Recently, and organization in Missouri (who's executive director lives 200 miles away in St. Louis), has been making some false claims about the "success" of Kansas City's law mandating the spay/neuter of pit bulls. Given these misleading, and erroneous statements, I feel like I need to officially state for the record, the impact the laws have had here.
The law has not been effective -- at reducing intake of pit bulls, at decreasing shelter euthanasia, or at improving public safety. While it is true that total shelter intake has decreased following the passing of the ordinance in August, 2006, and that euthanasia has declined considerably, it is because of the hard work of organizations in the area in providing low cost spay/neuter services, and the new shelter operators under the direction of Kansas City Pet Project and more progressive animal control policies that help keep pets in homes vs being seized - -Not the law, that has created this success.
Instead, the law has created an undue burden on low-income pet owners, and had a negative impact on the reputation of the types of dogs being singled out, as well as the potential negative health impact it has had for these breeds.
Given this, here are some thoughts and statistics on Kansas City's BSL/MSN that I feel are important to share with others so that people can understand the true impact the law has had in Kansas City.
First of all, let me note that Kansas City’s law mandating the spay/neuter of pit bulls is a poorly idealized law that unfairly targets low-income pit bull owners across the city and is not having the desired impact on minimizing shelter populations, and counter-intuitively, in our experience, makes the problem worse. And at this point, there is almost no professional support for laws mandating the spay/neuter of any type of animal.
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. However, the numbers are very different when you look at underserved populations. For pet owners who have older animals (non-puppies), the primary reason that people have not altered their pets is because it’s too expensive.
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. Mandating spay/neuter doesn’t change the fact most in these neighborhoods 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 all resources, including access to Veterinary Care.
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. Spay/Neuter Kansas City (our area low cost spay/neuter clinic) has seen an even higher rate of participation and follow through locally.
People generally want to spay/neuter their pets, however, punitive legislation makes this harder, not easier for them. Spay/Neuter Kansas City notes that only about 1% of all of their spay/neuter surgeries in 2013 were performed because people wanted to comply with the city’s mandating spay/neuter for pit bulls law. The other 99% were people voluntarily choosing their low cost services.
Take a family in Kansas City, MO that owns a pit bull. They care for their dog properly, 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 then not only have to pay for the cost of surgery, but will have to pay a $500 fine for non-compliance with the law on top of the surgery cost. The end result is often that due to lack of money, the pet is surrendered to the shelter. This means that a pet with a home is made homeless and ends up at an already over-crowded shelter. The goal of mandatory spay/neuter is to reduce shelter intake and in most instances fails at that goal.
This played out dramatically in Kansas City after it passed its law mandating the spay/neuter (MSN) 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 -- with the ordinance in place for just 1/2 of the year. In 2007, the first complete year of the ordinance it euthanized 1,722; in 2008, 1002. 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 and the dogs were taken from their homes and euthanized at the shelter.
KCMO Dogs Euthanized 2005-2009
In 2009, euthanasia rates finally began to decline after the city chose to privatize shelter operations vs running it themselves. While the total shelter intake has dropped from about 10,500 per year in 2005 to 8,500 per year in 2013, the number of pit bulls that are impounded remains mostly unchanged.
According to the shelter data at Kansas City Pet Project, pit bulls make up 12% of the dogs that are brought in as strays found by the public, and 12% of the dogs that are brought in as owner surrenders. However, pit bulls make up 24% of the dogs brought to us by animal control. In other words, pit bulls come into the shelter at twice the rate from animal control officers as they do from the general public.
In the first quarter of 2013, pit bulls made up 13% of all dogs impounded at the shelter. However, in May, we received notification that animal control was going to once again begin impounding pit bulls for non-compliance with the MSN law after a two week extension (instead of giving additional tickets for non-complaince). In 2nd quarter and 3rd quarter, pit bulls made up 23% of the total dogs that were impounded. This dramatic increase, along with the timing of the notification from animal control seems like a very strong link.
Based on the data available, Kansas City’s MSN for pit bulls ordinance continues to be something that is causing unnecessary hardship for low-income pet owners in our community. When they are offered the opportunity for low cost spay/neuter services, the vast majority eagerly participate. However, the city’s punitive approach to targeting low-income pet owners continues to be a detriment to those living in these communities, as well as the relationship between animal control and the community.
Meanwhile, the Kansas City ordinance requires that all pit bulls be altered at 8 weeks -- which completely ignores the potential health impacts of performing the surgeries at such a young age.
What has been successful in other communities is to help service this family by providing low cost spay/neuter service. We are very fortunate in Kansas City to have a great organization like Spay/Neuter Kansas City (SNKC) to help with this service. But if the family doesn’t know about this service or the law itself, they may not come into compliance. A more effective solution would be to take the resources used to punitively enforce this law and use them to increase awareness of low-cost services. This has proven to be the most effective approach in communities throughout the nation.
Laws requiring animals be spayed or neutered are a punitive approach to animal control policy, that unfairly targets low-income people, most of whom want to spay/neuter their pets but lack the resources to do so. As such, nearly all respected national animal welfare organizations no longer support laws that mandate spay/neuter of pets.
Claiming that Kansas City's ordinance is successful, which has cost thousand of homes their family pets, thousands of dogs their lives and still creates a hardship on the shelter and low income families, particularly in light of other, more successful models, is just reckless. And as such, all major animal sheltering and spay/neuter organizations in our area want the city's law to change.
Hopefully it will someday soon.