Tomorrow night, the city of Ypsilanti, MI will be discussig the possibility of mandating spay/neuter for all "pit bulls" in the community. While most in animal welfare should be highly upset by the proposal, the area's largest animal welfare organization, the Humane Society of Huron Valley, is actually supporting the proposed law.
Last week, the Executive Director of HSHV wrote a lengthy editorial for the Ann Arbor newspaper about why they support the law requiring altering of 'pit bulls' in the community. And yes, I agree with their overall premise that spaying and neutering outreach is extremely important, and I do believe that HSHV has good intentions with their pushing of the law, the last paragraph of their article is actually really disturbing on a lot of levels. Here's what it says:
A Risk Worth Taking
Frankly, we have no crystal ball that tells us this ordinance will work for certain and we are not so arrogant as to believe we are absolutely right. We are, however, 100 percent certain that only big acts will solve this big problem and we applaud the Ypsilanti Township for its leadership. Every public policy is initally a gamble....
What is so disturbing about this is it appears as if the Ypsilanti community, and the HSHV, think they are on their own little island of animal welfare policy. Instead of going out and exploring what solutions to their problems others have tried and HAD SUCCESS with, they are going out and recreating policies that have actually FAILED in other places. There is no reason to recreate the wheel here. Most policies that you can think of in animal welfare have been tried before; some with great success, and others with great failure. Your city's situation is not unique.
By making decisions based on the SUCCESS of other communities, you can know with fair accuracy, that the policy will work for you. But making decisions based on policies that have failed elsewhere and hoping they will work out for you is either a) insanity or b) completely ignoring that it's been tried elsewhere.
And mandatory spay/neuter policies, whether for all breeds or breed-specific, have been failures everywhere.
For about the past decade, animal welfare advocates have been trying to get the word out to the general public about the importance of spaying and neutering their pets. With so many dogs and cats dying in shelters, the idea of getting pets altered so we can prevent unwanted litters is certainly appealing.
The educating about spay/neuter – along with a large number of low-cost spay/neuter programs around the country -- has really helped. While shelters in this country used to kill 40 million pets annually as recently as 1978, we have successfully reduced that number to around 4 million today. The success is great, but 4 million dead animals is still too many.
Out of desperation, many animal welfare advocates are looking to mandatory spay/neuter laws as the solution to end the killing. And rationally it makes sense. The logic is that if you can legislate spay/neuter, and force people to alter their pets, we can finally end the killing in our shelters.
It makes sense, logically. And six years ago I would have told you I supported mandatory sterilization laws. But I’ve since changed my stance – because unfortunately, mandatory spay/neuter laws do not have a positive effect in decreasing the number of animals killed in shelters. In fact, they tend to have the opposite effect.
In August of 2006, the city passed decided it need to pass an ordinance that mandated that all ‘pit bulls’ be spayed or neutered. In 2006, the city ended up killing 4,531 dogs – 1,353 (30%) of them were ‘pit bulls’.
In 2007, the city killed 4,601 dogs, 1,722 of them ‘pit bulls’.
So from 2005 (no MSN ordinance) to 2007, the number of ‘pit bulls’ killed in the shelter increased 76% -- including killing more than 1100 more ‘pit bulls’ in just 18 months of the ordinance being in effect. This is an amazing number given that the supporters of the ordinance pushed it through with the idea and promise that it would DECREASE shelter killing.
It didn’t. In fact, it did just the opposite. Meanwhile, through the work of the city’s low-cost VOLUNTARY spay/neuter programs, the city was able to reduce the killing of all non-pit bull breeds (who weren’t covered by the mandatory ordinance) by 5.5%.
In 2008, the number of dogs and 'pit bulls' dropped pretty dramatically, in large part due to a cut in animal control budget. However, the number of 'pit bulls' killed was still higher than it was in the base year of 2005.
These types of results are not unique to Kansas City.
In 2007, Little Rock, AR killed 2,540 dogs, 823 (32%) of them were ‘pit bulls’.
In May of 2008, Little Rock began enforcing its ordinance that mandated the spay/neuter of ‘pit bulls’. In 2008, the total number of dogs killed was 2.847, of which 1,188 were ‘pit bulls’. So again, while the total number of dogs killed in the shelter of non-targeted breeds dropped by 3%, the total number of ‘pit bulls’ – the targeted breed who they once again were promised they would limit the killing of – increased by 44% -- 350 total dogs.
