This topic has been coming up a lot lately, and once again I feel that laws people mis-understand the cause and effect of mandating spaying and neutering.
First off, let me state, that I think most people who support Mandatory Spay/Neuter laws (MSN) want to do so because they believe it will save lives. I think they believe that if they pass the law, more people will sterilize their pets and thus, fewer pets will be born, and thus, fewer will end up at the shelter, and thus, fewer will die.
This is a logical progression.
Unfortunately, mandating sterilization doesn't have the same effect. I've seen it in action. And it's really horrific.
Yesterday, former Los Angeles Animal Services Manager Ed Boks posted a blog about why he plans to support MSN targeted at pit bulls in his new role at the Yavapai Humane Society. Previously, Boks had posted "statistics" about the situation, and then asked for people's thoughts and seems to support MSN targeted at pit bulls because that's the type of dog he sees most in his shelter. Then, based on the responses, deemed that most of the people that read his blog and responded supported MSN for pit bulls, it must be a good idea.
Let's start with some of Boks' research. Boks relies heavily on national information provided by the magazine "Animal People". I've written a lot about the magazine's editor, Merrit Clifton, and how his information is egregiously inaccurate and misleading, including:
- Covering bites only based on media reports, which is not statistically reliable
- Somehow having more than 20% of all his "data" for his 29 year study occur purely within a 19 month window
- And blatantly using misleading data from several communities to support his desire for mandating spay/neuter of 'pit bulls' including such egregious ideas as comparing the live release rates of pit bulls in the Indianapolis shelter to other communities and saying Indy killed more pit bulls than the other communities because they DIDN"T target pit bulls. The fact was though, that Indianapolis had a policy against adopting out pit bulls, meaning they didn't save ANY, which drove up their kill rates.
- Clifton claims that pit bulls make up only about 3% of the overall population of dogs in the US -- however, when you add up the numbers for all of the breeds he includes in his report (which includes 18 of the 20 most popular AKC dog breeds + many more breeds) he only accounts for less than 42% of the total dog population.
Boks fails to really analyze this information though, and then uses the latter report to justify why targeting 'pit bulls' might be a solution. According to Boks:
"Is there a way to end this disproportionate killing? Three US communities have tried two different solutions. San Francisco, Denver and Miami have each enacted breed-specific legislation. San Francisco requires pit bulls to be sterilized; Denver and Miami prohibit pit bulls....Cumulatively, San Francisco, Denver and Miami kill about 40% fewer dogs of any breed than the US National Average."
The "data" here comes from Clifton, and the cities were interesting choices.
Denver, which re-enacted its ban in 2005, has long been criticized for its mass killing of pit bulls. During a 2 year period, nearly 1500 pit bulls were systematically rounded up and killed at the Denver shelter, and reporters in the area captured pictures of piles of dead pit bulls as a result of their ordinance (warning, the pics at the link aren't for the faint of heart).
Meanwhile, just yesterday, the city of Miami continued to look at passing a significant new tax in order to help fund low cost spay/neuter services as the community still is having very high intakes into the city shelter (btw, I'm not necessarily against this new tax, but just pointing out that things aren't all groovy in Miami).
These are interestingly two of Boks' success stories.
However, he also mentions San Francisco, and actually seems to prefer taking their approach of mandating the spay/neuter of pit bulls as his third case study. I do want to dive a little deeper into that one.
Why People don't spay/neuter their pets
First off, let's note that after years of education about the importance of spaying and neutering, most people spay/neuter their pets. According to HSUS numbers, 78% of owned dogs, and 88% of owned cats are currently altered. However, when you look at "under-served" communities, roughly 80% of pets are unaltered and of those people who say they haven't altered their pet, 53% of them have actually never taken their pet to a veterinarian before (usually because of lack of money, lack of veterinarians in their community, or lack of transportation to get to the veterinarian -- or a combination of the 3).
These numbers are similar to the numbers from a Petsmart Charities study that notes that only 34% of pets are unaltered. According to this research, the three most common reasons people haven't altered their pets is:
1) Pet is too young for this operation (41%)
2) It is too expensive (32%)
3) Haven't gotten around to it/haven't had time (21%)
So in other words, if you provide people with affordable options, and make it convenient for them, they will alter their pets once they are old enough. No law required.
