FRESNO, Calif. — California cows are the first in the nation with the legal right to swat flies as nature intended now that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed a bill banning the painful practice of tail docking that he once mocked as being a waste of legislators' time.
The governor also signed other farm bills he famously ridiculed this summer as he tried to pressure legislators to focus on balancing the state's beleaguered budget.
In a signing frenzy that lasted until his midnight Sunday deadline, Schwarzenegger also approved a state blueberry commission and new label requirements for honey.
"We were always confident that if reality could trump the rhetoric, the governor would see the merits of this," said Jennifer Fearing, who lobbied for the tail docking bill for the Humane Society of the United States, which vows to take the fight against the removal of tails to other large dairy-producing states such as Wisconsin, Vermont and New York.
While he made California the first state in the nation to ban the painful practice, the Humane Society nonetheless described the governor as having a "schizophrenic record on animal protection."
On the same day he protected dairy cows, Schwarzenegger vetoed legislation to crack down on puppy mills by limiting them to 50 adult dogs, becoming the only governor in the six states where puppy mill legislation passed this year to override it with a veto, the group said.
Aaron McLear, a spokesman for Schwarzenegger, said the governor has a record of supporting animal welfare legislation, including upping penalties in 2006 and 2009 for dog fighting, and in 2005 banning the sale of puppies under eight weeks old.
"In the summer, when the governor made the comments, he was saying the legislature ought not be having hearings on cow tails but ought to be focused on a solution to our budget," McLear said. "We never said we didn't like the bills."
Dairy officials say the practice of cutting off cow tails to prevent them from slinging manure is practiced on fewer than 15 percent of the state's 1.5 million dairy cows. Docking is usually done without numbing, either with sharp shears or with a tight rubber band that stops the blood flow and causes the tail to die.
Some dairy operators have argued that removing tails improves sanitation, a claim that research has not supported. In 2004 the American Veterinary Medical Association came out against the practice.
This year wasn't the first in which Schwarzenegger has maligned animal welfare legislation and then signed it anyway. As a 2005 bill lingered to ban foie gras, he chastised legislators in a radio interview for spending time talking about "feeding geese" instead of issues he believed were more pressing.
"He just makes a comment without thinking much about it, but when it comes time to assess it on its own merits, he's made the right decision, in our view, a few times," said Gene Baur, president and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, an animal protection group.
The governor may have been influenced to vote in favor of the farm animal legislation by California voters, two-thirds of whom voted for Proposition 2 last November to give egg-laying chickens more space. The governor of Michigan signed similar legislation Monday.
Sen. Dean Florez, who sponsored the anti-docking legislation, said he was happy the "governor had the intestinal fortitude to reverse himself" despite his public comments.