Can we outlaw pet overpopulation?

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 1993:

SACRAMENTO, California –– Neuter your cat
or else!
In legal language, “An owner of a cat over the age
of six months shall have the cat sterilized by a veterinarian if
the cat is permitted outdoors without supervision.”
As drafted, California state assembly bill AB 302
admits no exceptions. Introduced in early February by
assemblyman Paul Horcher, AB 302 sounds like a shelter
worker’s dream––but may be mainly symbolic, since it
includes neither an enforcement mechanism nor specific
penalties for disobedience. Due to the difficulty of identify-
ing cats, some legal experts believe it could never be
enforced without instituting a universal statewide system of
cat licensing, something never before attempted on any
comparable scale, and almost certain to be opposed by
many cat-keepers.

But AB 302 does have a good chance of passage,
having received the endorsement of at least 24 organiza-
tions, ranging from conservative pet industry umbrellas to
radical animal rights groups. There seems to be no united,
influential opposition. By addressing only wandering cats,
AB 302 has avoided flak from cat and dog breeders and
breed fanciers, who have ardently opposed most other
recent anti-breeding legislation.
Regardless of enforcability, AB 302 is among the
loudest salvos yet in the ongoing struggle to secure by law
the fragile gains made against pet overpopulation during the
past 13 years, Since 1980 the number of animals euthanized
annually in U.S. pounds and shelters has plummeted from
20 million to approximately a third as many, mainly
through the combination of public education with discount
neutering. Yet the fecundity of cats and dogs is such that all
the progress made thus far could be erased within two years
if the cats and dogs who haven’t yet been neutered are per-
mitted to breed without restraint. Already there are signs
that cutbacks in discount neutering programs in some com-
munities are quickly producing higher euthanasia rates.
Desperation has thus brought desperate tactics, including
will not have an animal neutered unless compelled to do so.
One recent national survey indicated that this group may
include up to 35% of all pet keepers. Another survey, by
Laura Hunyadi of Stilwell, Kansas, found that of 475 pet
keepers in her community, 78% of the adults and 46% of
the adolescents were aware of pet overpopulation––but their
awareness did not significantly affect their choice of
whether or not to neuter.
The contribution of irresponsible pet keepers to pet
overpopulation is not to be minimized. Just one female cat
and her progeny, producing two average-sized litters per
year, could theoretically produce 4,000 offspring in seven
years. One female dog and her progeny could produce
4,000 offspring in 10 years. Thus a mere 3,000 irresponsi-
ble pet keepers, with only one female cat or dog apiece,
could within seven to 10 years erase all the progress made
against pet overpopulation since 1985.
In actuality, animals rarely reproduce at the maxi-
mum rate, mainly because many offspring die (especially
cats)––or are killed––before reaching reproductive age. But
even if the actual dog and cat reproduction rate is only one
tenth of one percent of the possible maximum, three million
irresponsible pet keepers could put the euthanasia rate back
to the 1985 level as early as 1998. Three million irresponsi-
ble pet keepers would be under 5% of all pet keepers. If the
percentage of pet keepers who refuse to neuter without com-
pulsion is really as high as 35%, recent gains could be
wiped out by mid-1994.
Meanwhile, shelter after shelter reports having
reached the plateau suggested by the AHA surveys––a point
at which, after rapidly dropping, the euthanasia rate seems
to have leveled off or even begun climbing again. In Los
Angeles, for instance, city-subsidized neutering clinics cut
the number of homeless dogs and cats impounded each year
from 144,000 in 1970 to 72,500 by 1982, and cut the num-
ber euthanized each year from over 80,000 to circa 40,000
over the same period. By 1991, however, the number of
dogs and cats impounded was back up to 87,000, and as
adoptive homes became harder to find because the number
of animals taken in was rising far faster than the number of
human households in the community, the total of dogs and
cats euthanized soared to 67,000. (Los Angeles animal con-
trol work was disrupted in 1992 by budgetary problems and
the riots that followed the initial verdict in the Rodney King
vs. Los Angeles Police case, so more current figures can’t
be used as a yardstick.)
