Why Not Mandatory Spay/Neuter? Because it Just Doesn’t Work

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Recently the Dogsbite.org folks and PeTA have been on the bandwagon for mandatory spay/neuter for pit bull type dogs.  It seems logical to people who aren’t in the animal welfare trenches.  If there are too many pit bull terrier type dogs in shelters, then the best thing would be to make sure no more are being bred.  Right?  This argument has pitted (pun intended) many dedicated animal welfare folks against each other.  And many people who advocate for voluntary spay/neuter are in the uncomfortable position of arguing against laws requiring sterilization.  Especially when it is breed specific. Why?  Why would we fight against something that seems like it would fix the problem?

Because, to put it bluntly, these laws just don’t work.  And they have some pretty severe unintended consequences.  Historically, studies show that mandatory spay/neuter laws actually increase shelter intake and pet euthanization…..exactly the problems these laws are intended to address.  People often have good intentions, but without services in place, you can actually end up causing more harm. Every single Animal Welfare group in the country has come out strongly against mandatory spay/neuter, with the exception of PeTA.  Let’s look at some of the reasons why.

  1. Enforcement…..mandatory spay/neuter laws are basically unenforceable. Especially with female dogs/cats.  No town or city has the money available to track and monitor every single pet in every single home.  When Dallas passed a MSN law in 2008 their Animal Control costs went up 22% in a year.  And Santa Cruz’ law caused a 56% increase in their animal control costs.  That money would have been better spent offering low-cost voluntary pet neutering.

2. Health/welfare concerns:  If a family cannot or will not fix their pet, they often decide to take their pet underground.  That means their animals are not getting walks, routine medical care (including immunizations), training or socialization.  We know that training, socialization, and appropriate medical care are all things that help decrease aggression in dogs. If people start hiding their animals, there is going to be increased incidents of canine violence and an increased incidence of rabies, parvo and other communicable diseases.

3. Increased shelter intake and subsequent increased death rates.  When people who cannot afford surgery for their dog are cited for failure to comply, they often have no choice but to turn their animal into the shelter.  And the same is true of people claiming their dogs who have been picked up as strays. If they can’t afford to fix their animal, they are not going to try and reclaim them.  Both of these situations lead to increased euthanizations.

4. Breed specific MSN laws further stigmatize pit bull terrier type dogs, making it harder for the dogs in a shelter to find loving homes.

5. Thugs and criminals, the people most likely to abuse pit bull terrier type laws are also the ones least likely to pay attention to any law.  Even though dog fighting is a felony, it continues to be a problem.  No dog fighter is going to S/N his dogs.

6. MSN laws without providing low-cost, accessible services punish lower income pet owners much more severely than middle income families.  A routine spay at full cost can easily cost $200…an inconceivable cost for someone on a fixed income.  These laws punish people who do not have the funds to pay for surgery.

7. Studies have shown that low cost, easily accessible spay/neuter clinics vastly increase the number of dogs fixed in communities.  Education is also key, especially in non-English speaking communities.

Bottom line: mandatory spay/neuter laws don’t work, make the problem worse, and punish good pet owners. The best antidote to shelter deaths is low cost clinics, easily accessible to everyone in the community, and incentives for compliance.

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