We all want to decrease euthanasia rates, encourage responsible pet ownership and support the human-canine bond, but mandates about spaying and neutering dogs aren’t necessarily the way to achieve those goals. That’s because mandatory spay/neuter laws criminalize dog guardians who want to provide good care for their pets but cannot afford it.
It should go without saying that this damages the human-canine bond.
In 2005, San Francisco, California implemented a mandatory spay/neuter law for “pit bull” dogs and “pit bull” dog mixes. As soon as the measure passed, some San Francisco dog owners faced landlord ultimatums: keep the dog and move, or be evicted.
Although “pit bull” dogs were still legal, the law’s designation of “pit bull” dogs as a special “problem” stigmatized both the dogs and their guardians. This highlights a very real and negative consequence of breed specific mandates. They endorse discrimination and profiling of all kinds, including by landlords and insurance companies.
Kansas City, Missouri’s breed-specific mandatory spay/neuter laws resulted in a steady increase in not only its “pit bull” dog euthanasia but also in the number of all dogs euthanized.
Los Angeles, California passed mandatory spay and neuter laws for all dogs in 2008. Five years later 38% more dogs were impounded and 56% more dogs were euthanized than in 2007, the prior year of the ordinances taking effect.
Without community outreach, mandatory spay/neuter laws often don’t affect the owners they were designed to reach. Those with limited resources may be unable to comply with regulations – which criminalizes well-meaning pet owners.
Pet guardians who are unable to get their dogs spayed/neutered for financial reasons may have to pay a fee for being in violation of the law. If they already cannot afford to have their dog spayed or neutered, it is unlikely that they can afford to pay a fine. There is also the possibility that animal control may take the dog, leaving the owner with yet another fee to reclaim their dog. In some cases, this may increase euthanasia rates.
So, what’s the solution? How to we create safe and humane communities and reduce pet population without spay/neuter mandates? The solution is providing accessible and targeted services paired with outreach and education.
“Shots fairs” in lower-income communities have a positive impact on dogs and guardians. These fairs offer affordable and easily accessible vaccinations and spay/neuters, as well as education about responsible dog ownership. They result in fewer shelter intakes and lower euthanasia numbers.
Since 2010, the Humane Society of the United States’ Pets for Life (PFL) program has operated in 20 areas across the United States. Over 87% of the dogs they encounter are unaltered. Through community outreach, which sometimes includes door to door canvassing and vouchers for free services, 89% of the unaltered pets the PFL teams encounter are spayed or neutered due to the program.
Pets for Life reports that due to lack of access to affordable veterinary services:
“Most people have not had access to quality wellness information and care resources for their pets. A strong majority of pets in PFL communities have not seen a veterinarian before meeting the PFL outreach teams. This is due to the lack of access to affordable veterinary services, not a lack of interest or care from the people.”
In Florida, the City of Jacksonville and First Coast No More Homeless Pets partner to provide free and low-cost spay/neuter surgeries for dogs and cats. Since 2002, the partnership has facilitated over 107,000 pet sterilizations. The city has seen an overall reduction in pet intake and a 90% decrease in euthanasia.
By providing targeted incentives instead of issuing mandates, Jacksonville, FL is better serving its pets and pet owners.
The “hardest to reach” people are actually reachable if you implement voluntary programs with special offers that address the specific needs of community members.