Bill Hemby speaks fervently, and carries a big pooper scooper.
A former police sergeant-turned-lobbyist, he spent 30 years providing advocacy assistance to public safety organizations. But Hemby is equally dedicated to the Russian wolfhounds he and his wife have raised and shown for just as long.
Hemby recently combined his passions in a new endeavor: A looming pet-sterilization law drove the Grass Valley, CA, resident to found PetPAC, a nonprofit committee formed to thwart the seemingly well intentioned bill.
Assembly Bill (AB) 1634, the "California Healthy Pets Act," calls for the state's dogs and cats to be spayed or neutered by six months of age. Pet owners who don't adhere are subject to a $500 fine - and, according to Hemby, eroded rights far beyond Rover's ability to reproduce.
"The legislation is so Draconian, it had both dog and cat owners in an outrage," Hemby says. When introduced, AB 1634 "sailed right out of Committee because [opposition] was so disjointed." Needed was "a coalition that would go after this kind of threat as a political campaign - not as a volunteer club run by purebred dog [and pedigreed cat] people."
Hemby would never say it of himself, says Kelley Moran, PetPAC campaign director and president of Sacramento-based public affairs firm Moran & Associates, but with his experience in both politics and the American Kennel Club, Hemby was "the perfect person to pull everyone together and provide leadership."
With the aid of Internet advocacy firm PlusThree, PetPAC launched a blog and online action center, so pet owners could sign an anti-AB 1634 petition, write defiant letters to officials and media, and obtain campaign information. Within 90 days, it had amassed 35,000 individual members and more than $200,000 in financial support.
From its onset, Hemby notes, it was crucial that the grassroots coalition "made sure everyone understood the bill and its impact on all communities" - not just on purebred breeders and showers.
To that end, PetPAC reached out to groups representing California's livestock industry; guide-and therapy-animal organizations; and police animal units.
Some animals, specifically working dogs, would be eligible for exemption, but "all these dogs are affected by this particular bill," Hemby explains.
He notes that those most adamantly opposed to AB 1634 - PetPAC included - encourage spaying and neutering educational campaigns. The issue, Hemby says, is the government's forced involvement.
"This whole bill was written by people who don't understand the dog and cat world," he says. The decision to sterilize should be between owner and veterinarian, he explains. This is "like modern-day Prohibition. We resent the government telling us how to raise and care for our animals."
On July 11 "we were able to convince the majority of the [Senate Local Government] Committee that there were [problems with] this bill that weren't addressed," Moran says. At a packed hearing, the bill was tabled - for now.
Still, the bill's supporters need a tight leash: AB 1634 will be back in January, with amendments.
To prepare, PetPAC intends to substantially increase its membership, in-state and across the nation. It is boosting campaign efforts, urging supporters to contact politicians and to participate in the ongoing debate via op-ed pages and online forums.
Hemby adds, it's crucial that AB 1634's opponents "stay together and strong on the issues that threaten our pets."
Otherwise, he warns, pet owners' rights will soon disappear. "That is a real threat to the dog and cat world, and that's what's really driving PetPAC."
PetPAC, founder and chairman
California Organization of Police and Sheriffs (COPS), legislative advocate