It's become the near-automatic response of mandatory spay/neuter proponents that anyone who opposes forced sterlization of owned pets is a greedy breeder, animal-hater, or just plain stupid. I know, because that's what gets said to Gina or to me any time we write about our real problem with these kinds of laws: They don't work. They don't lower the number of animals entering shelters, and they don't lower the number of animals dying in shelters.
"Of course they work!" shout the MSN fanatics. "If these animals are never born, they can never end up in shelters and thus, can't die there! You greedy breeder animal hater stupid person!"
When you point out that mandatory spay/neuter never has worked anywhere it's been tried, they insist that's because it simply hasn't been tried on a large enough scale, or rigorously enough. You know, the idea that when something isn't working you should just do it harder and more often, AKA, "the definition of insanity"?
Here's the latest example of the fact that mandatory spay/neuter laws are complete and utter failures in saving animal lives, saving animal control dollars, or cutting back on shelter deaths -- or even increasing the number of spayed and neutered pets.
Last June, the city of Los Angeles passed one of the most draconian mandatory spay/neuter laws in America. It required virtually every dog and cat in the city to be sterilized by the age of 4 months. Its proponents insisted this was the only way the city could reach its "no kill goal," because preventing births is the only way to prevent deaths.
On March 30, the Los Angeles Spay/Neuter Advisory Committee, fifteen animal experts including a veterinarian and two former commissioners of L.A. Animal Services appointed by the Los Angeles City Council to investigate the law, reported that it's not working:
One of the five “Performance Metrics” identified for LAAS in the fiscal year 2008/09 budget is, “increase in number of spay/neuters.” Yet the same fiscal year budget reflects a smaller increase in spay/neuter assistance than in the two prior years, and LAAS’ estimate of spay/neuter assistance for low income residents increased in the 2008/09 fiscal year from 17,493 to 18,100, or less than 3.5%.
Why isn't it working? Failure to plan, failure to offer services to low income pet owners, failure to research needs and resources in the community prior to passing this legislation or even after its passage, failure to reach out to the community, failure to target services, failure to train employees, failure to provide minimal let alone good customer service, failure to recruit and train volunteers... the list goes on:
While the Committee’s Employee Surveys are showing employee desire for spay/neuter training and success, management’s other priorities and processes have not been conducive to spay/neuter success.
No employee is designated as responsible for spay/neuter program enhancement, nor is any employee tasked with seeking spay/neuter partners, resources or funds.
A long-standing issue raised by the Commission, employees and the public is that LAAS does not follow up on animals released from LAAS shelters on medical spay/neuter deferral. Follow-up helps ensure that the animal gets spayed or neutered when the animal regains health, while leaving this issue unaddressed has created a significant risk of preventable reproduction for many animals over past years.
Management decision-making is handicapped by not taking advantage of data analysis to identify and plan for spay/neuter target locations and animals.
LAAS has six new spay/neuter clinics, one at each new shelter, and a seventh preexisting clinic. To date, only two of those clinics are open.
One of the two is producing far lower than expected spay/neuter volume. The other charges the public prices that exceed those considered affordable to low income residents and to some moderate income residents.
Two LAAS shelter clinics currently have one RFP bidder each and it appears that both would both use spay/neuter clinic time to provide full service veterinary care for the public, reducing the amount of their time for spay/neuter and competing from a city facility with local Veterinarians for non-spay/neuter related general Veterinary care. One of the bidders appears to be one that will charge prices too high for low income and some moderate income persons.
The new LAAS Volunteer Coordinator began in October 2008, the month the enforcement of the Spay/Neuter Ordinance began. Nevertheless, LAAS management did not give him spay/neuter as a priority for his Volunteer Department. There are currently no Volunteer activities for the purpose of enhancing spay/neuter.
There is currently no LAAS action being taken to encourage more Veterinarians within the community to provide affordable spay/neuter services to the public. Visits to the shelters reveal an inconsistent level of spay/neuter information assistance locating affordable spay/neuter resources.
Visitors to the shelters sometimes cannot locate useful spay/neuter information they seek. Much spay/neuter information is not presented in Spanish. Many productive opportunities to deliver the spay/neuter message exist but are not being taken.
