The Whittier City Council has an important opportunity to vote for both good government and animal welfare when it meets to consider a new animal-control ordinance on Aug. 11.
Like many other cities in the county, Whittier contracts with L. A. County’s Department of Animal Care and Control for animal-control services. The city also adopted the county’s animal-control ordinance nearly a decade ago, but chose to exclude the mandatory spay/neuter (MSN) provisions of the L. A. County code — provisions that would require all dogs in the city to be sterilized with few exceptions. Under the proposed update to the city’s animal-control ordinance, the city would now adopt the MSN provisions of the county.
There are excellent reasons why the City Council should continue its current policy and refuse to adopt the county’s approach toward animal law.
Mandatory spay/neuter laws simply don’t work. The ASPCA, the largest animal welfare organization in the U. S., states in its position statement on MSN laws, “the ASPCA is not aware of any credible evidence demonstrating a statistically significant enhancement in the reduction of shelter intake or euthanasia as a result of the implementation of a mandatory spay/neuter law.” The ASPCA says that MSN laws don’t reduce the number of pets ending up in our animal shelters.
In fact, MSN laws may actually increase the number of dogs entering our shelters, thus exacerbating an already sizable public burden. The Downtown Dog Rescue project in South L.A. documented that owners choose to surrender their dogs to shelters primarily due to the costs of the surgical procedure. This is particularly true for low- and middle-income working families. A 2014 PetSmart Charities survey found that 30 percent of owners with intact pets said that the cost of MSN was the primary reason for surrendering them to shelters.
MSN laws also discourage dog owners from licensing their dogs to avoid compliance. L. A. County enacted its MSN law in 2006. An examination of the dog licensing statistics from the California Department of Public Health for the years 2000 through 2013 reveals that the number of dogs licensed in the county dropped 11 percent while the number of dogs licensed in the rest of the state increased by 37 percent. And it’s not just lost revenue that we should be concerned about. The original purpose of dog licensing was to ensure that our pets were vaccinated against rabies to protect the health of both humans and their domestic animals.
Finally, forced sterilization of our pets raises direct animal-welfare issues. Surgical sterilization has been held out as a benign procedure, and over 80 percent of owned dogs are spayed or neutered. But benign? According to many recent veterinary research studies, surgical sterilization increases the likelihood that our pets will suffer from a wide range of cancers, raises the risks that they will have adverse reactions to vaccinations, heightens the incidence of orthopedic injuries and disorders, and contrary to popular belief, may even be a major cause of our dogs’ aggressive behaviors. Certainly, as a matter of animal welfare, the decision to sterilize our dogs should be left up to dog owners in consultation with their veterinarians.
With these points in mind, the Whittier City Council should reject the mandatory spay/neuter provisions of the proposed animal-control ordinance and continue on the current path that’s sound public policy for the citizens of Whittier and humane policy for its animals.
Nancy Fenoglio is president of the Irish Setter Club of Southern California and a life-long resident of Whittier. The Irish Setter Club of Southern California is a member of the California Federation of Dog Clubs (CFODC).