Seeking ways to consolidate gains and enable fur-
ther progress, humane societies, animal control depart-
ments, and advocacy groups are turning to legislation for
help, uncomfortably aware that the opportunity may be
brief. If breeding can’t be controlled now, within just a few
years the situation may again be as out of hand as it was 15
or 20 years ago.
Just limit the numbers
Despite the great attention paid to anti-breeding
ordinances since October 1990, laws have been enacted to
fight pet overpopulation for decades. The original form of
such legislation, and the simplest, involves attempting to
limit the number of animals who may be kept by any one
household. This approach has many politically popular fea-
tures. First, it is easy to understand. Second, it sounds
easy to enforce, usually via pet licensing. Third, it promis-
es to cost the community nothing; enforcement costs pre-
sumably will be met by licensing fees and/or fines for non-
compliance. Further, in many communities, pet limits
merely codify rules that have been informally maintained by
landlords for generations. Finally, pet limits allow govern-
mental bodies to “address” pet overpopulation without actu-
ally having to do anything about it. In effect, pet limits
throw the responsiblity for figuring out how to reduce pet
numbers back to individual pet keepers, who may take no
more action than they ever did.
Statutory limits on animal numbers have even been
incorporated into some more aggressive legislation, includ-
ing the celebrated San Mateo County anti-breeding ordi-
nance. However, while pet limits may restrict the numbers
of animals who officially live at any location, they do little
or nothing to reduce the overall dog and cat population.
Indeed, pet limits might even encourage pet overpopulation
by providing an incentive for people whose pets have litters
to give away the puppies and kittens as fast as they can to
any takers, no questions asked, and to dump the animals if
there are no takers, before they get big enough to be noticed
by complaining neighbors.
Pet limits have one major virtue, in that they give
animal control authorities a means of moving against “ani-
mal collectors,” who adopt far more animals than they can
humanely handle, often to prevent the animals from being
euthanized in a shelter. Animal collectors tend to be elderly,
socially isolated, delusionary, and generally well-regarded
in the community for taking in otherwise unwanted dogs and
cats, no matter how poor the standard of care. When prose-
cuted under ordinary anti-cruelty laws, animal collectors
tend to get off easily––and have an extremely high rate of
recidivism, often estimated at 80% or more. For this reason
alone, weary animal control departments often support pet
limits––especially if they haven’t seen such limits fail in
other communities.
But animal collectors are only a small minority of
the people who may have more pets, especially cats, than
pet limits typically allow. Cat keepers average four cats
apiece in some parts of the U.S. two above the typical statu-
tory limit. Thus cat keepers have turned out in force to fight
proposed limits in communities including Syracuse, New
York; Gloucester, Pennsylvania; and Akron, Ohio. In
some cases, hours of anti-limit testimony from responsible
pet keepers have made municipal counselors reluctant to
consider any anti-pet overpopulation bills.
Where pet limits are in force, for instance in
Denver, Colorado, many responsible pet keepers feel con-
strained from providing as many good homes as they other-
wise might. Many others simply defy the law, since if ani-
mals are kept indoors, detecting limit violations can be very
difficult. Animal control officers meanwhile discover that
trying to enforce pet limits is both thankless and endless
work. Consequently the limits have a way of being forgot-
ten as quickly as possible.
Denver tried to get around this problem by prorat-
ing the number of animals per household according to the
size of the property. The amount of floor space, however,
might have been a more appropriate determinant of the pet
“carrying capacity” of a house or apartment than the amount
of yard space surrounding it. Certainly a three-story
Victorian house with little or no yard space will provide
more habitat for indoor cats than a modest two-bedroom
ranch house, even if the latter is on a ten-acre lot.
