By Christie Keith
August 24, 2010
UPDATE: This post is available as a PDF to download and fax to your elected representative in Sacramento. Download PDF
Dogs and cats are dying in shelters. Do you:
- Work your ass off to pass a law that has never once worked to improve that situation and has, indeed, consistently made it worse, or…
- Work to put in place the set of policies and procedures that have worked to bring every single community that is saving more than 90 percent of the dogs and cats that come into their shelter system to that goal?
It seems obvious, doesn’t it, that the answer is number two. So why are so many self-proclaimed animal lovers dead-set on number one — which is, in case you are new here, some form of mandatory spay/neuter law like California’s SB 250, currently trying to find enough votes to pass?
For many such people, it’s because they haven’t thought it through or familiarized themselves with the facts. They figure only deadbeat pet owners don’t spay or neuter their pets anyway, and they’re just the folks they’ve been told are responsible for shelter killing, and so it seems like a no-brainer.
But if you do use your brain instead, by which I mean you actually investigate those communities that have succeeded or failed in ending the killing of homeless pets, or are very close to succeeding, you’ll see a clear pattern.
None of the successful communities have mandatory spay/neuter laws in place. They have a similar set of programs — low cost or free spay/neuter, trap-neuter-return for feral cats, foster programs, thriving volunteer programs, and a great relationship with rescue groups, local businesses, and the regular members of their community.
That’s because mandatory spay/neuter diverts resources from services like low-cost spay neuter to enforcement and creates new fines and penalties that lead people to give up their pets more readily than they otherwise would, leading to increased shelter intake and more killing.
Furthermore, it’s already been established that the majority of unaltered pets belong to poor people, and the majority of those people would like to alter their pets if the service was accessible and affordable. Making those services even more difficult to obtain isn’t just ineffective, it’s cruel to both people and pets.
People who support mandatory/spay neuter because they honestly believe it will help and who have no other agenda usually change their minds when they learn these facts.
But there are many other people who don’t, and this is why: They aren’t really interested in saving animal lives. They are opposed, for a number of reasons, to the existence of sexually intact animals.
Some of them have moved beyond “sterilization as a surrogate marker of responsible pet ownership” into actually confounding the two things: Being responsible about pets doesn’t mean you’re, well, responsible for them, and control their reproductive behavior and health, but that you alter them, period.
Others really are opposed to the keeping of domestic pets. The lunatic fringe on the other side often makes it sound like this is the majority motivation of mandatory spay/neuter proponents, but that hasn’t been my experience at all.
It is, though, the motivation of those who lead the movement for mandatory spay/neuter. They object on moral grounds to the deliberate breeding of animals by humans, and are often not even comfortable with the idea of domestication or keeping animals as companions.
These people have no desire to see the No-Kill movement succeed, nor to see its successes be emulated. They don’t want shelters to stop killing, because they need animal lovers to blame and hate “irresponsible pet owners” in order to keep us all fighting among ourselves and to prevent us from ending the killing without a massive social shift in how people think about, care for, and envision companion animals.
This is why we see so many people insisting that as long as people don’t do certain things that show they’re responsible pet owners — including spay/neuter but also a wide array of other behaviors, from becoming vegan to only training with treats and clickers to whatever their personal view of proper pet care is — shelters will never be able to stop the killing.
They can’t accept or believe, or allow people to know, that those communities that have stopped the killing — Reno, Charlottesville, Ithaca and all the rest — have done it without everyone in those communities becoming perfect saints.
Because if we can stop shelter killing without eradicating irresponsible pet ownership from the face of the earth…. well, that’s where I have to stop. There’s no “if” about it. We can and many communities have.
To those people who realize a wholesale moral makeover of every citizen of this country will never happen, that’s good news. That’s dancing in the streets news. Because it means we don’t have to do anything impossible to stop the killing. We just have to do the simple, but difficult, things those communities have done.
But to those for whom the moral makeover is the real goal, it’s a tragedy. To the best of them, it’s just letting bad pet owners off the hook for their irresponsibility by removing the lethal (to the animals) consequences of their behavior.
To the worst of them, it’s the loss of a valuable piece of propaganda in their war on the relationship between people and companion animals.
This is why I support the No-Kill movement and oppose mandatory spay/neuter: Because I don’t want homeless pets to die, but to live.
I want them to live even though there are and will always be irresponsible people among us.
I want them to live even if it means that some people will take it as license to “dump” or “abandon” their pets at shelters, knowing they won’t be killed. (Although one wonders how “irresponsible” they really are if they care about that in the first place.)
I want them to live more than I want my own personal vision of the ideal relationship between people and animals to become the law of the land.
Can you say the same thing?