The Big Lie - Revisited in 2007
Pet Over-Population Mythology & Propaganda

By Dr. Ron Cole
(Originally written in 1993, revised in 1998)

By chance I came across the following definition in an old (1980) edition of William Safire's Political Dictionary'the New Language of Politics,
"BIG LIE: a falsehood of such magnitude and audacity that it is bound to have an effect on public opinion even if it is not given credence by a majority; a propaganda technique identified with Adolph Hitler."

Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf: "The size of the lie is a definite factor in causing it to be believed, for the vast masses of a nation are in the depths of their hearts more easily deceived than they are consciously and intentionally bad. The primitive simplicity of their minds renders them a more easy prey to a big lie than a small one, for they themselves often tell little lies but would be ashamed to tell big ones. Something therefore always remains and sticks from the most impudent lies, a fact which all bodies and individuals concerned with the art of lying in this world know only too well, and hence they stop at nothing to achieve this end."

In the U.S. during the 1950's, Senator Joseph R. McCarthy's critics accused him of using the big lie technique to intimidate his opponents in and out of the Senate. An example is this editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of 1951: "Gloomy Washington prophets are forecasting a period of 'the big lie' of the furtive informer, of the character assassin, of inquisition, eavesdropping, smear and distrust. They lump the whole under the term McCARTHYISM."

A Senate committee headed by Millard Tydings of Maryland, following a four-month investigation of McCarthy's charges that there were 81 card-carrying Communists in the State Department, castigated him in terms rarely used about a Senate member. "We are constrained to call the charges, and the methods used to give them ostensible validity, what they truly are: a fraud and a hoax perpetrated on the Senate and the United States and the American People. They represent perhaps the most nefarious campaign of half truths and untruth in the history of this Republic, the totalitarian technique of the big lie on a sustained basis." McCarthy's efforts helped defeat Senator Tydings in the next election.

Social scientists in the mass communications field have found that the size of a requested opinion or behavior change is important to the degree of change effected. Herbert Adelson, of Opinion Research Corporation observes: "The more extreme the opinion change that the communicator asks for, the more actual change he is likely to get, communications that advocate a greater amount of change from an audience's view in fact produce a greater amount of change than communications that advocate a position that is not much different from the position that the audience already holds."

Two things seem to me to be significant. Is the term "overpopulation" a big lie? Is it really a problem? Many of the figures quoted by animal rights groups have purposely been inflated to lead people to believe that it is a growing problem, when in reality the figures for euthanasia have been precipitously dropping for several years. Furthermore, the refusals of animal rights groups to separate immediately placeable dogs and cats from the unadoptable helps to keep the figures high and the so-called "problem" more difficult to solve. Only by accurate data gathering at each shelter that performs euthanasia to determine the source of the animals euthanized, can solutions really be found.

The second significant issue is related to what appears to have been a well established principle known to social scientists, that if you want to produce a change, the more outrageous or extreme the requested change, the more likely you are to get it. The original San Mateo proposal was just such an outrageous attempt at change with its complete moratorium on breeding to be followed by mandatory neutering and spaying of each and every dog and cat (with no exceptions), as well as to make it illegal to transport animals for the purposes of breeding.

If those who proposed this ordinance were aware of this sociological principle for change prior to their advocacy of the ordinance, the outrageousness of the proposal, in retrospect, makes a lot of sense. Even if they were not, the extreme change requested by them did cause change because some thought that compromise of a lesser sort would prevent the original proposal from being adopted. And, so the unincorporated part of San Mateo County got an ordinance that included breeders licensing, something that would have had little chance of passing had it been the original proposal. If there is a lesson to be learned here, it is to oppose outrageous proposals with facts and expose them for what they are, to not make any compromises, and to "just say no."

We have come a long way since the early 1990's and the San Mateo Ordinance; but now, this issue is raised again, embodied within AB 1634; and again, it is "overpopulation" that is the supposed reason that dog owners are being threatened with this legislation, even though the human population has grown greatly, while dog surrenders to shelters are down. All of this time has passed, and there still is no statewide, uniform, coordinated, mandated reporting system in place that gives us accurate information regarding euthanasia at each and every shelter, and some of the euthanasia figures do not even bother to separate adoptable dogs and cats from those that are two old, too sick, too vicious to be placed, and even lumping in feral cats, roosters, chickens, raccoons, skunks, etc. to make a larger euthanasia number, and thus, a bigger lie. A proper breakdown of these figures along with coordinated and honest reporting could turn the Big Lie into something truthful upon which real and meaningful solutions could be found
Once again, we are confronted with a proposed ordinance of draconian proportions and consequences. And, once again, the magnitude of it all has led the "timid" to look towards compromise. And, once again, we must hold our ground and "just say no."

Proponents of the ordinances both in 1990 and today have exaggerated the problem. In 1990 it was said that San Mateo county had euthanized over 10,000 animals, and T.V. broadcasts of then PHS Director Sturla and then Supervisor Nolan posing in front of barrels of dead animals with tails and limbs hanging over the sides was a propaganda bonanza. Fortunately, two task forces were formed, and more information was obtained. The 10,000 figure got considerably reduced when road kill and feral cats were eliminated to reveal about 650 adoptable dogs had been euthanized. Today that figure has been reduced to zero.

