Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why We Join the National Consensus Against Mandatory Spay/Neuter Laws

Every single data-based study of mandatory spay/neuter laws has demonstrated that such laws do not increase spay-neuter compliance rates, nor do they reduce shelter intake, nor are they cost-effective, nor do they save lives. In fact, the opposite is true: in community after community that has passed a mandatory spay/neuter law, shelter killing and intake actually increase because in poor communities, families who cannot afford the money or time to have their pets surgically altered are forced to surrender their pets (or the pets are seized). These pets are quickly replaced in the communities with additional unaltered animals, creating an enhanced cycle of killing. These laws do not work, have never worked in any community, and will not work.

Several points are important here:

1. Mandatory spay/neuter laws do not work: The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) did an extensive study on such laws (in many varieties), and concluded that there is absolutely "no credible evidence" that such laws have ever worked. See Another national organization, Alley Cat Allies, did a study of its own and concluded that such laws are "counterproductive, costly, and unenforceable." See

2. Mandatory spay/neuter laws are based on a number of false policy assumptions. Mandatory spay/neuter advocates falsely assume that most people aren't currently spaying and neutering their pets, and that if there were a law requiring spay/neuter, they would do so. Both of these assumptions are false. According to empirical evidence, the overwhelming majority of Americans have already spayed or neutered their pets. In fact, a recent study demonstrated that over 90% of Americans earning $35K or more have already spayed or neutered their pets (see, and at least half of those families earning less than $35K/year have already done so. As a result, the population of Americans who haven't spayed or neutered their pets is relatively small, and it's near-entirely a matter of financial means--- not legal motivation. That's why study after study after study has concluded that the only proven way to increase spay/neuter compliance is through the provision of low-cost and free spay-neuter services, not through regressive laws that focus on punishing poor families rather than empowering responsible behavior. See

3. There is universal opposition to mandatory spay/neuter laws among national animal-welfare organizations who have spent time to empirically study such laws' effects. Indeed, given the frequent hostility between national animal-welfare organizations, the universal opposition to mandatory spay/neuter laws is telling. The organizations against such laws include: The ASPCA (cited above), Alley Cat Allies (cited above), the American Veterinary Medical Association (, the No Kill Advocacy Center (, Pet Connection (, both the American College of Theriogenologists and the Society for Theriogenology (which are the two groups of veterinarian specialists in spaying and neutering (, and the Anti-Cruelty Society (, among many, many others. USA Today's veterinary expert has also come out against such laws (see

4. There are a number of significant, negative unintended consequences to mandatory spay/neuter laws:
  • According to the experts, the passage of mandatory spay/neuter laws not only doesn't increase spay/neuter compliance rates or responsible pet ownership, it actually reduces the provision of veterinary care to animals because the small group of remaining unaltered-pet owners (who either won't or cannot afford to alter their pets) will avoid getting veterinary care for their animals. According to the American College of Theriogenologists, "[m]aking spay/neuter mandatory . . . may make the public more hesitant to seek veterinary assistance because they are afraid of fines and legal repercussions as a result of failing to spay or neuter their pets. . . . By avoiding veterinary care for their pets, animals will be at increased risk of inadequate routine vaccination (including rabies) and inadequate deworming programs which may in turn result in increased transmission of disease to the public." See
  • The risk of higher rabies rates (which is nearly always deadly to children) is not purely theoretical. According to the Anti-Cruelty Society, Fort Worth's mandatory spay/neuter law resulted in a significant reduction in rabies vaccinations, and to "an increase in reported rabies cases" in the city. See
  • In addition, San Mateo, California, experienced a 35% decrease in pet licensing registrations after passing such a law, meaning that fewer animals brought to the shelter were able to be reunited with their owners. (Same source.)
  • Fort Worth changed its law due to the reduction in rabies vaccinations. Spay/neuter is no longer mandatory due to the ordinance's failure (one can now have an unaltered pet without penalty or payment so long as they attend a free class).

