Alarming Santa Cruz County Animal Ordinance

Is Santa Cruz County Forgetting Its Agricultural and Historical Roots?

By Carin Ryan for Protect The Harvest

What Happens When No One is Looking

As COVID19 winds down and restrictions on public gatherings are loosening, it appears radical ideologues are ratcheting up their attempts to give animals more rights than humans.

City Councils and Boards of Supervisors have been meeting virtually. Changes to regulations and amendments to existing ordinances are easy to sneak through on video or conference calls that are often hard to understand and follow. Sometimes these sweeping changes are pushed through on meeting agendas by simply including the words: “Approve the reading by title of any ordinance considered for adoption that may appear on this agenda, and further waive a detailed reading of said ordinance, as recommended by County Counsel.”

The statement above is included in the Consent Agenda dated February 2, 2021, for the County of Santa Cruz, Board of Supervisors. Literally, anything could have been included in those ordinances considered for adoption. The vague and overreaching words “waive a detailed reading” allows for votes and adoptions that change safe and best practices, certainly without due diligence. Only a recommendation by County Counsel is needed for the ordinance to be adopted; simply, the title read.

Real Consequences

What is concerning about this seemingly adaptive change to the way the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors does business, is actually a considerable erosion of Americans’ Constitutional Rights. Fees and fines laid out in this ordinance set forth taxation without representation. The rule changes they have implemented simply from reading a title on an agenda were never fully aired in a public forum. In this case, the Santa Cruz County Board of Commissioners and their cohorts are using COVID as a cloak of darkness to take advantage of the constituents they were elected to serve.

Implementing Animal Extremist Ideology – They’ve Tried This Before

Just last May 2020, language was trotted out that effectively banned livestock shows, horse shows, sales of 4H and FFA projects, and rodeos. Santa Cruz County ultimately had to back-peddle due to public outcry and made the claim that the true goal of the language was written to ban rodeos and circuses, which they believe are harmful to animals. Objectors stated plainly that the ban was a serious overreach and used exaggerated and baseless claims to forward an agenda that had nothing to do with rodeo, agriculture, and true animal welfare.

No matter their claims regarding the language, the goal of banning rodeo and circuses is straight from the animal extremist playbook. The facts are that rodeo has a gleaming record of taking impeccable care of their animals, but the Board of Supervisors have preyed on their good-hearted citizens by portraying rodeo athletes and the animals they rely upon, as barbaric and generally, inhumane. Anyone who has participated in rodeo events knows this is far from the truth.

The Devil is in the Details – The New “Model Ordinance”

Based on the public outcry last year. The new ordinance language was pulled and re-written. The 2021 Ordinance language is not much improved. The language proposed in the “Model Ordinance” to be amended makes countless incorrect statements; many of which could be considered as outright lies. Here is an example of some of the egregious language:

False Claim – “The use of animals as a form of amusement or entertainment in events such as circuses or rodeos is detrimental to the safety of the animals and the public, including children and trainers.”
The Model Ordinance does well to lay out that they want an end to rodeos or circuses and gives no indication of what they intend to do with the animals that currently have a job or serve a purpose. They talk about the safety of the public, children and trainers but refuse to lay out data where anyone has been harmed – especially in Santa Cruz County. Finally, it has been discussed at length in news articles that euthanasia is part of the Director’s job. So, once the usefulness of these animals is removed, does the Director plan to end the lives of all these “dangerous” animals that have been peacefully living alongside their handlers? The Director purposefully leaves this to the readers imagination.

Misleading Claim – “Wild animals pose a significant danger to audience members, trainers and the public at large.”
With significant and minimal exception, animals used in rodeo are domesticated animals. According to the Department of Fish & Wildlife, cattle and horses are categorically considered domesticated animals. The ONLY exception are a very few wild mustangs which have been rescued as malnourished animals on a path to certain death, re-homed to a good and comfortable life, cared for by vetted and qualified human caretakers only to far outlive their still-wild family members. Technically, “wild mustangs” are not wild, but feral horses with DNA markers going to common breeds utilized by explorers and settlers of the West as well as modern-day breeds from horses simply turned out on the rangelands. Likewise, elephants in circuses are not wild animals either. Asian elephants have been domesticated and utilized just like horses for over 3,000 years.

Misleading Claim – “Travel or confinement impairs the animals’ physical, psychological, and social needs , while in close confinement, lack of exercise, pressure to perform and other physical requirements of performing render the animals unable to express natural behaviors and socialize appropriately.”
To the contrary, and by the extensive research of widely recognized Dr. Temple Grandin, Ph.D, domesticated animals are far safer and more content when they are trained to behave in a way that results in their safety and comfort. Confinement is often in the animals’ best interest when they are in rehabilitative care or being relocated. In well documented cases, an animal that has a herding instinct will perform their job without training or urging from their human caretaker simply because the animal enjoys the practice.

