I recently read an article that Madison, WI was considering a new law that would mandate the spay/neuter (MSN) of all pit bulls in their community. I am writing to you unsolicited in order to encourage you to NOT pass this MSN legislation.
I am the President of the Kansas City Pet Project. Our organization currently operates the Kansas City, MO Animal Shelter and cares for the more than 8500 animals per year that enter our open-admission shelter. We are also the largest shelter in the Kansas City, MO area. We took over the shelter contract in January 2012.
Kansas City was, to my knowledge, the second city in the United States to enact a MSN law for pit bulls. The law has led to no increase in public safety, and only an increase in the number of dogs killed at the Kansas City, MO shelter.
First of all, please let me note that I do support the need for people to spay/neuter their pets as a means of population control. But after having watched the results of a mandatory law in Kansas City, and studying the impacts of similar laws in other communities, I have reached the very strong conclusion that mandating spay/neuter is not a viable solution to the problem. And counter-intuitively, actually makes the problem worse. At this point, most national animal welfare agencies agree.
Based on data from the Humane Society of the United States, 78% of all owned dogs, and 88% of all owned cats, are currently spayed or neutered.(i) However, the numbers are very different when you look at underserved populations. Based on research from PetSmart Charities, the primary reason that people have not altered their pets is because it’s too expensive.(ii)
According to the Humane Society of the United States Pets for Life Program, in a survey of more than 20,000 families they have touched through inner-city outreach programs, 77% of all people they connected with have pets that have never even seen a veterinarian. However, when those with unaltered pets were offered free or low-cost spay/neuter services, 74% agreed to spay/neuter voluntarily, with 90% following through on their appointments. (iii)
However, when you look at the MSN law in Kansas City, the law had a different impact than the inner-city outreach programs. When you look at many neighborhoods in Kansas City, MO, there are many where poverty rates are very high, and access to affordable vet care is very limited if not non-existent. Mandating spay/neuter doesn’t change the fact many cannot afford the surgery; it simply makes it harder for those with limited resources to comply. Many of these individuals live in overall “resource deserts”, where they have limited availability of resources, and may not have any local access to Veterinary Care. Add to that, many people do not own cars and taxis and buses do not allow pets on board.
Take a family in Kansas City, MO that owns a well-cared for pit bull but don’t yet have the money to alter that pet and very likely do not know there is a law mandating spay/neuter. If animal control discovers them in non-compliance, they will have to pay a $500 fine for non-compliance on top of the surgery cost. The end result is often due to lack of money, a pet with a home ends up seized and impounded into the already crowded shelter system. The goal of mandatory spay/neuter is to reduce shelter intake. But in most instances fails at that goal, and only succeeds at breaking the bond families have with their pets.
Kansas City, MO passed its law mandating the spay/neuter of pit bulls in August 2006. In 2005, KCMO euthanized 981 pit bulls at the shelter. In 2006, KCMO euthanized 1353 pit bull type dogs. In 2007, the first complete year of the ordinance it euthanized 1,722; in 2008, 1002 were euthanized. This was at a time when euthanasia for all non-pit bull type dogs was decreasing, yet more than 1100 additional pit bulls lost their lives in the next 3 years mostly because their owners were unable to comply with the law. iv.
Some may contend that a mandatory law is necessary because some people simply will not alter their pets, even if the resources are made available. However, these people have not played out the enforcement scenario. In Kansas City, because it is mandatory for pit bulls to be spayed/neutered, if someone refused to comply (regardless of reason), their dog will be confiscated and taken to the shelter. This doesn’t replace the owner’s desire for an unaltered dog, so they are now forced to go out and buy another one. This not only increased the demand for (illegally) bred pit bulls, it also just creates a perpetual cycle of dogs being taken from homes and to the shelter only to be replaced by new dogs. This process has been going on for 9 years in Kansas City, and still, 75% of the pit bulls that come into our shelter are still unaltered (many are there simply because they are unaltered).
In addition to these practical concerns, there has been an increasing amount of research over the past 5 years that is showing a strong correlation between juvenile spay/neuter and various negative health impacts. Including significantly higher incidences of cancers like mast cell cancer, hemangiosarcoma, and Lymphoma, as well as developmental issues that lead to higher incidences of Cranial Cruciate Ligament tears and Hip Dysplasia.(v) For these reasons, the Veterinary community has spoken out against government agencies mandating sterilization prior to a certain age in favor of the decision of when a sterilization takes place be left to a pet owner and veterinarian to decide.
