Sunday, May 03, 2009

Mandatory Spay Neuter. Is it a good idea?

A mandatory spay/neuter could force sterilization of dogs like my Zipper, Ch Regatta It's About Time, OA, AXJ, RS-O, JS-O, UAg1. Zipper is the #5 agility Min Pin in the country.

Columbia's Board of Health, along with the Central Missouri Humane Society, are contemplating passing an ordinance which would require all pets in Columbia to be spayed or neutered.

It sounds good on the surface. We have, according to CMHS and the , a pet overpopulation problem. We need to take care of that problem. If everyone would just spay/neuter, the problem would go away, right? No new dogs and cats being born would mean much less burden on Animal Control and CMHS. The sun would shine, and the birds would sing. All would be right in Columbia.

Or would it?

The first and most important question to ask when contemplating a new law is, will it work? Addendums to that question include, how would it be paid for, who, if anyone, would be harmed, who would benefit, and how would it affect the local economy?

Unfortunately, a mandatory spay/neuter law would not work, which is why similar moves by other municipalities all over the U.S. have failed. Why wouldn't it work? Oh let us count the ways.

First, its totally unenforceable. There is no way to ensure that every pet in Columbia is altered. Inspectors would have to go from house to house on a search. And if it's tied into licensing, that won't work either. People simply will not license their dogs. If people who don't want to spay/neuter know that if they go to the vet they'll be required to do so, they will not go to the vet. Thus more animals will become sick and not get treatment and even more will remain unaltered.

There's no way to pay for it. The costs for such a program would far outstrip any license fees gained, because, see above, compliance with licensing would falter. Of course draconian fees could be instituted for those who wish their animals to remain intact, but that too discourages participation. Even worse, it punishes responsible breeders and forces those of us who DO take care of our dogs to pay for the idiots who don't.

A moment to discuss responsible breeders. Responsible breeders are dog lovers who have a hobby, usually showing dogs and also occasionally breeding. Most breed very few litters (I've bred a whopping two litters since I got my first Doberman in 1981). No responsible breeder ever breeds for money. Responsible breeders have a deep passionate admiration for their breed or breeds, and when they do decide to whelp a litter it's always with the mandate of improving the gene pool of the breed as a whole. It's never, ever for money. Responsible breeders have long waiting lists for puppies. Responsible breeders do not have dogs that end up in shelters, because responsible breeders are willing to take back any dog they have produced, at any time, for any reason, no question asked. We want to know *exactly* what happens to each and every life we produce and we are dead serious about it.

Responsible breeders do genetic health tests on their dogs prior to breeding. They show their dogs to ensure they have correct temperament and structure. It's a hobby. And just like Golf or Fishing, you throw money at it. You rarely if ever get money back. Most responsible breeders are far from wealthy. Finally and perhaps most importantly, responsible breeders are just as concerned as anyone else about the problem of unwanted dogs, and a huge majority of them are involved in rescue in some way or another.

Okay, back to why this won't work. On top of not being enforceable and being very expensive you just can't legislate morality. The idiots down the road from me breeding their pit bulls every six months are not going to obey some law. They're going to keep breeding.

And let's talk economic impact. Columbia holds a large conformation dog show as well as several agility trials each year. Mandatory Spay/Neuter could force relocation of those events, which have a multi-million dollar impact on the Columbia economy. It would also hurt dog training businesses such as CCSC who train dogs for show as well as pet companions.

And the question is, what is the problem in Columbia? Is it truly that there are too many pets and too few homes? Or is it that irresponsible owners are not properly taking care of and training their pets? Is it that too many owners think of their pets as disposable commodities, to be discarded at the first hint of inconvenience? I don't have any numbers (and would be glad to see any) but I bet that the number of actual puppy litters turned in to CMHS is fairly small. I bet most dogs turned into CMHS are adolescents to old age. Which means they HAD A HOME. But that home dumped them. If that's true, then it's not that there are too few homes. It's that there are too few responsible homes. And mandatory spay/neuter, even if it worked, would not even begin to address that issue.

So what is the solution? I think it's three-fold.

First, the city should work together with the University of Missouri Veterinary Teaching Hospital to offer free spay/neuter clinics. Not low-cost, free. No questions asked. To pay for it, grants could be applied for and licensing fees could go up a moderate amount (perhaps $2 or $3).

Second, the city should use the internet and other dissemination that's free or very low cost to launch a publicity campaign to help inform the community and encourage participation.

Third, the city and CMHS should work proactively with training centers like CCSC to offer discounted training opportunities for people with pets. A dog that is trained is far less likely to be given up than a dog who is untrained. Many owners give up their dogs because they simply do not have the tools they need to deal with behaviors they don't want.

Positive proactive action will get results. Punitive laws with no teeth and no chance of effectiveness will not.

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