopulation in California?
Well, movie star Pierce Brosnan's wife had no small hand in the matter. Then there was the ordeal at Rancho Lotsa Cats. In the end, though, it was the Katrina catastrophe that opened the door for Judie Mancuso to spearhead the bill which would require Californians to spay and neuter their pets if it passes this fall.
But perhaps we should take things a bit slower. Let's begin in 1988. Fresh from St. Louis, Mancuso was sharing an apartment with a roommate on Hollywood Boulevard. Like many 25-year-olds, her life revolved around her computer job and her social life. She went dancing with girlfriends, hit the band bars and ate various forms of chicken without a second thought.
But as fate would have it, her upstairs neighbor was the tomato-planting, earth-protecting Keely Shaye Smith. Smith was a personality on ABC's morning Home Show, producing a weekly segment dedicated to things like health of the planet. One day Smith (a Newport Beach native still four years away from meeting future husband Pierce Brosnan) showed Mancuso a segment she had produced on animal shelters. Viewers got to take that long walk with dogs and cats from cages to the euthanasia table.
"Kittens. Puppies. And they end up just killin' 'em, ya know?" Mancuso said the other day over a slice of tofu cheesecake at the vegan diner Native Foods in Costa Mesa. She remembers crying for hours. "And then the head just starts spinning. That whole ignorance is bliss thing; that never fit into my way of thinking. Once I have the information, I need to do something with it."
About the same time, Smith had given Mancuso "Diet for a New America," a vegan classic that details the often brutal life and death of farm animals. "I was eating meat; meatballs, the whole deal," Mancuso says. "I'm Sicilian. Hey, man. That's all I knew." Between the dead puppies and the dirty chickens, Mancuso felt compelled to change the way she was living. She quit eating animals and began volunteering at Earth Save.
In 1995 Mancuso moved to Laguna Beach. She took a seat on the board of Animal Rescue Foundation, Dana Point, and began to foster a revolving door of pets, nursing them to health and finding homes. She also sent money to Rancho Lotsa Cats. Then one day in 2003 she got a call from San Diego Animal Control; 135 filthy, wheezing cats were found at the sanctuary. The cats were set to be euthanized, unless someone found them homes.
For three months, Mancuso rallied volunteers and raised money. "We got every one of those cats out of there, and found them better lives." The ordeal led her and husband, Rolf Wicklund, to have a heart-to-heart. "What is success?" they asked. "Is it about a lot of money or doing something meaningful?"
Wicklund, 39, has a software development company. The couple had already decided they would not have children so they could devote their life to animals. Now they decided that Mancuso, who had just turned 40, would quit her job and become a full-time volunteer. This did not go over well with the family back in the Midwest. Mancuso grew up middle class. Dad was a truck driver, mom a housewife. It was bad enough when Mancuso returned home one day and rejected her mom's spedini, an Italian treat of rolled meat on a stick.
"For me not to want spedinis – holy mackerel!" Mancuso says. Her family blamed it on the bad influence of those fruit-loop Californians. But turning your back on a meatball is one thing; turning your back on financial security is another. "You should get paid for this!" her mom said. "By who?" Mancuso asked. "What? Are the dogs and kitties gonna get a jar together?"
Shortly after quitting work, Katrina hit. Fellow rescuer Jane Garrison, from Redondo Beach, called Mancuso in tears. She was in New Orleans; dogs were tethered to fences, floating in cages. Mancuso was on the next plane. Back in Laguna, she wrote a computer program for Animal Rescue New Orleans, working 12-hour days for the next six months to reunite pets with guardians.
As the rescue effort wound down, Los Angeles Animal Services General Manager Ed Boks held a press conference, encouraging the public to adopt shelter animals to make room for Katrina pets.
Mancuso knew Boks had a "no-kill" philosophy. The only way to reduce euthanasia is to reduce pet population. Here was her chance. She showed up at the press conference asked Boks if he would do a spay-and-neuter bill with her. Over the next year, the two birthed the California Healthy Pets Act. The bill is making its way through the Legislature. It requires residents to spay/neuter their cats and dogs by the time the animals are four months old. The list of supporters is 320 long and includes rescue groups, the California Veterinary Medical Association and the California Animal Control Directors Association.
But breeder associations are fighting hard. The bill would require people who want to breed dogs to get a permit — every year. Breeders consider it a tax and are pouring millions of dollars into the fight. The American Kennel Club Web site rallies opponents. To raise money for the battle, Mancuso last summer started the nonprofit Social Compassion, which is based in Laguna.
Bill supporters say they're not out to hurt breeders, just curb euthanasia and fiscal waste. In 2005, city and county shelters took in more than 840,000 cats and dogs. Some 430,000 were killed. The cost to taxpayers: $250 million. "Judie is the campaign chairman for an initiative that could change animal welfare … in California," Boks says. "She's a force of nature. She's a consensus builder. She brings people to the table."
Just don't expect her to serve you a pork chop.