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Leaders ask California DVMs to watch for local ordinances

New law safeguards veterinary practice, but opens window for bans

July 22, 2009
By Jennifer Fiala

After Jan. 1, California municipalities will be barred from banning veterinary medical procedures deemed lawful by the state, per a bill signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger earlier this month and championed by the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA).

The enactment of SB 762 represents a “huge victory” for CVMA, considering leaders have fought local bans on licensed veterinary procedures since 2003, when West Hollywood became the nation’s first city to deem performing a feline declaw for nontherapeutic purposes a criminal misdemeanor. 

Still, CVMA leaders are not ready to celebrate. 

That’s because cities and counties have until Jan. 1 to usher in bans on controversial veterinary medical procedures like feline onychectomy, which will be grandfathered. Earlier this month, the San Francisco Commission of Animal Control and Welfare, advisors to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, voted in favor of a citywide ban on feline declaw for nontherapeutic reasons. 

“Everybody needs to be aware of what’s going on in their cities and counties for the next few months, be proactive and alert us if something is going on,” CVMA Executive Director Valerie Fenstermaker says. 

SB 762 also authorizes municipalities to levy a business tax to cover the cost of the law’s regulation.

While the new law can’t roll back West Hollywood’s ordinance, it amends the state’s Business and Professions Code to prohibit municipalities from passing new laws that outlaw any healing arts licensee from engaging in licensed practice. 

The fight against local regulation is something CVMA has long championed, starting with its court battle to squash West Hollywood's declaw ordinance on grounds that it infringed on the rights of more than 7,300 licensed resident veterinarians to practice.

At the time, critics argued that the ban could lead to additional restrictions, spread geographically or hit other professions. Although CVMA won its trial court case, the group lost West Hollywood’s appeal in a 2-1 decision rendered in 2007.

CVMA responded with an appeal to the Supreme Court of California, which chose not to hear the case. 

That’s when CVMA went to lawmakers, arguing that cities should not be allowed to legislate opinions under the auspices of police power. 

In its amicus letter to the high court, CVMA noted: “State regulation of veterinary medicine, a system that has well served the American public and animal patients for over 100 years, will be undermined if cities, villages and counties get a green light to chip away at the uniformity of state veterinary practice acts and the regulations issued by state veterinary medical boards, as authorized by those statutes."

VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email

Information and opinions expressed in letters to the editor are those of the author and are independent of the VIN News Service. Letters may be edited for style. We do not verify their content for accuracy.


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