Other communities have simply limited the num-
ber of animals who may be free-roaming. In May 1992,
Natick, Massachusetts, not only adopted strict pet limits
(and differential licensing), but also barred free-roaming
pets altogether. Because free-roaming pets who have not
been neutered often breed with strays and ferals, the latter
provision may help somewhat to slow dog and cat overpopu-
lation. But even indoor pets escape once in a while, and
sexually intact dogs and cats are quite as capable of breeding
indoors as out, if they get the opportunity.
Finally, pet limits can discourage animal rescuers,
especially those who practice neuter/release to control feral
cat populations. The neuter/release technique, imported
from England and South Africa approximately a decade ago,
consists of neutering feral cats, inoculating them against
distemper and rabies (and sometimes other diseases), then
returning them to their habitat, where they are kept under
the supervision of volunteer feeders. The feeders insure that
the cats don’t become a public nusiance, and detect any fer-
tile newcomers to each cat colony.
Neuter/release is highly controversial, opposed as cruel by
HSUS, but endorsed by other humane groups including
Friends of Animals, Alley Cat Allies, and the Tufts Center
for Animals and Public Policy. A demonstration
neuter/release project completed by ANIMAL PEOPLE in
1992 and a national survey of cat rescuers undertaken later
in 1992 by ANIMAL PEOPLE and the Massachusetts
SPCA produced somewhat ambiguous results, from the
humane perspective. (See “Cat Project Update,” 9/92, and
“Seeking the truth about feral cats,” 10/92.) The survey did
indicate, however, that neuter/release is effective in reduc-
ing the homeless cat population. About 75% of the respon-
dents who had tried neuter/release reported that it stopped
the growth of the feral cat colonies they observed.
Neuter/release may have been included in an official animal
control plan for the first time in Cape May, New Jersey.
According to Cape May animal control department head
John Queenan, neuter/release has helped to reduce the
euthanasia rate in his jurisdiction to virtually zero.
As usually worded, pet limits have the effect of
putting neuter/release rescuers at risk of being identified and
prosecuted as the alleged “owners” of the cats they care for,
inasmuch as they are feeding them, providing veterinary
care, and often holding them in homes, at least overnight,
before and after surgery. This problem could be avoided if
existing pet limits were amended to include a special
exemption for authorized rescuers, who would have to be
registered with the local animal control department and
would have to meet various other appropriate conditions,
such as guaranteeing neutering, marking the cats in some
way for identification purposes, and returning cats only to
property where owners are willing to tolerate their presence.
Differential Licensing
Differential licensing is the most widely practiced
form of pet breeding regulation, and is probably the easiest
form to enforce. The idea is simply to collect a higher
license fee from people who keep unaltered animals, plus a
higher reclamation fee from the keepers of any unaltered
animals who are picked up by animal control officers. The
higher fees give owners a substantial incentive to neuter,
especially over several years. While obtaining compliance
is as difficult as obtaining compliance with any kind of
licensing, the experience of hundreds of communities indi-
cates that at least differential licensing isn’t any more diffi-
cult to enforce than traditional single-fee licensing.
Although differential licensing is usually applied
only to dogs, because relatively few jurisdictions license
cats, it is demonstrably effective. One study found that a
sampling of 86 pounds and shelters located in areas without
differential licensing handled approximately the same num-
ber of dogs each year from 1980 to 1985. By comparison,
61 pounds and shelters in areas that had differential licens-
ing handled an average of 12.3% fewer dogs. Thus if differ-
ential licensing had been in effect across the whole U.S.,
pounds and shelters would have euthanized an average of
two million fewer homeless dogs per year.
Early differential licensing ordinances usually
tried to set the fees just high enough to cover the operating
costs of animal control. The higher fees for unaltered ani-
mals were typically no higher than they needed to be to
make up for any revenue lost by setting lower fees for
altered animals. As more law-abiding pet keepers opted to
neuter, however, the revenues from licensing unaltered ani-
mals decreased. This raised a dilemna. Some jurisdictions
opted to further increase the licensing fee for unaltered ani-
mals, at risk of decreasing compliance. The argument was
made, with some validity, that people who wouldn’t spend
money to neuter wouldn’t spend money on licensing, either.
