Why This Vet Thinks Mandatory Spay/Neuter Legislation Is Flawed

Dog on exam room table

Mandatory spay/neuter laws (MSN) are all the rage in communities across the U.S. Although no state has yet to mandate spaying and neutering for all companion animals — with a few exceptions, Rhode Island does require that all cats be sterilized — individual municipalities have adopted laws mandating that pet owners spay and neuter all dogs and cats.

To most vets, these laws sound great. Who can denigrate the prospect of less babies, fewer unwanted animals and a lower rate of shelter killing? Not Los Angeles, Dallas and Las Vegas — all of which have enacted MSN laws within the last four years.

Not Everyone Is On Board

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, a leader in the fight against pet overpopulation, has this to say on the subject:

“To the knowledge of the ASPCA, the only method of population control that has demonstrated long-term efficacy in significantly reducing the number of animals entering animal shelters is the voluntary sterilization of owned pets. There is also evidence that sterilizing very specific, at-risk sub-populations of companion animals, such as feral cats and animals in shelters, can also contribute to reductions in overpopulation. However, 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.”

In other words, the ASPCA’s contention is that it’s only when members of the community volunteer to spay and neuter their own pets that the number of killings takes a nose dive. And, in a down economy, spaying and neutering is not going to happen in low-income households. That’s the breaks.

Although plenty of veterinarians were initially on board with MSN laws, lots of us started thinking otherwise when we heard affected colleagues grumble as lower-income client visits declined and community distrust of veterinarians seemed on the rise.

According to the ASPCA, this veterinary sentiment might have even been reflected in canine license stats:

“[In] at least one community that enacted an MSN law, fewer pets were subsequently licensed, likely due to owners’ reluctance to pay either the high fee for keeping an unaltered animal or the fee to have the pet altered.”

For the record, the “community” that the ASPCA referred to above could have been Los Angeles. According to Save Our Dogs, “Los Angeles Animal Services lost $440,000 in annual licensing revenue since the 2008 MSN ordinance went into effect.”


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