False Claim – “In addition, the training techniques, devices, or agents used to make the animals perform are often abusive, cruel and/or stressful, causing suffering to the animals and creating greater threat to the public.”
There is no incentive to abuse, harm, or cause suffering to an animal on which a rodeo contestant relies upon for their income. Rodeo contestants are not paid, bound to, or protected by, typical professional athlete contracts and provisions. A contestant enters a rodeo by paying a fee, and their only paycheck is if they are in the top two to five performers of the event they entered. Furthermore, contestants and contractors are bound to a well-regulated code of ethics and dictation of animal welfare that, if they violate, the contestant is disqualified, fined or even banned from that event.

False Claim – “The display of animals at events such as circuses and rodeos is not an adequate educational forum for children.”
The opposite is true. Rodeos are a current and historical reenactment of duties performed in ranching. The event of rodeo was born through Spanish cultures when the best horses and riders displayed their collective talent before royalty. Livestock exhibitions teach people of all ages not only where their food comes from, but also give the public a good look into the lifecycle of their lunch.

Vague Rules – Dangerous Interpretation at the Hands of the Inexperienced

The ordinance is riddled with sections that are vague and leave all interpretations of these rules in the Director’s hands. They act as judge and jury and leave the owner to fight for their property rights. There is no requirement of someone with animal husbandry experience or education to evaluate an animal or situation. Here are some examples:

• (R) Any equipment, device, substance, or material that is, or could be, injurious or cause unnecessary cruelty to an animal may not be used.
• (S) Working animals must be given adequate rest periods. Confined or restrained animals must be given appropriate exercise.
• (U) An animal that the Department has suspended from use may not be worked or used until released by the Department.

Author with an Agenda

An article in The Pajaronian, dated May 15, 2020 states: “According to Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter General Manager Melanie Sobel, who crafted the new rules, the changes were intended only to protect animals in events such as rodeos and circuses, where they are in distress and asked to do unnatural things.”

Such egregious departures from the truth written in the amended ordinance should never be taken lightly. These are outright lies from top to bottom. What incentive does the author of this ordinance and its changes have? The Director of Animal Welfare for the County of Santa Cruz wrote this ordinance and the changes thereto. Is the gatekeeper is now the rule maker, whereby Director Sobel gets to write the rules by which they should abide?

Director Sobel speaks and pens from a bully pulpit. In a short biography on the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter Foundation, it is stated Sobel has a BA from the University of Illinois in History and a MA in Public Administration from DePaul University – neither degree or school has any vested interest in the care and welfare of animals. A casual search of the internet only shows Director Sobel with dogs and cats. There is no indication of any experience of working ranches or rodeo events. What qualifications does Director Sobel have to outlaw rodeo and other alleged animal events for entertainment in Santa Cruz County? The same qualifications that the keeper of a goldfish espouses to be a SCUBA instructor. Interest does not indicate knowledge in best practices.

Unilateral Power and Control is Provided “The Director” without Legal Oversight

Sprinkled throughout the Ordinance are many vague and short sentences giving power to the “Director” to seize an animal in order to do what they deem best fit – without any basis in fact or animal husbandry. In section 6.04.160, the ordinance states: (G) No condition should be maintained or permitted that is or could be injurious to an animal, and,
(L) An animal must be taken to a veterinarian for examination or treatment if the Director orders the owner to do so.

Additionally, it is important to note who is considered the “Director” and who can carry “Director” powers. Note in section (N) the director can transfer power to a representative that they designate. Section (O) also allows for the “Director” to be an independent contractor.

Here are the definitions:

(M) “Department” means the public agency supervised by the Director of Animal Services, responsible for providing animal services in the unincorporated area of Santa Cruz County and operating and managing the Animal Shelter.
(N) “Director,” unless otherwise stated, means the Director of Animal Services or their designated representative.
(O) “Director of Animal Services” means the independent contractor or employee of the public agency responsible for supervising the Department and having custody and control of the Animal Shelter and of animals therein. The Director may also be referred to as the General Manager of the Animal Shelter.
What is clear from these definitions is that ANYONE can act on behalf of Animal Services in Santa Cruz County. There is no limitation to former criminals, extremists, or a nosy neighbor tired of the legal chickens living on an adjacent property.

Animal Services Director or Game Warden?

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution limits law enforcement’s ability to search and seizure. Typically, a warrant is required to search your home and personal property. The Director, via this new “Model Ordinance” is aiming to usurp those rights and empower themselves or someone they appoint, to act on behalf of Animal Services by holding the same rights and arresting powers of Federal Game Wardens. Here is the section pertaining to the Director’s power in regards to capture and custody of animals.