Other jurisdictions went for the easy income by increasing
the licensing fee for animals who had been neutered, whose
keepers were known to be cooperative. This had the effect
of narrowing the gap between fees, again encouraging non-
compliance.
Extending differential licensing to cats poses an
additional set of problems, even if the advent of tattooing
and/or microchip identification has made it possible to iden-
tify cats who won’t wear collars. First, animal control offi-
cers still can’t tell at a glance whether a cat carrying a tattoo
or microchip implant is in fact currently licensed. Second,
a new population of pet keepers must be convinced to pay
what many perceive as a thinly disguised tax. To be fair,
some cat-licensing proposals in recent years have been
exactly that. Objections to cat licensing can be partially
answered by pointing to the AHA redemption statistics,
which show that only about 2% of all cats who enter pounds
and shelters are reunited with keepers, compared with a
16.3% reunion rate for dogs.
Some examples of differential licensing structures:
DOGS Intact Neuter
San Mateo County, Calif. $25.00 $10.00
Connecticut, state $15.00 $ 6.00
Dade County, Florida $25.00 $20.00
Palm Beach County, Fla. $ 9.50 $ 4.00
Fort Wayne, Indiana $25.00 $ 4.00
Charlotte, N.Caroli na $20.00 $ 5.00
Pittsburgh, Penn. $12.00 $ 5.00
Houston, Texas $10.00 $ 4.00
King County, Washington $55.00 $10.00
CATS Intact Neuter
San Mateo County, Cal if. $15.00 $ 5.00
Connecticut, state none none
Dade County, Florida $ 4.00 $ 2.00
Palm Beach County, Fla. $ 9.50 $ 4.00
Fort Wayne, Indiana $25.00 $ 4.00
Charlotte, N. Carolina $20.00 $ 5.00
Pittsburgh, Penn. $12.00 $ 5.00
Houston, Texas $10.00 $ 4.00
King County, Washington $55.00 $10.00
The differentials in Dade County, Florida, are so
low as to be virtually meaningless, while the differential in
King County, Washington, is close to the cost of neutering
a tomcat at many discount clinics. People who pay the $55
fee for licensing an intact animal are given coupons worth a
discount of $25 on a neutering operation.
Amendments to the basic differential licensing
structure have proved essential in most jurisdictions, either
to secure enactment of differential licensing in the first
place, or to secure enforcement. Most significantly, breed
fanciers’ associations have demanded discount permits for
breeding kennels. Fort Wayne, Indiana, established a pro-
fessional breeder’s permit in 1982, now priced at $100 per
year. Professional breeders are defined as people whose ani-
mals produce more than one litter in total over any 12-month
period. People who keep more than three unaltered animals
are also required to get a kennel or cattery license. These
measures have been widely emulated. But the Fort Wayne
system has been considerably refined meanwhile. The origi-
nal Fort Wayne differential licensing system included a $25
“household breeder’s permit,” required of anyone who sold,
traded, or gave away a litter. Because this tended to penal-
ize people who adopted pregnant strays and/or sought homes
for abandoned kittens, it was replaced in 1990 with a “minor
breeder’s permit.” People whose pets have litters are now
ticketed and given the choice of either purchasing the minor
breeder’s permit for $40, or paying a fine of $10 plus the fee
for spay surgery at the city neutering clinic, which is a max-
imum of $40.
Most breeder licensing systems now in effect fol-
low the Fort Wayne model, but San Mateo County took a
somewhat different approach, as result of compromises
enacted after a year-long debate over stiffer anti-breeding
measures that were largely scrapped. There, since
December 1991, breeders have been required to pay $25 per
animal for a breeding permit, plus $5 for an unaltered ani-
mal permit, over and above the higher licensing fee for an
unaltered dog or cat. However, the higher licensing fee is
waived and a license is issued at the same price as for an
unaltered dog or cat if the guardian promises in writing that
the animal will not be allowed to breed unless the owner has
first obtained a breeding permit. This clause substantially
reduces the deterrent to “accidental” breeding.
