The San Diego County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to reword the language in a proposed ballot measure on whether the county should continue selling impounded animals for medical research.
The advisory measure, as proposed by 5th District Supervisor John MacDonald, would ask whether the county should continue to provide animals for medical research to seek cures for heart disease, lung disease, diabetes and other human ailments.
Animal rights advocates criticized the wording of the measure as biased in favor of UC San Diego, the only facility with a contract to purchase impounded dogs and cats from the county Department of Animal Control.
"The real issue is not medical research but pound seizure (shelters selling animals) and the county's contract with UCSD," said Sally Mackler of San Diego Animal Advocates. "The wording is misleading and loaded."
The advocates, who said they learned of the proposal Friday, also blasted the board for "ramming" the measure forward without providing enough time for public input.
The board voted 4 to 1 to have county counsel reword the measure for its meeting next Tuesday, when supervisors will decide whether to put it on the November ballot.
The county has three animal shelters. Only the North County facility does not sell impounded animals to UCSD.
UCSD pays the county $58 for each dog and $30 for each cat. In the past fiscal year, UCSD purchased 325 animals from the county. The animal control department destroyed 26,000 animals, 10,000 of which were brought in by their owners, officials said.
Mackler said selling impounded animals for use in medical research violates the goal of animal shelters: to provide humane care for pets until they are claimed by their owners or adopted or put to death without pain.
Richard Attiyeh, dean of graduate studies and research at UCSD, said the university treats the impounded animals responsibly and humanely. Attiyeh opposed placing the measure before voters, but said the university is confident the public would approve of using impounded animals for medical research.
MacDonald and 1st District Supervisor Brian Bilbray also defended the practice, saying the animals contribute to advances in medical research and that it makes no sense to raise animals specifically for research while plenty are available in shelters.
The animal rights advocates also said spending an estimated $50,000 to put the advisory measure before voters would be a waste of money and would be better spent on establishing a county-operated program for spaying and neutering pets. The animal control department refers pet owners to veterinarians, but does not provide spaying and neutering services.