By Sen. Roy Dyson

[ Senator Dyson's Newletter ]

Shortly after the end of the 1997 Maryland General Assembly I wrote part of a column under the headline "Good bill caught in controversy." That was about a bill which I introduced which would have created an "Animal Friendly" license plate in Maryland. In that column I explained that the reason for the failure of the bill was the controversy over an organizational license plate for Sons of Confederate Veterans. The 1997 legislature was just not the year for license plate bills.

I am hopeful that 1998 will prove to be more hospitable, for I intend to pre-file the same bill. The bill creates a license plate similar to the Chesapeake Bay plates. It would have a design developed through a special contest. In other states which have such plates there are designs with dogs and cats. That's appropriate, because it is those domestic animals which are the focus of this special plate.

Proceeds from the sale of the plates would be disbursed to the counties and Baltimore City. They in turn would solicit proposals from non-profit groups, such as humane societies, SPCA's and animal welfare leagues. The proposals would be for subsidized spay/neuter programs. The monies would be given to those organizations for those programs.

In the course of doing research on this bill which was requested by local volunteers, I learned about the magnitude of the problem nationwide and in this area. It is estimated that between five and six million dogs and cats are euthanized in the nation's 5,000 animal shelters every year. The reason for the failure to find homes for those animals is varied, but mostly it's just because there are too many animals to go around. It's a supply and demand situation.

Each dog and cat which is spayed or neutered is contributing to the solution to the problem. Money is a major factor in many people's decision whether to spay or neuter their own pets or to take that responsibility for strays in their neighborhood. With low cost, subsidized programs, the numbers of animals which get fixed increases dramatically.

The "Animal Friendly" license plate will cost the state nothing. But the state will reap a tremendous benefit financially. For each potential dog and cat which isn't born and thus doesn't end up at a shelter, there's that much less public money needed in animal control and sheltering. And there's the added public benefit of reducing the numbers of stray and feral animals which are the potential carriers of rabies and other diseases.

My administrative aide, Dick Myers, recently explained the bill to members of the Maryland Professional Animal Workers Society (PAWS). Those members, who see every day the horrible consequences of pet overpopulation, promised to go back into their own communities and fight for this bill next year.

As with all bills, there are a few key legislators who play important parts in the success or failure of a bill. They are the ones who chair and sit on the committee which hears the bill. If you would like to be active in helping to muster support for the Animal Friendly license plate bill, please let my office know. We'll let you know what we feel you can do to help us win passage of the bill in 1998.

While we are on the subject of bills relating to animals, I have been requested to introduce a bill this year which was introduced and failed two years ago. The bill banned the giving away of animals as prizes, and is aimed mostly at carnival and fair vendors. A committee was insistent that the Maryland Department of Agriculture could regulate the practice. That department came up with new regulations.

My office has heard of a number of instances of failure to comply with the regulations. The most recent was the giving away of lizards at the Anne Arundel County Fair. There is a lot of concern about the transmission of diseases, such as salmonella, from lizards.

The regulations require a license, proper care and feeding of the animals, and the handing out of literature on the proper care of the animal to anyone who wins it. If you know of abuses of this law, or would like to see me pursue again the idea of an outright ban, please contact either my district office at 301-994-2826 or the Annapolis office, at 1-800-492-7122, extension 3673.

[ Senator Dyson's Newletter ]