Other variants in the San Mateo County licensing
structure include a fanciers’ permit priced at $10 for anyone
who keeps more than four but no more than 10 cats and/or
dogs; and a stipulation that anyone who feeds an animal for
30 days becomes responsible for having the animal neutered.
An exemption is provided for people who feed feral cats, if
“an organization for humanely trapping cats” is notified.
Finally, people with more than 10 dogs or cats are required
to obtain kennel/cattery permits, costing $5 per animal if the
animals are simply pets; $25 per animal if the offspring are
sold or given away.
Further common variants on differential licensing
include special discounts and/or lifetime permits for senior
citizens and people on fixed incomes. Some jurisdictions
also issue temporary licenses at a nominal fee (under $5) for
animals taken in by registered rescuers, providing that the
animals are neutered and adopted out within a specified peri-
od (usually 60 to 90 days), or euthanized. Adopters are
then required to obtain the regular licenses. Since taming a
feral cat sufficiently to adopt out may take six months, a
temporary licensing provision may include a limited exten-
sion clause.
The leading cause of dispute in connection with
differential licensing involves the disposition of license fees.
If the revenue goes straight into the jurisdiction’s general
fund, licensing functions as a form of taxation, and eventu-
ally tends to become managed as such––meaning that fees
are adjusted to produce maximum income, rather than maxi-
mum success in combatting pet overpopulation. Even where
licensing revenue is specifically directed into an animal con-
trol budget, diversions from anti-overpopulation programs
are frequent when animal control departments need new
offices or trucks or are more interested in trapping coyotes
than in preventing kitten births. The most successful differ-
ential licensing ordinances set priorities for the use of rev-
enues. The first priority is usually administration of the pro-
gram itself; the second is care of impounded dogs and cats;
and the third is subsidizing neutering.
Sterilization of adopted animals
Probably because pound and shelter managers are
the first people in any community to confront pet overpopu-
lation, pounds and shelters began the neutering push of the
past two decades. Initially, some humane societies with in-
house pet surgery clinics began refusing to adopt out animals
until they were neutered. This seemed to be a risky stance,
at least at first, since prospective adopters were required to
cover all or most of the cost of the operation. As the price of
adopting an animal rose, critics feared, the adoption rate
would plummet.
Instead, the adoption rate usually held even or
climbed. Shelter staff soon realized that instead of perceiv-
ing the added cost of sterilization as a burden, most of the
adopting public perceived it as a bargain: a desirable service
at, typically, a substantial discount over what veterinarians
in private practice were charging. Many pounds and shelters
without in-house surgical facilities rushed to build them. By
1990, the architectural firm George Miers & Associates
reported, 45% of community-run shelters in California
offered in-house neutering. But many pounds and shelters,
especially in less wealthy regions, are still unable to raise
the cost of adding a neutering clinic. In addition, low-
priced neutering clinics have often drawn political opposi-
tion from veterinarians in private practice, who argue that
such clinics amount to unfair competition.
The result was the widespread institution of an
awkward compromise: the collection of refundable neuter-
ing deposits. Collecting refundable deposits is universally
feasible––all it takes is a cash box––and generally accept-
able to veterinarians in private practice, since under this sys-
tem they keep the whole neutering business. But deposits,
even if refundable, are not as popular with the public as ser-
vice on the spot. In addition, a variety of shelter surveys
have discovered that roughly half of all neutering deposits
are never reclaimed. No doubt some adopters proceed with
neutering as promised, but leave their deposits behind as
donations. It is likely, however, that most of the people
who forfeit neutering deposits just don’t get around to hav-
ing the operations done. This appears to be especially true
in communities where the neutering deposit is markedly
lower than the typical cost of the surgery. But pounds and
shelters are in a double bind. If the amount of the neutering
deposit is keyed to the cost of the surgery, and the cost of
the surgery by local veterinarians is high, the deposit
amount may exceed the typical cost of acquiring a pet from
a breeder or commercial dealer. Further, a high combined
outlay for deposit and surgery can discourage adopters,
even if the deposit is promptly and fully refunded.
