LOS ANGELES — In a state where people wear their hearts on their bumpers, a specialty license plate campaign by California pet lovers to save animal lives needs saving.
With more dogs, cats and cars than any other state, it would seem pet lovers could rally enough support for a plan to end pet overpopulation and cut euthanasia. But with three months to go, they are struggling to get the support they need.
The Department of Consumer Affairs Veterinary Medical Board is the campaign's sponsor and the California Spay & Neuter License Plate Fund, Inc. was set up to pre-sell 7,500 plates before June 2012.
That target must be hit for the plates to go into production or the program could collapse, with the money being refunded.
Volunteers, using donations for fliers and brochures, pre-sold 4,000 plates, said Judie Mancuso of Laguna Beach, president of the fund and member of the veterinary board.
In 2010, nearly 868,000 dogs and cats entered animal shelters in California. More than half were euthanized.
Spay and neuter is the best way to stop overpopulation and cut the euthanasia rate, Mancuso said. In these economic times, she said there is no better way to pay for surgeries than license plates because "it is not a tax and not a fee."
Can pet lovers sell 3,500 plates in three months when it took 21 months to sell 4,000?
Representatives from Petco Animal Supplies Inc. promised two weeks ago to put fliers in all their California stores, Mancuso said.
And Assembly Bill 610, by Assemblyman Jose Solorio, D-Anaheim, has been amended by the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee to extend the deadline another year. It still has to go back through some committees and faces floor votes, but Mancuso is optimistic if they need more time they will have it.
One of the biggest problems, Mancuso said, is that people don't see anything for their money for up to three years.
It takes up to 10 months after all the conditions are met to get the prison-made plates into production, Department of Motor Vehicles spokeswoman Jessica Gonzalez said.
If the campaign does fail, pets will be in good company. Girl Scouts, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and the San Francisco 49ers have been unable to sell enough plates.
But no state seems a better fit for a pet plate. There are nearly 32 million registered vehicles. There are more than 37.7 million people. With six of 10 Americans having pets, there could be at least 23 million pet owners in the state.
Actor, artist and animal activist Pierce Brosnan created and donated the artwork for the plate — using his own rescues Shilo and Angel Baby as models.
It costs $50 to reserve a sequentially numbered specialty plate. A new or transferred vanity plate is $98. Annual renewal fees are $40 for standard plates and $78 for vanity plates. These costs are in addition to regular DMV license fees.
Money will be refunded if the campaign collapses. But if it succeeds, Mancuso said history shows them they can expect sales to double or triple in the year after the plates become available and people see them on the road.
California has 10 specialty plates, benefiting among others firefighters and veterans' organizations.
The plates have been a boon for the causes they support. The most popular (kids) has brought in $41 million since 1994.
In 2001, the state increased the number of pre-paid applications required from 5,000 to 7,500, Gonzalez said, because it costs almost $400,000, including $270,000 for programming, to put a plate into production. Fees from the initial 7,500 applications cover those costs, she said.
In 2002, a Senate bill supporting a "choose life" plate was rejected. An anti-abortion group filed a lawsuit and in 2003, a federal judge ordered the state to stop allowing specialty plates until it fixed the selection process, which he said gave the Legislature too much authority to suppress a point of view.
Requiring a sponsor answered the court's concerns and became part of the law in 2006.
But there still hasn't been a new plate in California since 2002.