6.04.170 Capture and custody of animals.

The Director is authorized to capture and take into custody:
(A) Any animal being kept or maintained in violation of a State statute or local ordinance;
(B) Dogs and other animals running at large in violation of a State statute or local ordinance;
(C) Sick, injured, stray, unwanted, neglected or abandoned animals;
(D) Unvaccinated dogs;
(E) Animals relinquished to the Director or the Animal Shelter; and
(F) Animals for which the owner or custodian is unable to care because of imprisonment, illness, bankruptcy litigation, or other contingency, or in cases in which the owner or custodian cannot be found.
By Section (F) above, the Director can make a lot of assumptions that gives them or their designated contractors access to seize your dog if they think it’s unvaccinated, or even take all your animals into custody if they think you’ve left them alone for a little too long. If they feel your dog is sick, they can seize your dog without your permission or even notifying you. Here is the corresponding language that gives right of entry to the Director:

6.04.190 Right of entry for inspection.

(A) The Director or a law enforcement officer may enter a building or property to inspect the premises for violation of this title only if:
(1) The owner or occupant of the building or property consents to the entry and inspection after the Director or law enforcement officer presents their credentials and explains the reasons for the entry and inspection;
(2) The Director or the law enforcement officer obtains a warrant for the entry and inspection of the building or property under California Code of Civil Procedure Sections 1822.50 to 1822.57 or California Penal Code Section 830.9; or
(3) The Director or law enforcement officer has reasonable cause to believe that the keeping of an animal on the property is so dangerous that an immediate inspection is necessary to safeguard an animal or public health and safety and there is insufficient time to obtain a search warrant given the safety concerns. Under these circumstances, the Director or law enforcement officer may use reasonable means to immediately enter and inspect the building or property after presenting their credentials to the owner or occupant and requesting entry, if it is possible under the circumstances.
(3) A dog that is exempt from the vaccination requirements of this section shall be considered unvaccinated.
(4) A dog that is exempt from the vaccination requirements of this section shall, at the discretion of the County Health Officer or the Officer’s designee, be confined to the premises of the owner, keeper, or harborer, and when off the premises, shall be on a leash the length of which shall not exceed six feet and shall be under the direct physical control of an adult. A dog that is exempt from the provisions of this section shall not have contact with a dog or cat that is not currently vaccinated against rabies.

When reading these subsections, one should ask, according to who? And what experience does the Director have to dictate these orders? Remember the goldfish.

Protection of Friendly Courts, Commissions and Administrations

Rule changes that are this impactful do not happen in broad daylight – especially after they were eviscerated in the court of public opinion the first time they were tried. The community of Santa Cruz county found value and goodness in rodeos, livestock showcases, and animal exhibitions. Generations of families have been happy to trade a few dollars to attend a rodeo, county fair, or pig race. They know their money goes to well versed caretakers who have the best interest of the cattle, horses, dogs and other animal companions they exhibit. Often, they have invested tens of thousands of dollars in college degrees, learning the newest animal husbandry techniques, unlike Director Sobel.

Changes to ordinances happen, like this sneaky Santa Cruz county BOS agenda bait and switch, when well-intended constituents trust their elected officials to do the right thing, but that is not what is happening. After reading the amended 65-page ordinance, one cannot help but to recall a similar agenda item on the Los Angeles City Council meeting a few weeks ago. In that meeting, the Los Angeles City Council asked for ordinance language that would also ban rodeo and other animal exhibitions. It is as if a grassroots movement has been launched.

Courts are designed to be fair and balanced, but when a court seldom deviates from one political ideology, constituents wonder how to fight against “the machine.” How would a 4-H member with an equestrian project, fight this back-door ordinance, that was shoved through while that member was not even allowed to attend their monthly equestrian project meetings in person? How does a 4-H member, who chose animal husbandry over idle time and bad decisions, speak against someone who has a master’s in public administration?

After the initial changes to the ordinance were proposed and objected to last May, the Director hastily made additions to exclude project animals allowing exhibitors to participate in the Santa Cruz County Fair. What was not allowed were traditional livestock market auctions and no provisions were made for rodeo events as a whole – in fact, rodeos were specifically banned.

No end in sight

If this ordinance goes unchallenged because constituents feel helpless, where does the power grab stop? Bans on rodeos and livestock quickly move to banning chickens on property within the County of Santa Cruz then further into greater control over companion animals, which are listed in the ordinance and will be covered in an upcoming article. This Model Ordinance even includes how to properly care for feral cat colonies. No good deed goes unpunished.

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