Many pounds and shelters now use a variant on the
neutering deposit. Instead of making the deposit refundable,
they collect a nonrefundable adoption fee that includes part
of the price of neutering, and issue the adopter a coupon for
discount neutering surgery, redeemable at cooperating local
veterinary clinics. The veterinarians who perform the neu-
tering then get a rebate from the pound or shelter. There is
evidence that the coupon/rebate system is more effective
than the refundable deposits, both in encouraging neutering
surgery and in facilitating adoptions. The municipal shelter
in Alexandria, Virginia, for instance, doubled adoptions
within five years after starting a coupon/rebate program.
Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1985 instituted yet
another approach to enforcing the neutering of adopted ani-
mals: a legally binding contract that allows the city to
reclaim the animals if they are not neutered within a speci-
fied time. Within three years, the noncompliance rate
dropped from 30.7% to 5.9%.
Noting the rising cost of traditional animal control,
including euthanasia, a growing number of governmental
bodies now mandate the neutering of adopted animals.
Among the states with such requirements are Arizona,
Arkansas, California, Kansas, Massachusetts, Oklahoma,
and Texas. Another state, New Jersey, strongly encour-
ages neutering adopted animals by using license fees to sub-
sidize the surgery. The adopters pay only $20 for neutering;
low-income adopters pay even less.
However, studies have found that pound and shel-
ter adoptions account for only 3% to 17% of the total pet
population (depending upon the region surveyed).
Subsidized Neutering
Mercy Crusade, of Los Angeles, opened the first
open-access, public-operated discount neutering clinic in
the U.S. on February 17, 1971. The opening immediately
escalated the long-running controversy over whether pounds
and shelters should compete with private-practice veterinari-
ans. Many pounds and shelters were already offering in-
house discount neutering of adopted animals, but because
veterinarians in private practice objected, none previously
operated on animals who already had homes.
The Mercy Crusade clinic proved so popular and
so successful in helping to lower the Los Angeles pound
euthanasia rate that two more clinics were opened in 1973,
the original clinic was expanded in 1974, and a fourth clinic
was opened in 1979. In addition to neutering, the clinics
provided basic vaccinations, all for one fee that averages
about half the going rate at private veterinary hospitals. The
veterinary staff is hired by the City of Los Angeles. Follow-
up studies showed that for every dollar spent on the clinics,
Los Angeles saved $10 in animal control costs. A variety of
studies also indicated that the public clinics did not take
away business from veterinarians in private practice. Nearly
20 years after the Los Angeles neutering clinics opened,
private veterinarians were still performing an estimated 87%
of all neutering operations undertaken within Los Angeles.
Mainly, the public clinics made neutering accessible to peo-
ple who otherwise might not have had their pets altered.
The 50% drop in the Los Angeles shelter euthanasia rate
during the first decade of the program attests to the number
of dog and cat births prevented. Unfortunately, the clinics
were closed on July 1, 1992, due to the city budget crisis,
and have not reopened––a move certain to cost the city
money in the long run.
Encouraged by the Los Angeles experience, the
nearby city of Santa Barbara introduced a subsidized neuter-
ing clinic in 1975. Within a decade, the number of animals
euthanized per year at the city shelter fell 80%, from over
6,000 to under 1,000. The San Francisco SPCA began susi-
dized neutering in 1976; more than 25,000 animals were
neutered within the first 10 years, and by 1991 the organi-
zation had ceased euthanizing adoptable dogs and cats
(although adoptable dogs and cats are still euthanized at the
city pound). The Humane Society of Huron Valley,
Michigan, opened a subsidized neutering clinic in 1975,
altering 31,000 animals by 1984. The number of animals
admitted to the Huron Valley shelter dropped by half. The
Humane Society of Charlotte, North Carolina, subsidized
neutering 10,000 animals between 1980 and 1984, achiev-
ing a 16% reduction in the number of cats it received.
