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Q&A with Rep. John Kavanagh

Rep. John Kavanagh (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

Rep. John Kavanagh (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

Republican Rep. John Kavanagh of Fountain Hills was one of two legislators (along with Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson) to receive the honor of Humane Lawmaker of the Year from the Humane Society this week at its annual rally to encourage lawmakers to enact more animal-friendly legislation.

Speaking to a group of more than 100 animal rights activists at the Capitol, Kavanagh told them to keep the pressure on lawmakers to enact more stringent protections for animals.

Kavanagh praised the Humane Society for its focus and leadership in helping pass animal rights laws, and raising Arizona to seventh in the nation for animal-friendly legislation, despite the “powerful interests” like agriculture and ranchers, that often oppose animal legislation.

He sat down with the Arizona Capitol Times to discuss his new title as a Humane Lawmaker and his propensity for animal legislation.

Where did your interest in animals come from?

I’ve always loved animals. I’ve had pets, but even people that don’t have pets believe that animals shouldn’t be abused. It’s just a matter of common decency to protect all living things from abuse, it’s not an unusual position for anybody to take – it transcends party and ideology.

What was your first pet?

A dog. Like most people. Unless you count a turtle I got from a circus, but that didn’t end well.

Did you really get a circus turtle?

Oh yeah. Barnum and Bailey’s Circus would come to Madison Square Garden every year and they would sell turtles and baby alligators.

And now you’re trying to outlaw turtles as prizes.

Only because I remember the unfortunate fate that my pet turtle met.

Do you have pets now?

Three cats

No dog?

We’ve had dogs but now we’re in the cat phase because cats are low maintenance. We raised two kids, they’re out of the house. We don’t need another kid, and dogs become almost like kids in terms of the workload and maintenance. Cats, on the other hand, are independent. A little food, a little water, an occasional scratch and I’ll see you in about six hours.

Did you ever have a K-9 unit when you were in law enforcement?

No. The Port Authority police (in New York) did have K-9s but I was never involved with their training or deployment.

Are you a PETA member?

No, I’m an omnivore.

I don’t know if you’ve been following this, but in Sochi they’re eliminating stray dogs on the street in preparation of the Winter Olympics because they say there are too many stray dogs.

I think stray dogs are dangerous. A lot of them can become rabid, so clearly whether it’s Russia or New York City or Phoenix, stray dogs should always be controlled.

Well, they’re poisoning them.

Humanely controlled.

Your first animal bill was last year, right?

It was the pets as prizes. That sprung out of an incident in Fountain Hills where a carnival came to town and they were giving away rabbits and turtles to young children late at night as sideshow prizes. And the phone rang in my home because my wife is the mayor and parents were complaining that kids came home with pets with no means to contain them or feed them. It was a situation that set the animals up for neglect, so I simply ran a bill that expanded the prohibition from giving away animals for games of chance to games of skill, even though I don’t consider trying to get an oversized basketball into an undersized hoop a game of skill.

What are the other two animal bills you’re working on this year?

One is a repeat from last year, and that involves not allowing people who are convicted of animal abuse to own animals. The new one, the Humane Society asked me to sponsor. It simply extends the current rather minimal safety regulations that apply to commercial pet breeders to people who breed dogs in their homes and sell more than 20 dogs per year, because when you sell that many animals, you’re really a commercial dog breeder even if you’re in your house.

You don’t see that as a state overreach?

No, because it prevents abuse to the animals and it prevents these small commercial breeders from selling animals that are diseased or are genetically defective, which causes the buyer to either spend a fortune caring for the animal or the buyer has to euthanize the pet, which is heartbreaking to the children who have bonded to it.

What do you think about ranchers being able to kill endangered Mexican Gray Wolves?

Well, if the gray wolves, regardless of their numbers, are not being controlled and they’re ravaging farmers and destroying the livestock, unless there are some volunteers who are willing to trap them and move them to a place where they can’t do that, what choice do ranchers have? People have to live. People’s livelihoods come first before the right of wolves to kill livestock.

Did you ever think you would be the Humane Lawmaker of the year?

No, I was certainly surprised. I thought there was a requirement you had to be a Democrat for that.

Noteworthy animal bills sponsored by other lawmakers

SB1037 – Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, and HB2217 – Rep. Andrew Sherwood, D-Mesa

The identical bills would require an adult who has been convicted of cruelty to animals or other related crimes to register with the county sheriff within 10 days after the conviction or after entering and remaining in that county. The Department of Public Safety is required to maintain a central animal abuser registry with the names and registration information of every person required to register.

HB2302 – Rep. Frank Pratt, R-Casa Grande

The bill would prohibit people from selling animals on a public highway, street, park and other public places, as well as any commercial private property without the express consent of the property owner. Currently, it is only a crime to sell animals in public in Pima and Maricopa counties. The bill also expands the list of acts that do not constitute unlawful public sale of animals to include a sale of livestock, poultry or ratite as defined in agriculture statutes.

SB1035 – Sen. Al Melvin, R-SaddleBrooke

The bill would authorize county boards of supervisors to require a dog to be licensed if it has a medical condition that precludes vaccination against rabies.

SB1211 – Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford

The bill would allow Department of Agriculture employees or ranchers to kill any wolf that has been caught killing livestock, to the extent allowed under federal law.

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