Neuter Laws

The Real Story Behind Mandatory Spay/Neuter

What's the real deal with neuter laws, also called Mandatory Spay/Neuter?

It’s well known that SPCAs, Humane Societies, dog pounds and rescue groups across the country are filled with unwanted pets. I see ads on TV full of mournful eyes and hopeful cocked ears, and I know that not all of these creatures will make it to a happy ending. I see exposés of awful concentration camp style breeding facilities that make me cry or want to punch somebody. And I think – how can such things be allowed to continue?

It seems logical that if no one could breed their dog or cat that these sad or atrocious images would go away.

This is the basic idea of neuter laws as promoted by two Animal Rights lobbying organizations in various locations around the country: the Humane Society of the Untied States (HSUS) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

The idea is that all dogs and cats would be legally required to be neutered or spayed and so no more breeding would take place, resulting in no more unwanted pets in SPCAs, Humane Societies, dog pounds or rescue groups. Right?

But reality is often messier than clean and easy to understand slogans.

The reality is:

1. A huge part of the problem, irresponsible pet ownership, would be ignored by this law.

2. Animals would come in from elsewhere because there always will be a demand for pets from the general public.

3. These animals, coming from other states or even other countries, would be far less regulated, well bred or healthy than pets found locally.

4. The breed guardians, the local hobby and show breeders who use genetic testing and extensive training to bring out the best in their dogs would be eliminated.

As a matter of fact, individual municipalities who have tried neuter laws do not find they have eliminated unwanted pets. They fail, in fact, to make even an appreciable dent in the problem.

So, neuter laws don’t work. But is there any program out there which has made a dent in the problem of unwanted pets?

Let me introduce you to the Calgary model.

Calgary is an oil boom town in Alberta Canada with a population over a million (and growing fast) and a canine population of over 120,000 animals. It has the lowest “kill rate” (animals euthanized) of any city in North America. Bill Bruce from Calgary Animal Services says that his program is built, not on traditional animal control regulations, but on four pillars of responsible pet ownership, preventing aggression in dogs, humane education and how to make licensing work as a key to a no-kill community.

What does it mean to be a responsible pet owner in Calgary?

1. First of all, it means licensing and permanently identifying your animal. Bill Bruce states that in Calgary they are returning 88% of dogs to owners within 24 hours, and that many dogs are driven straight to their owners by the officer. Returning lost animals this quickly means smaller shelters needed.

2. Spaying and neutering, though NOT mandatory, is an important part of responsible pet ownership. Effective spay and neuter programs, especially with low cost options for those who need it, reduces the occurrence of casually produced, unwanted animals. These are far more effective than mandatory spay/neuter programs in reducing unwanted pet populations.

3. Pet owners need to take proper care of their dog. Animal Services can help with training classes and information.

4. Many animals end up at the shelter because their owners have not trained them to be model citizens and let them roam or be aggressive. Animal Services can again help with information on proper training and can refer to classes or literature. Having a dog is a responsibility for the life of the animal and is not to be lightly undertaken. Enforcement should only be aimed at enforcing the four basic principles.

Calgary has worked hard on these sensible ideas, with the goal of reducing animal shelters to the status of temporary housing for lost animals. They are obviously on the right track, as their success has been impressive. Dog bites are way down, and 88% of all lost pets are returned to their owners. Calgary has no breed specific restrictions and no limits on the number of pets one may have in a household. And most remarkably, the Calgary program is not funded by taxes but by licensing fees.

The sweet cocked ear, the hopeful look of abandoned pets – who can remain dispassionate? But high emotions can lead to decisions made in haste and regretted at leisure. Mandatory spay/neuter seems like such an obvious solution to a complex problem. Perhaps the truth isn’t quite that simple.

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