Failure of BSL/MSN in Kansas City
In 2005, Kansas City, MO passed a law mandating the spay/neuter of 'pit bulls' in an attempt to reduce the killing of pit bulls at the shelter.
During the next 24 months, the city saw a 76% increase in the number of 'pit bulls' killed at the city shelter. And while the number of dogs of all other breeds being killed was dropping, the number of pit bulls killed nearly doubled.
While the Kansas City area was growing its low cost services, there wasn't nearly enough outreach resources available. People didn't know about the law and didn't know about the services. So when people were found with unaltered dogs, they were rounded up, and taken to the shelter, where they were, more often than not, killed. Because of the increase in pit bull impounds, the law caused more than 2,000 incremental pit bulls to be seized and killed over a 2 year period than had things remained static. It was tragic. It was slaughter.
Most of these dogs came from homes in the inner city where resources are limited and had people been given the opportunity for services, they would have willingly complied. Unfortunately, with the mandatory law, their dogs were seized, and destroyed.
Lest anyone think that Kansas City was alone in this, Fox 16 in Little Rock captured excellent footage a few years ago of Little Rock Animals services and police rounding up pit bulls for non-compliance where they were taken to the city pound, and also killed. In the first year of having the ordinance, pit bull killings in the Little Rock shelter increased by 44%.
So let's get back to San Francisco.
There has been a fair amount written about San Francisco's breed-specific MSN. Some places have called it successful, while others continue to say that it has been at best, mixed results (most everyone I talk to close to the scenes have reported that things are definitely not as rosie as the reports would indicate). Here are the numbers from the first 19 months.
Even if we were to take San Francisco as a "success" story, it would appear that it would be more of the exception than the rule -- and this is in part to a lot of other factors involved in San Francisco -- including, a poverty rate of 15% which is below the state average, combined with a median HH Income that is 20% higher than the state average. So, there is more money in the community than normal, and less poverty - -meaning fewer people needed the low-cost services, and there was more available money to help subsidize it. Meanwhile, it's worth nothing that because of no kill efforts going on in the community, San Francisco, at the time, had one of the most well-developed low cost spay/neuter programs in the country, as well as one of the best pit bull outreach groups in the country.
So the availability of resources in San Francisco helped keep the law from being the disaster it has been in other places.
From examining dozens of cities across the country, one thing becomes completely clear. If there are substantial enough low cost spay/neuter services in a community, people will comply. This works with, or without a law. A mandatory spay/neuter law will not necessarily fail if there are significant low cost resources available -- however, if there are not enough resources, then it will be a complete and udder failure. So there is no value in passing the law because if the services are available, there will be success without it.
This is something Ed Boks should be familiar with. When he was in Los Angeles, he helped pass a law mandating the spay/neuter for all pets in the community. The law has not been a success. And the lack of availability of low-cost options for compliance created a disaster in the community, and in part, led to Boks' firiing at that position.
Cause and Effect
Recently, many of us in Kansas City were discussing the enforcement of the mandatory spay/neuter law for pit bulls in Kansas City (which, unfortunately, still exists). And the sad thing is, there is no "good" way to enforce it.
If people who don't comply have their animals seized, then animals with homes end up in a shelter where they have to be rehomed -- that's no good.
If people are given tickets, well, the primary reason they likely didn't alter in the first place was because of lack of money, so giving them a ticket only makes that situation worse, and more likely they'll have to surrender their pet.
Then, there are a few people who simply, for whatever reason, don't want to alter their pit bull. So what then? Do we ticket them until they wrack up fines they can't afford and then end up with a warrant for their arrest? Or should the dogs eventually be seized and taken to the shelter? And if they are, does that stop their desire for having an unaltered pit bull as a pet? And is that driving up the demand (and price) for pit bull puppies causing more to be bred, not less?
In the end, the idea of seizing pets and bringing them to a shelter in the name of enforcing a law designed to limit the number of pets coming into the shelter is counter-productive.
There is no good solution to it. Which is why I oppose the law which has already proven itself to be a failure. It's also why nearly every humane organization in the country mandating spay/neuter, in any form.
The solution that has proven itself effective in every situation is to provide adequate, accessible and targeted low-cost spay/neuter programs. Until people start basing their support of legislation based on results, not on what they "think" might work, or what "a lot of people who responded to my blog post think" or based on misinformation provided by numnuts, then we will continue to have to fight this battle. We must do better.