Based on our experience, laws mandating the spay/neuter of dogs and cats have proven themselves to be ineffective in reducing shelter populations, unfairly target low-income homes, and potentially to have negative long-term health impacts on pets. No implementation of mandatory spay/neuter has proven successful with results ranging from no impact to substantial increases in shelter killing.
For these reasons, most respected national animal welfare organizations no longer support laws that mandate spay/neuter of pets. Their position statements are noted in the appendix.
Thank you for your time and consideration and I urge you to opposed mandatory spay/neuter in any form, and instead, focus efforts on helping low-income families to alter their pets instead of punishing them for being poor.
President, KC Pet Project
i. Humane Society of the United States http://pblnn.com/resources/for-advocates-2/28-cory-smith-on-effective-alternatives-to-breed-discriminatory-legislation.html
ii. PetSmart Charities http://www.petsmartcharities.org/resources/Ipsos-Webinar-11-27-12.pdf
iii. Humane Society of the United States - Pets For Life Data, 2014
iv. Dr. Nancy Kay, DVM http://speakingforspot.com/blog/2014/01/26/new-research-that-raises-questions-about-current-neutering-recommendations/?utm_content=buffer59bef&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer – article is fully cited, with complete, peer-reviewed studies specific to Rottweilers, Golden Retrievers and Vizslas provided within the article.
National Organizations Oppose Mandatory Sterilization Laws
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
“The ASPCA does not support mandatory spay/neuter laws, however, based on currently available scientific information, the ASPCA strongly supports spay/neuter as an effective means to reduce companion animal overpopulation. In particular, the ASPCA supports voluntary, affordable spay/neuter programs for owned pets, Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs for feral cats.”
Best Friends Animal Society
“One of the goals of the city council should be to providing for public safety, in the most effective and comprehensive way possible. Everyone benefits from a safe society – both people and pets. Communities should be protecting against any dangerous dog, no matter the breed. Because breed discrimination fails to enhance public safety, Best Friends Animal Society opposes any breed “specific” of discriminatory measures, including mandatory sterilization for certain breeds.”
Letter submitted from Best Friends Animal Society
No Kill Advocacy Center
“Studies show that the primary reasons people do not sterilize their pets are cost and lack of access to spay/neuter services. The same is true for licensing. The higher the cost, the lower the rate of compliance. As a result, lower-income households with animals, those who are unaware of these laws and truly irresponsible people will not comply in significant numbers….furthermore, legislation may be worded so that the result of non-compliance is the impoundment… of the animal.”
American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)
“The AVMA does not support regulations or legislation mandating the spay/neuter of privately owned, non-shelter dogs and cats. Although spaying and neutering helps control dog and cat populations, mandatory approaches may contribute to pet owners avoiding licensing, rabies vaccination and veterinary care for pets and may have unintended consequences.
“Although spay/neuter is an important part of effective population control programs, and may benefit individual dogs and cats if performed at the appropriate time, whether and when to spay/neuter specific animals requires the application of science and professional judgment to ensure the best outcome for veterinary patients and owners.”
American College of Theriogenologists (ACT) & Society for Theriogenology (SFT)
“The ACT and SFT believe that companion animals not intended for breeding should be spayed or neutered, however, both organizations believe that the decision to spay or neuter a pet must be made on a case by case basis, taking into consideration the pet’s age, breed, sex, intended use, household environment and temperament. The use of generalized rules concerning gonadectomy (removal of overies and testes) is not in the best interest of the health or well-being of pets or their owners”
California Sheltering White Paper
“While finding people to adopt dogs and cats is crucial, reducing the supply of incoming animals is the only way to end the pet overpopulation problem. The stakeholder group discusses the pros and cons of changing state laws to increase fines and penalties for not altering pets. However, compelling evidence exists to show demand for affordable spay/neuter services is high, particularly in underserved areas. Failure to spay or neuter is more correlated with limited access to affordable and proximate services than it is with resistance to sterilizing pets. Efforts to increase resources and outreach in communities where spay/neuter rates are low should be the focus."