As subsidized neutering caught on, clinics refined
their modus operandi. Many clinics now neuter puppies and
kittens as young as eight weeks of age. Although surgery on
such young animals may be somewhat riskier than on older
animals, the risk is offset by the 20% average increase in
longevity among neutered dogs and cats, as well as by the
value of preventing early litters. Some clinics have also
greatly expedited neutering procedures. The Animal
Foundation of Nevada clinic in Las Vegas, opened in
January 1989, performs an average of 60 neuterings per day
with just one staff veterinarian. This is accomplished
through the extensive use of veterinary technicians, who do
everything that doesn’t actually require a surgeon. As of
April 21, 1992, the clinic had altered 25,000 animals,
about 25% of them without charge to the guardians.
Subsidized neutering clinics remain unpopular
with veterinarians. The American Veterinary Medical
Association has officially opposed them since 1991;
humane societies in Lousiana and Ohio have had to fight
long, costly court battles in order to offer discount neutering
(although the issue in Louisiana focused on additional pro-
cedures); and 37.5% of the private practice veterinarians in
a recent national poll cited discount neutering and vaccina-
tion clinics as the leading threat to their income. It is possi-
ble that the increasing availability of discount neutering is
holding down veterinary fees. Another survey found that
58% of AVMA members consider neutering only marginally
profitable, while 4% claim to lose money on the procedures.
Rebates to veterinarians who provide discount neu-
tering, funded by differential licensing, are one means of
overcoming veterinary opposition. Palm Beach County,
Florida, pioneered this approach in 1982, after a poll dis-
covered that 74% of West Palm Beach pet keepers, half of
them with family incomes above the U.S. median, consid-
ered the availability of discount neutering either “important”
or “very important” in deciding whether or not to have an
animal altered. The Palm Beach County program altered
13,000 pets during the first four years it was operating.
New Jersey has had the most ambitious subsidized
neutering program in the U.S. since May 1983, financed by
a $3 surcharge on licenses for unaltered dogs. The fund cre-
ated by the surcharge enables people who receive public
income assistance to have pets neutered at $10 each. Any
animal adopted from a pound or shelter may be altered for
$20. Participating veterinarians may charge the state up to
80% of their standard neutering fee. Unlike other discount
neutering programs, the New Jersey program seems to be
popular with veterinarians in private practice. As of January
1986, only 66 veterinary hospitals participated, and had
reportedly performed only 231 neuterings. By 1991, 200
veterinary hospitals participated, employing 400 veterinari-
ans, and were performing 15,000 neuterings per year.
Administered by the state health department, the
New Jersey program has run into cash flow problems
recently, after $300,000 from the neutering fund was reallo-
cated to rabies control in fiscal year 1991, another $300,000
in fiscal year 1992, and yet another $300,000 in fiscal year
1993. Public protest erupted in April 1992 after several vet-
erinarians complained of late rebate payments and discon-
tinued participation.
Meanwhile, inspired by the New Jersey success,
Connecticut on July 1, 1993 instituted a statewide subsi-
dized neutering program, financed by both a $6 surcharge
on the $9.50 fee for licensing an unaltered dog, and
unclaimed neutering deposits on animals adopted from
pounds and shelters. The deposit is set at $45, $35 of
which is refunded if the animal is neutered within 30 days.
Comprehensive ordinances
None of the above strategies are mutually exclu-
sive. On the contrary, the most effective breeding regula-
tions include differential licensing, mandatory neutering of
animals adopted from pounds and shelters, and subsidized
neutering, working in concert. Such regulations must also
be supported by both vigorous enforcement and ongoing
public education.
