Last week, the Memphis City Council passed a new law requiring that all pets be spayed or neutered. The bill exempts dogs used for law enforcement, animals registered with the AKC and Cat Fancier Associatoin, and those that based on a veterinarian's recommendation should not be altered for health reasons. It also allows owners who want to keep their animals intact to pay a one-time $200 fee to get a permit to do so.
After the meeting, the crowd was split on whether this was a good law or not - but many animal welfare advocates were excited with the new law because they felt like it would help control the 'pet overpopulation' problem that they say led to the killing of over 16,000 pets a year and called this a progressive solution to the problem.
It's not. The law is destined to fail like it has elsewhere, and may be even worse in Memphis.
Research consistently points out that one of the primary reasons people don't have their pets altered is because of cost. For low income pet owners, the cost of spay/neuter is cost prohibitive, and many are not aware of low cost spay/neuter options in their communities.
Unfortunately, Memphis has a huge problem with poverty -- with over 26% of the entire city population living below the poverty line -- and 12.5% living below 50% of the poverty line (both more than double the national average). Tack on the city's unemployment rate of 11% (also well above the national average) and it seems reasonable to believe that cost is even more of a factor in Memphis than it would be elsewhere.
We know that there is demand for low-cost spay/neuter, and fortunately there is a low cost option in Memphis -- however, when a reader of this blog called the Mid South Spay/Neuter Service last week she was told it that if she made an appointment she would not be able to get a large male dog altered until October 20 and for a large female dog 'sometime in December'. I'm not pointing this out criticize MSSNS, only to point out that there is already excess demand in the community for low cost spay/neuters than there are the resources to provide them.
Yesterday, I wrote about how we need to help people with low incomes to find ways to retain their pets -- and providing low cost spay/neuter is part of this. However, by creating a law to MAKE them do what we want (vs providing services to help them do it), we make it even harder for people who are struggling to keep their animals in the first place to keep their pets.
That recipe will lead to failure -- and more dogs and cats seized from homes and thus, dead in the shelter.
As Donna wisely said in a blog post this summer, "To decrease euthanasia rates and curb irresponsible ownership, we need cost effective solutions to embrace the human-animal bond, rather than tear it down."
And as the animal welfare community continues to try to punish people into compliance, instead of HELPING them to do the right thing, we, as a community continue to tear down the human-animal bond, by ripping animals from homes from people who cannot afford to comply with the law.
The end result in Memphis is sadly predictable. Similar laws have led to increased killing in Los Angeles, Kansas City, Little Rock and even led to greater intake in Asheville, NC. Because of these failings, Mandatory Spay/Neuter is not supported by the AVMA, ASPCA, Best Friends, American Humane, or the No Kill Advocacy Center.
Voluntary spay/neuter efforts still work best. And helping people to be better pet owners is still better than trying to punish them into being better pet owners.
It's a shame the animals in Memphis will be the victims of yet another ill-advised law.