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I Think Mandatory Spay/Neuter Laws Do More Harm Than Good

In my opinion, they’re unenforceable, drain public money, and in some cases increase rates of euthanasia.

 |  Aug 2nd 2013  |   29 Contributions


Cat overpopulation is a huge problem. Getting cats spayed or neutered is the single most important thing we can do to solve that problem. The trouble? There are two very different ideas about how that should be done. Some say we should encourage spay/neuter, while others believe sterilizing cats should be legally mandated.

I say we should simply encourage spay/neuter, and here are four reasons why.

If mandatory spay/neuter laws are instituted, who's responsible for the feral cats? Feral cat sitting by a wheelbarrow by Shutterstock

1. Mandatory spay/neuter laws are unenforceable

They would require the cooperation of pet owners, veterinarians, law enforcement, and many other agencies. Most of the time, areas where spay/neuter is required by law simply don’t have the financial resources to even begin to require people to get their cats fixed. And what about feral cats? Who’s going to be legally required to get them sterilized?

Sure, there are a lot of TNR groups that are actively ensuring that those community cats get spayed and neutered -- but there are also a lot of feral colonies that receive no care at all.

2. Mandatory spay/neuter laws don’t address the real issue

Most of the time, cats don’t get fixed because spay/neuter services simply are not affordable or geographically accessible. “Studies show that people who do not spay/neuter are at the lowest rungs of the economic ladder -- and that the vast majority would have their companion animals sterilized if it was affordable,” Nathan Winograd, executive director of the No Kill Advocacy Center, says in his blog. Money that goes to enforcement of unenforceable laws could be directed toward funding spay/neuter clinics, particularly in low-income and rural areas, and start actually solving the cat overpopulation problem.

Low-cost and free spay/neuter clinics are the best way to address the cat overpopulation problem. Cat being neutered by Shutterstock

3. Spay/neuter laws discourage people from licensing and providing vet care for their animals 

This shouldn’t be a big surprise to anyone. According to the Anti-Cruelty Society, a 1991 mandatory spay/neuter ordinance in San Mateo County, California, led to a 35 percent reduction in the number of companion animal licenses. The spay/neuter law in Forth Worth, Texas, tells a cautionary tale, too: It led to a reduction in the number of animals receiving vaccinations -- and an increase in reported rabies cases.

So, who’s in favor of mandatory spay/neuter? Why, our good friends at PETA, of course. They claim that areas with mandatory spay/neuter laws have lower euthanasia rates.

No matter what PETA tries to tell people, spay/neuter laws actually increase shelter kill rates. Cat in a cage by Shutterstock

To the surprise of nobody at all, PETA has once again offered a platter of steaming BS to well-intentioned “animal advocates” who want to solve the problem of cat overpopulation.

4. The truth is, spay/neuter laws increase shelter euthanasia rates

In order to avoid the cost of sterilization and noncompliance fines, more people just dump their cats at shelters. More cats in the shelter generally means more killing. The story of a mandatory spay/neuter law in Los Angeles, instituted in 2008, proves this point: The cat kill rate increased 35 percent.

This chart shows the "outcomes" of animals that arrive in Los Angeles Animal Services' shelters. Notice the spike in deaths in 2008, the year the mandatory spay/neuter ordinance went into effect. Image via ShelterTrak

It’s pointless for cash-strapped towns and cities to strain their ever-smaller budgets by enacting punitive laws that really can’t be enforced. Instead, they should be directing their resources to increase access to low-cost spay/neuter services. Most people want to do the right thing and get their cats spayed or neutered, no matter how poor they are: They’re not stupid or ignorant, and they know their cats will reproduce if they’re not fixed. We just need to make it possible for them to do so.

What do you think? Are you for or against mandatory spay/neuter? Why? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer, and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their cat advice column, Paws and Effect, since 2003. JaneA dreams of making a great living out of her love for cats.

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