5. The passage of a mandatory spay/neuter law has never led any community to a 90% save rate. And every No Kill community in America does not have a mandatory spay/neuter law.
  • The communities in America with the highest shelter save rates are: Reno, NV (90%), Ithaca, NY (95%), Charlottesville, VA (90+%), and San Francisco, CA (86%). None has a mandatory spay/neuter law. The communities with the highest shelter save rate in Texas are Austin (72%), Plano (77%) and Williamson County (77%). None has a mandatory spay/neuter law.
  • Los Angeles, CA, recently passed a mandatory spay/neuter law, and its shelter killing and intake increased by 30% following the law's passage. Kansas City, MO, recently passed a breed-specific mandatory spay/neuter law, and intake and killing of those breeds increased by a jaw-dropping 80% according to local experts. Waco, TX, just passed a mandatory spay/neuter law, and even before the law's passage, it has seen a substantial spike in owner surrenders (and shelter killing) due to financial inability to pay.
  • San Antonio has a mandatory spay/neuter ordinance, and its shelter kills more than 70% of all impounded animals. In fact, every large city in Texas other than Austin kills more animals than it saves. Austin, this past year, saved 72%.
  • Contrary to local talking points in favor of a mandatory spay/neuter ordinance, not every large city in Texas other than Austin has a mandatory spay/neuter law. Houston, for example, does not have a mandatory spay/neuter law. Houston does have an ordinance that requires shelters to either alter pets before adopting them out, or get the adopter to sign a contract agreeing to alter the adopted pets. The ordinance does not reach out and affect owned pets or pets from sources other than animal shelters. Austin's policies are actually much more strict than Houston's. No Austin shelter adopts out unaltered pets, and Austin's pet-trader ordinance requires altering prior to retail pet sales. In addition, as mentioned above, Fort Worth's ordinance is not mandatory; it permits free unaltered pet licensing upon attending a class.
6. Austin's animal-welfare policy and results, without a mandatory spay-neuter law, are not only among the best in Texas, they are among the best in the country for large cities. By implementing proven and cost-effective programs and policies (including low-cost and free spay-neuter services, foster programs, off-site adoptions, etc.), Austin has recently and quickly made dramatic improvements in animal-welfare, and now has among the lowest shelter-killing rates in the United States (Note: This is due in substantial part to Austin Pets Alive.). In 2005, Austin's shelter killed over 14,000 animals. In just a few short years of implementing proven life-saving policies in our community, that number dropped below 6,800 in fiscal-year 2009-10. 2010 was the best life-saving year in Austin's history, and the best of any large city in Texas by a large margin (Houston, Fort Worth and San Antonio kill around 70%). While San Antonio's recent "No Kill" effort, which relied on a mandatory spay/neuter law, has been a miserable failure, Austin's effort, which relies on proven programs and policies, has been a dramatic success. In fact, December 2010 was the highest save-rate on record in Austin, with an 88% save rate of all impounded animals.

7. It doesn't matter whether you call it "mandatory" or not, the effect is the same. A local mandatory spay/neuter advocate has recently stopped saying "mandatory" when advocating for a mandatory spay/neuter law. The name of the ordinance makes no difference. If a government mandates a penalty for failing to alter an animal (in the form of either a fine, a seizure of the animal (or its surrender), or a "fee"), it is commonly referred to as a "mandatory" spay/neuter law in the national animal-welfare community, and based on empirical evidence, we know it will fail.

8. There is no evidence whatsoever that a mandatory spay/neuter law would increase public safety or decrease dog-fighting. Indeed, the opposite is true with regard to rabies and public health, and it is egregiously illogical to think that a criminal who willingly risks felony dog-fighting charges and prison time would somehow be swayed by a unaltered-pet registration fee. In addition, because we know that mandatory spay/neuter laws do not increase spay/neuter compliance rates, we can logically conclude that they will have no impact on dog bites either (even assuming that dog bites are correlated with lack of spay/neuter). In fact, the most preeminent national expert on dog bites and dog-caused deaths concludes that dog-caused deaths are nearly always caused by unsocialized, "backyard" dogs who have never been cared for, loved, or treated responsibly by a loving owner. There is absolutely no logic or evidence to suggest that such an irresponsible owner would be swayed by a fee or fine; again, the empirical evidence demonstrates that the opposite is true: the laws don't change irresponsible behavior.

9. Mandatory spay/neuter laws unfairly target the poor. It has been empirically proven that the lack of financial resources is the primary reason for the failure to alter pets by the small percentage of remaining unaltered-pet homeowners. Persons who cannot afford to alter their pets will be the primary targets for enforcement, therefore. In Kansas City, this resulted in Animal Control authorities doing "sweeps" through poor neighborhoods in which they would literally pull dogs and cats out of the arms of poor children and families. And, contrary to popular belief, there are not enough free spay/neuter resources to provide such services to all unaltered animals. According to estimates of the unaltered pet population by the ASPCA compared to the number of free spay/neuter resources in Austin, for example, it would take an astonishing 31 years to provide free spay/neuter services to the current population of unaltered pets. That means that only 1 in 31 pets could be altered in year one (much less in month 1) if such a law was passed in Austin. The remaining pets would be either surrendered to animal control, or seized, if the pet owner cannot afford the surgery. Such laws pit poor pet owners in an adversarial relationship with law-enforcement officers, dramatically increasing tensions in poor communities. Again, in Kansas City, animal advocates have had to go into communities to teach families about their legal rights in order to protect them from unlawful searches and seizures purportedly resulting from "enforcement" of the mandatory spay/neuter ordinance.

If you've read this far, we thank you. We care deeply about this issue and have studied it for years. We would absolutely, positively, be in favor of a mandatory spay/neuter law if such laws worked. All of our pets are spayed or neutered, and all of our rescues are spayed or neutered before we adopt them out. We have paid to alter the pets of total strangers, and heavily support low-cost and free spay-neuter services. Once made mandatory, however, all results point to dramatic failure, negative unintended consequences, more killing, and higher rabies rates. That we can't support that. We hope you won't either.