Submitted by Madeline Bernstein
The City of Los Angeles is thinking of raising its pet limit law from three to five pets per household. It is spcaLA’s (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Los Angeles) position that one abused pet in a home is one too many, and 50 well-cared-for pets in a home should be fine. It is, however, a government animal control custom to limit the number of pets in a household in the name of public safety, health and welfare without any regard for the condition of the animals.
The pet limit number varies from community to community, with neither a nexus between the existence of a limit and a stated result, nor, a nexus between particular numbers to the same. In other words, the presence of this restriction does not deter animal neglect, unsanitary conditions, bites and bugs, and there is no magic limit number that has been found to effectuate a positive outcome. Three-pets-per-household rule is as arbitrary as a 12-pet limit if the attitude and behavior of the pet owner is the same. It is also a law that tends to be occasionally, selectively and/or never enforced.
When spcaLA humane officers discover a hoarder or a puppy mill, the existence of such a law can provide some leverage in the prosecution’s case though merely ancillary to the more significant animal cruelty charges. Such laws have also been used to fuel neighbor disputes, retaliate against significant others and as a tool to justify evictions.
It is a very interesting issue. For example, a property owner living next to someone with multiple dogs and/or cats would argue that his property rights are infringed as the barking noise and ammonia odors disturb the quiet enjoyment of his home and reduce the value of his house or condo in the event of a resale. True. The pet owner would assert that pets are (legally) property and the government has no right to intrude on an individual’s right to own and choose the quantity of his property as long as no one else is harmed. Also true.
In my opinion, the actual number is irrelevant, in that one noisy dog can wake up neighbors, and one stinky cat can smell up an apartment floor. Additionally, eight well-behaved dogs and five clean cats present no problem– notwithstanding a violation of a limit law.
The reality is that limit laws do not produce more capable pet owners, do not stop collectors and backyard breeders, and do not deter irresponsible pet owners. There are those who should not be allowed to have one pet, yet they can have five. Conversely, such laws can prevent law-abiding citizens from offering a good home to a needy pet, can penalize a person who properly cares for pets and is mindful of neighbors, and can leave more animals in shelters and pounds.
This presents the question as to the legitimacy of a law that has no rational relationship to its purpose– public health and safety. How does the government know how many pets each person can care for properly?
It seems to me that the better solution is to vigorously enforce “quality of life” laws, such as nuisance, noise, odor, leash, curb and other animal-control ordinances, as we can neither command care and compassionate behavior nor bar irresponsibility and neglectfulness.
Doing so also focuses on a concrete violation rather than on an inchoate reality.
As the City of Los Angeles debates raising the pet limit from three to five, I first ask, “What is so special about the number five?” I then say, rather than legislate to the worst elements in our society, let’s allow more homeless pets to have a good life and enforce the laws against those who actually mistreat their pets and neighbors alike.
Madeline Bernstein is the president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Los Angeles.