Los Angeles requires residents to fix pets
In February, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa signed an ordinance that requires pet owners to spay or neuter their cats and dogs that are at least four months old. But, opponents say the decision to spay or neuter pets should be left to owners and that many people seeking to avoid sterilizing their pets may not comply with local pet registration requirements, resulting in fewer vaccinated pets and lost revenues. Nevertheless, some cities have passed similar laws to reduce the number of unwanted animals in overcrowded shelters and decrease animal shelter costs.
Los Angeles passed its law specifically to reduce the number of animals in its six shelters. The shelters typically house 1,000 to 1,500 animals, says Ed Boks, Los Angeles Animal Services general manager. Since 2001, the city has been reducing the number of animals euthanized in the shelter, and, in 2007, the number dropped to 15,009 from 19,238 in 2006. Los Angeles spends about $275 per week to keep a dog at a shelter and $199 per cat, compared to euthanizing costs at $50.90 per dog and $43.90 per cat. “This ordinance, which contains clear guidelines and enforceable penalties, creates a valuable tool to take this city another step closer toward eliminating the unnecessary euthanasia of animals,” Villaraigosa said in a statement.
There are exemptions in the ordinance for registered breeders and rescue or service animals. Violators may be fined up to $500 or receive up to 40 hours of community service.
Animal control budgets are often small, so reducing the number of unwanted animals that must be captured, housed and cared for, benefits the city, says Daphna Nachminovitch, vice president for cruelty investigations for Norfolk, Va.-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). “Most spay/neuter legislation is designed to reduce the intake rates at shelters,” Nachminovitch says.
To help reduce the number of animals in shelters, PETA is compiling model legislation for public officials. The group recommends and supports laws that require mandatory sterilization of impounded animals and differential licensing, which is the practice of charging owners of sterilized animals substantially less for licenses than owners of non-sterilized animals.
Fort Wayne, Ind., does not have a mandatory spay/neuter law, but has implemented several measures to keep animals out of shelters. In 2003, the city adopted a differential licensing program. The ratio of altered to unaltered pets in 2002, the year before the program, was 10.8 to 1. But, six months after adopting the program, the ratio jumped to 19.7 to 1, says Peggy Bender, community relations and education specialist for Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control.
Also, pet owners must pay to sterilize their animals if Animal Control captures them a second time. The city operates a low-cost spay/neuter clinic to encourage residents to sterilize their pets. “[Spaying and neutering pets] is a livability issue in neighborhoods,” Bender says.
Annie Gentile is a Vernon, Conn.-based freelance writer.