Blind woman prompts council to reconsider `pet guardian'

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Blind woman prompts council to reconsider `pet guardian' BY KEN MCLAUGHLIN Mercury News

A blind woman accompanied by her dog single-handedly quashed a Santa Cruz plan to turn pet owners into ``pet guardians.''

Veronica Elsea, a 20-year Santa Cruz resident who has been without sight since infancy, warned the council that a seemingly innocent measure could have unintended consequences.

If the ordinance changes had passed, Santa Cruz would have become the third city in the nation to strike the phrase ``pet owners'' from its books after animal-rights activists argued that ``owners'' is an outdated term that doesn't reflect the relationship people have with their pets.

But Elsea, 47, contended that the move would have been ``a foot in the door for the animal-rights fringe'' to start pushing more radical measures, such as eliminating the most effective training of guide dogs ``because they're so afraid of any kind of discipline.''

Said Elsea: ``Warm and fuzzy does have its dark side to it.''

One guide-dog school has told trainers to stop using the ``no'' command to the canines because it is considered abusive, Elsea said.


Blind sisters harassed

She said she and her twin sister, who lives in San Francisco and is also legally blind, are both frequently harassed by people on the street who say that putting a dog in a harness is cruel.

Officials of animal-rights groups Wednesday said that Elsea's charges were absurd.

But council members Tuesday night took her concerns seriously. The majority said they were reluctant to move ahead with the proposed change, despite assurances by City Attorney John Barisone that it was ``merely symbolic.''

The council voted 6-1 to table the proposal indefinitely, with only Vice Mayor Christopher Krohn dissenting.

Dr. Elliot Katz of Marin-based In Defense of Animals, which is at the forefront of the ``guardian'' movement, accused Elsea of being a shill for ``dog breeders,'' saying that groups such as his have no hidden agenda to hamper the training of guide dogs.

``From my perspective, if a dog is being treated as a companion animal and is assisting the woman and performing a valuable service, that's fine,'' the veterinarian said. ``If she's just treating the animal as her property, then that's wrong.''

Elsea, a small-business owner, laughed off Katz's comments, saying L'Orange, a black Labrador retriever, was ``totally responsible'' for her quality of life.


`Guardian' poor substitute

``On the silly side of the ledger,'' she said, the city staff had blown it big time when it simply searched and replaced the word ``owner'' for ``guardian'' on a word processor to alter its animal-control ordinance.

That resulted in such absurdities as ``property guardian'' and ``livestock guardian dogs,'' she said.

``It's interesting that a legally blind person had to come up and point these things out,'' Councilman Ed Porter said with a laugh.




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Contact Ken McLaughlin at kmclaughlin@sjmercury.com or (831) 423-3115.
 
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