So, what about the claims of the proponents of AB 1634? First of all, this is not a statewide problem and is not in need of statewide solution because one size does not fit all. The Big Lie is being used to try to convince law makers that it is a problem.

One Southern California facility recently renamed their pit bull types, renaming them American Staffordshire Terriers, a pure bred dog. Although required by law to report dog bites, not all shelters are complying with this law, either.

From the data we are able to get, we know that shelter surrenders and euthanasia has been going down statewide for the past thirty years, and all without adverse legislation that would impact dog and cat hobby breeders. This is true even in the biggest problem area, the City of Los Angeles, where at a recent public meeting (May 2, 2007) the following was revealed in a report to the Public Safety Committee: "Since 2000, ASD has reduced the euthanasia rate by 20 percent using licensing incentives, promoting adoption programs and strengthening alliances with the animal rescue community. In addition, ASD has reduced the number of impounds by a similar percentage through aggressive voluntary spay/neuter programs."

From Assemblywoman Shirley Horton from San Diego County on why she is voting against this bill:"The primary reason I opposed AB 1634 is because it is overreaching. For example, about 7 years ago, San Diego County adopted a voluntary spay/neuter program with education as a centerpiece. They had the chance to adopt the Los Angeles model, which was very similar to what AB 1634 does, but they chose to take the less forceful, voluntary route. This has, in fact, reduced the euthanasia of adoptable pets by 100% and is one of the most effective programs in the state."

In the Bay area, especially San Francisco and San Mateo Counties, we do not have a problem with euthanasia and shelter surrenders. Programs put in place by Rich Avanzino at the SF SPCA years ago with a pact he made between SF SPCA and Animal Care and Control, has effectively made our shelters "No Kill". Peninsula Humane Society, which started the push for mandatory n/s in 1990 will not support AB 1634 because free and reduced costs spay/neuter programs are far more effective with far less overhead and no extra bureaucracy.

So, even without accurate reporting figures, we can accurately state that the proponents of AB 1634 have been perpetuating the Big Lie that has been part of their propaganda since 1990.

We know that the ultimate aim of the Animal Rights groups is the complete elimination of pure bred dogs and pedigree cats through the elimination of breeding of these species. This bill goes a long way towards that goal.

They would also have us believe that this would save the state millions of dollars because of reduced euthanasia. Not so. The animal control shelters and pounds would not close their doors. Euthanasia is a miniscule cost in the overall picture of animal rescues, rabies checks, animal abuse, dog fighting, reuniting pets with owners, etc. that animal control officers engage in every day.

It is time to set the record straight and to tell the truth .The truth is that there is a pet population problem in some parts of this state, but not statewide. The truth is that those areas having problems should emulate the techniques and efforts made in the successful areas, and perhaps the state should contribute money to assist with more low cost and free spay and neuter clinics in those areas having problems.

The truth is that this is not an issue that democrats should support. Dog owners and dog breeders belong to all political parties, and although this bill is being put forth by a democratic assemblyman, this is not a democrats vs. republican issue.

There are those, including myself, who think that AB 1634, the "California Healthy Pets Act," should properly be called the "California Pet Extinction Act" because that will probably be its effect.

Having to pay a tax for every intact animal will make breeders think twice about keeping all their extra, but essential, breeding stock, and may encourage the practice of breeding litter mates and close relatives, thus reducing the gene pool. Reduction in size of the gene pool is regularly associated with an increase in homozygosity (that is more or less inevitable because there are fewer potential breeding partners), and increased homozygosity in a population is in turn associated with higher frequencies of genetic defects and diseases. So the net result will be that rarer breeds will disappear from California (which currently has the country's most important breeding population). The very common breeds may survive, but with a very greatly reduced effective (genetic) population size. This adds up to fewer dogs, higher prices, lower quality of breeding, more problems with temperament and more health problems, even for those who just want a purebred dog or pedigree cat as a pet.

It would just be a stretch to say that this is an animal rights issue, but one only has to look at those who support this bill to see the animal rights groups, like PETA lined up in favor. There are some who are not animal rights in favor, too, the most conspicuous is the California Veterinary Medical Association, who seems to have taken this stance without a vote from its membership, and many veterinarians have complained over this.

AB 1634 has been put forth as a solution to a problem which does not exist statewide, a problem which many of our California communities has solved years ago. It would harm responsible hobby breeders who are not the problem. Communities that have solved the pet population problem have done so in cooperation with the entire dog and cat communities without coercive fines and law enforcement inspections, resulting in better community education about the need for spay and neutering and responsible breeding with the resultant high level of volunteerism and donations to local shelters not seen where coercion and home inspections make owners and breeders fearful of their local animal control agencies, even to the point of reduced compliance with licensing and with inoculations for their pets.

Let's end the Big Lie! Vote no on AB 1634. It's the truthful and honest thing to do.