Their prescription to fix the problem?
LAAS enforcement resources are so stretched that LAAS has stated that it is relying on voluntary compliance for the spay/neuter ordinance. Since it is not possible for LAAS to provide needed spay/neuter outreach and spay/neuter funding and services to the entire city, LAAS must effectively and strategically target its scarce resources.
Low income persons and low income areas are targeted because this is where the most people who are out of compliance are not out of compliance by choice, but rather because they are unable to financially afford the price of spay/neuter. Humane workers in the low income areas of the city report many people who want to comply with the law but who cannot due to the cost and lack of availability of affordable or free spay/neuter services.
Bully breeds of Dogs, and Cats are targeted because these are the most impounded animals at LAAS shelters and therefore the types of animals requiring the greatest expenditures of LAAS shelter resources, and these are the most euthanized animals at LAAS shelters. While anyone of any income level can own a Bully breed of Dog, or a Cat, persons of low income also own these animals and need help. By targeting Bully breeds of Dogs, and Cats for spay/neuter outreach and services, LAAS will benefit not only the low income people most in need, but will also benefit LAAS itself and the taxpayers who fund LAAS, by reducing the numbers of the most frequently impounded and killed animals.
They went on to suggest programs to improve community relations, provide spay/neuter and animal care information in the languages used in the area the shelter serves, to make alliances with veterinarians instead of alienating them -- pretty much every single program and policy that opponents of mandatory spay/neuter have always suggested instead of a law. The very programs and policies espoused by the no-kill movement. The exact approaches that have worked in dozens, perhaps hundreds, of communities across this country, instead of and without mandatory spay/neuter laws.
The irony is, of course, that all those programs and policies will not only work without laws forcing sterilization of owned pets, but will work better that way. That's because instead of alienating and making lawbreakers of people who show cats and dogs, or who breed dogs for field trials, work, hunting, obedience, and other canine jobs and activities, and their supporters, you can keep them as allies.
Instead of driving a wedge deeper and wider between disparate camps of animal lovers, you can leave the door open to the great love we all have for dogs and cats, and let us continue to pursue that love in our own way while at the same time making more resources and compassion available to help the community's homeless and needy animals.
It is, after all, experienced dog and cat fanciers and breeders who love dogs and cats, know how to care for them when they're sick and injured, know how to whelp litters and bottle-raise orphans, know how to screen for good homes, have every motivation in the world to see the shelters emptied of homeless pets, want to encourage responsible pet ownership, are able volunteers at shelters, and usually have enough money to donate to causes they support.
Instead, a few misguided or dishonest zealots who are so opposed to the existence of animal reproductive organs that they will gleefully demonize and make enemies of those community members, will flush their lifetime of preserving and improving their chosen breeds down the toilet all in support of a law that on its own will do absolutely nothing to help animals.
And now, with the city budget and the law itself in ruins, now they want to implement the very programs that constituency said was the only thing that would work in the first place.
For the minority of spittle-spewing haters who propose and defend these laws, none of that matters. Their agenda is not really about preventing animal suffering and death, but about imposing their values and world view about the human-animal relationship on everyone else.
But for the vast majority of people who think mandatory spay/neuter sounds like a good idea, let this experience be a wake-up call. It is programs such as those proposed by this Committee report that save animal lives. They should be the first line approach to ending pet homelessness, suffering and death in every community in the country, including Los Angeles. They'll do it without expensive, doomed, punitive laws that turn allies into enemies.
It makes no sense to pass a law like this first, without trying those programs, and then a year later freak out and say, wait, wait! We need to do all these other things or this won't work!
Do those other things and you don't need the law. Do just the law, and nothing will change -- except to get worse.
It's really that simple, and before the state of California or any other town, city, county, or state considers adopting a law like this, I hope they read this document carefully. Because if they do, it's going to be obvious that mandatory spay/neuter doesn't work, and community-based approaches do.
Pushing failed mandates does not show your love of animals. It does the opposite. If you care about animal lives, you'll support what works, not what sounds like it would work.
Don't believe me? Go read the report (PDF).