So how’d this happen?
Studies show that the number one reason people don’t alter their animals is because they cannot afford to do so. This is why low cost sterilization programs are so important.
When laws are put in place to mandate altering, often people with lower or fixed incomes are most impacted by the ordinances. When they get caught not complying with the ordinance, they receive a heavy fine and are required to alter their dog. Often, they cannot afford the fines and the sterilization and are forced to give up their dog. The dog then gets added into the shelter system and eventually euthanized.
Other people – for a variety of reasons – do not want to have their dogs altered. When they fail to comply, they end up with their dog confiscated – entering the shelter system and eventually killed. Meanwhile, this owner wants to own a dog, so goes out and buys a new one (unaltered) and further encourages the backyard breeding market.
So in essence, the ordinance mandating sterilization, gives animal control a reason to seize animals, bring them into the shelter, where they get caught up in the system, and are eventually killed. Meanwhile, the people who still want a dog end up buying a new dog and create further demand for the dogs that are being bred – the exact opposite effect that the law was intended to have. In 2009 -- four years after the MSN ordinance was passed, 25% of all 'pit bulls' that made their way into the Kansas City, MO shelter made their way into the shelter solely because of the ordinance.
Given the results of Little Rock and Kansas City’s MSN ordinances, the results in Los Angeles should not be at all surprising.
In 2001, the city of Los Angeles euthanized 22,675 dogs. Over the next 6 years, with a steady stream of double digit declines in euthanasia, they were able to get the number of dogs killed in their shelter down to 6,051. That’s six straight years of double digit declines in euthanasia. In January 2008, the city passed an ordinance that mandates that all dogs be spayed or neutered. Similar to what happened in Little Rock and in Kansas City, the number of dogs brought into the shelter increased (by 19%) and the total number that were killed went up to 7,518 – a 24% increase.
So a city that had seen steady declines in shelter euthanasia for nearly a decade, passes an ordinance, and it reversed that trend to cause it to go up by double digit percentages.
In 2009, the trend continued, with another 1.5% increase in shelter killing following the passing of the ordinance.
There are better alternatives that actually do work. Many, many organizations have had strong success by offering targeted, low-cost sterilizations for people in low-income areas. By targeting this outreach, they are able to help those most in need, and get dogs altered. By becoming a partner in the community to HELP, not punish, low-income owners, these groups have been able to not just solve problems with short-term altering, but have also had a positive impact in changing the overall attitude in these neighborhoods toward sterilization. And that has long-term benefits.
However, mandatory laws have never had the desired impact. Because of this, virtually every national organization is opposed to breed-specific laws. Here are what these organizations have to say:
AVMA - "The AVMA does not support regulations or legislation mandating 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 their pets, and may have other unintended consequences"
ASPCA - "In contrast, the ASPCA is not aware of any credible evidence demonstrating a statistically significant enhancement in the reduction of shelter intake or euthanasia as a result of the implementation of a mandatory spay/neuter law"
Best Friends - "Best Friends does not support mandatory spay-neuter legislation as a method of pet population control"
American Humane - "We believe in general that expenses associated with mandatory spay/neuter legilsation would be beter spent on low-or no-cost spay/neuter programs"
No Kill Advocacy Center - At a time when shelters are killing a majority of the pets they are taking in they are successfully seeking legislation that gives them even more authority to impound even more animals. Since they claim to have little choice than to kill most animals, the animals now in violation of the new law or ordinance have little hope of getting out alive. It is hardly surprising that many of these juristictions actually see impound and kill rates increase after passage of these laws.
There is no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to animal welfare legislation. There are plenty of case studies out there to show us solutions that will work -- vs trying to rehash policies that have failed in virtually all incidences. My hope is that the folks at the HSHV and in Ypsilanti will seek out alternatives from other cities vs trying to reinvent the wheel on their own. Advocate Stephanie Feldstein has provided a lot of options based on programs that have worked in other places that would be a great starting point for the folks in Ypsilanti. Meanwhile, Change.org has a petition set up that will also send a message to the city and to HSHV.