Comprehensive breeding ordinances met fierce
opposition in San Mateo and King County because they ini-
tially included breeding moratoriums, designed to heavily
penalize any and all breeding until the number of adoptable
animals euthanized in pounds and shelters dropped to effec-
tively zero. Breeders and fanciers charged that the moratori-
ums would have unfairly penalized people who breed ani-
mals carefully and deliberately, to meet demand for particu-
lar types of animal not commonly available from pounds and
shelters. Similar objections have been made to high licens-
ing differentials proposed elsewhere.
The debate served to focus attention on the origins
of pet overpopulation. If the sources of pet animals are any
clue to the origins of strays, a 1984 study of pet acquisition
in Las Vegas is instructive. Researcher Rudy Nassar discov-
ered that 26.3% of pet dogs and 10% of pet cats come from
breeders, kennels, and pet shops; 50% of pet dogs and 43%
of pet cats come from other pet keepers; 11.4% of pet dogs
and 14% of pet cats come from pounds and shelters; 8% of
pet dogs and 24.5% of pet cats are adopted as strays; 4% of
pet dogs and 9.7% of pet cats are born at home. If all or
most of the animals obtained from other pet keepers and
born at home are considered to be from “accidental” litters,
and this figure is combined with the numbers adopted from
pounds and shelters and as strays, the total can be interpret-
ed to mean that 74% of pet dogs and 90% of pet cats are the
result of accidental breeding.
Nassar’s figures are confirmed by surveys of ani-
mal population in pounds and shelters. The SPCAs of Santa
Cruz and Monterey, California, reported in 1987 and 1991,
respectively, that about 27% of the dogs they received were
purebreds, along with under 1% of the cats. More than
3,000 miles away, the Bucks County SPCA in Pennsylvania
found that 25% of the dogs it receives are purebreds.
Overall, at that time, purebred dogs actually had a slightly
lower reclaim rate than mongrels (47% to 54%), and a com-
parable adoption rate (17% to 12%). Thirty percent of the
purebred dogs were euthanized. Breed rescue efforts, spot-
lighted in the April 1993 issue of ANIMAL PEOPLE, may
be dramatically changing those numbers, but the statistical
confirmation isn’t yet available.
Putting the situation into national perspective, it
would appear that 14.7 million of the 56 million pet dogs in
the U.S. were bred deliberately, as were at least 500,000 of
the three million dogs who were euthanized in pounds and
shelters. It is harder to estimate how many of the four mil-
lion cats who were euthanized were bred deliberately, and
the cat population handled by pounds and shelters includes a
substantially higher number of animals born feral, but Cats
magazine has estimated that breeders are responsible for
adding at least 25,000 cats to the random breeding popula-
tion per year. Though these cats’ offspring are not recogniz-
ably purebred, their offspring may number in the millions.
Accordingly, a case can be made that both profes-
sional and hobby breeding are contributing significantly to
pet overpopulation, and do need closer regulation. At the
same time, as Fort Wayne demonstrated in 1989, a year
before the San Mateo County ordinance was proposed, it is
possible to effectively regulate breeding without galvanizing
opposition from politically influential breed fancy groups,
many of which do have ambitious anti-pet overpopulation
programs of their own. The American Kennel Club, for
instance, has repealed rules that barred neutered animals
from competition, and has produced a gradeschool curricu-
lum guide that emphasizes neutering pets. At the local level,
the Fort Lauderdale Dog Club spent $35,000 to neuter 1,000
strays in the Miami area just in the first 90 days after
Hurricane Andrew hit late last August. At the individual
level, the Project BREED Directory lists more than 3,200
breed rescuers and small rescue groups, who are collective-
ly neutering and finding homes for more than 50,000 ani-
mals per year. Clearly the breeding community needs to be
included in designing comprehensive anti-pet overpopula-
tion ordinances. The clinching argument for voluntary
breeder participation in curtailing breeding is that purpose-
bred animals will have substantially more value when simi-
lar animals are no longer euthanized by the million from
lack of adoptive homes.
(Portions of this article are adapted from Legislative
Approaches to Pet Overpopulation, a handbook authored by
ANIMAL PEOPLE editor Merritt Clifton for the American
Humane Association [not yet available to order].)
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