I am responding to the article, "Spay and Neuter Laws; Humans Debate While Dogs Die" in the spring 2010 issue of The American Dog, and would like to provide updated information regarding the effects of Mandatory Spay/Neuter Laws ("MSNL") on shelter killings of dogs and cats.
MSNL have been in effect in various communities for some time, so we now have ample opportunity to ascertain whether they reduce shelter killing. When we research these communities, we find that while increased voluntary sterilization does help reduce the number of animals entering shelters, MSNL do not decrease the number of animals entering or being killed in shelters. MSNL have backfired.
In fact, MSNL have resulted in more abandoned animals, higher shelter admissions, higher kill rates, lower compliance with licensing and rabies vaccination laws, and radically increased costs for animal control. People become afraid to get pet licenses because proof of sterilization is required. They are afraid to go to a veterinarian for rabies shots or medical care because veterinarians are required to report them. People abandon their pets because they fear fines and penalties.
Numerous studies have shown that the primary reason people do not sterilize their pets is cost. For example, a study conducted by Harris Interactive for Alley Cat Allies, and published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, confirmed that the single most influential predictor of whether a cat is sterilized is the income level of his/her owner. In addition, in May 2009, PetsMart released a study that again confirmed that cost is the primary reason people do spay/neuter.
Furthermore, a study conducted by the Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences at Texas A&M University and published in Preventive Veterinary Medicine in January 2010, again found that cost was the number one reason for not sterilizing pets. Some people simply cannot afford the costs and passing MSNL will not change this fact. When the result of not sterilizing is an unaffordable fine or confiscation/ impoundment of the pet, animals die. The Harris Interactive study also found that more than 80 percent of owned cats in the U.S. are already sterilized. This means that the majority of unsterilized cats are unowned strays. MSNL would do nothing to increase the sterilization of unowned cats and would not reduce their deaths in shelters. In fact, MSNL would increase the killing of unowned cats, particularly feral cats, because many shelters automatically kill all feral cats, or any cat that vaguely acts feral (shy or scared cats).
Also, MSNL are a nightmare to enforce. They burden already underfunded, understaffed animal control departments with more responsibilities. Each community must hire more animal control officers to enforce them, so an enormous amount of additional money is spent to enforce a draconian law when a much better use of those funds would be to provide low-cost or free spay/neuter services. MSNL would also give animal control officers the right to go door to door and force us to prove that our pet(s) are sterilized. (I'm not being facetious; a Houston city leader actually suggested this, and Houston doesn't even have MSNL.) Also, it is not always easily discernible whether female pets are sterilized. If citizens can't prove that a female pet is spayed, MSNL could give authority to animal control to confiscate that pet. Then what? Take her to animal control, cut her open to confirm she is sterilized, and impound her if she is not? What happens when the owner can't afford the impound fees, which are many times quite steep? What happens when the owner can't afford to have the pet spayed at that time? This would mean that a pet, who already has a home, would be impounded and killed because the owner couldn't afford to spay his/her pet or couldn't afford the impound fines. This is an appalling and ludicrous scenario, but it is exactly what MSNL would authorize.
When MSNL were proposed in Los Angeles, and these laws were passed in February 2008, the statistics show that, immediately after passing MSNL, kill rates began to rise in L.A. Before the passing of MSNL, the kill rate had been steadily declining because of city funded programs providing affordable spay/neuter services and incentives to sterilize pets. But after MSNL were passed, for the first time in a decade, impounds and killing increased; dog deaths increased 24 percent and cat deaths increased 35 percent. Los Angeles County now kills 22 times as many animals as Lake County, CA; and kills 104 times as many animals as Calgary, Canada per capita; both of which do not have MSNL.
Even if readers are not convinced that the data proves that MSNL have caused kill rates to rise, let's admit that considering the above statistics, there is at least a 50/50 chance that they do. There is still no reason to pass MSNL because successful no kill shelters have stopped the killing without these laws.
For example, Reno, Nevada (Washoe Co.) is saving 93 percent of dogs and 89 percent of cats. This is despite having a per capita intake rate over two times the national average. (Reno has also been hit much harder by the economic downturn than L.A., where kill rates are rising. Even though the author claimed that the economic downturn has caused kill rates to rise in L.A., clearly this isn't the correct explanation.) The Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA has a save rate of 92 percent; Tompkins Co., NY SPCA has a save rate of approximately 95 percent; The San Francisco SPCA had a save rate of roughly 97 percent in 2008; In Montgomery Co. TX shelter killing declined to 18 percent in 2009; and in Calgary, Canada, all healthy and treatable pets that enter their shelter are saved. All of these shelters dropped their kill rates without MSNL.
In my opinion, it is obvious that mandatory spay/neuter laws are not a factor that helps to stop the killing in shelters. So why would any animal lover want to risk even a 50/50 chance of raising kill rates by passing MSNL when communities have stopped the killing without them?
I urge everyone to research this issue thoroughly. MSNL have caused kill rates to rise and we do not have to repeat the failures of other communities. To stop shelter killing we really have but one choice and that is to adopt the only method that has been proven to work; the No Kill model of sheltering based on the No Kill Equation.