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Monday, May 3, 2010

Law Requires Dogs Be Spayed, Neutered

To my surprise, I found a recently published article online today that was about my home state of Rhode Island.  "Law Requires Dogs be Spayed, Neutered" . 

The town of Warwick, the second largest city in Rhode Island, recently passed an ordinance.  It is a mandatory spay/neuter ordinance.  It is not exactly the type of spay/neuter ordinance I believe in, but it is a small step in the right direction.  And yet, even among animal rescuers, it is a very controversial ordinance.

The ordinance does not mandate spay/neuter of all breeds, it is breed specific.  It is what we refer to as BSL or Breed Specific Legislation.  I have discussed this topic before, and am generally against BSL for many reasons.  This blog can be read here "Breed Specific Legislation or BS Laws".  But in this case, I am hoping that the legislation is a beginning.  In it's own way, this legislation may help protect a breed that is often unfairly judged and more often the victim of neglect and abuse than other breeds.

I have been doing rescue work for seven years.  I receive dozens of emails each week that we refer to as "pleas".  These pleas will focus on animals all over the country in dire need of help.  Most often an overcrowded shelter is approaching their weekly euthanasia day and wants desperately to send dogs to rescue rather than see them die.  Sometimes the dogs or cats need to be rehomed immediately because their owner died, or some other change in owner circumstance.  Sometimes the dogs are being relinquished by a puppy mill owner, and there are just too many dogs for one rescue to handle. Regardless of the reason, dedicated volunteers, known as crossposters, sit at their computers composing and sending emails, posting photos and stories onto facebook, seeking to get one more dog or cat out of the euthanasia room and into a home.  In rescue, we hate to admit it, but we all hate to see the dog in need be a pit bull or a black lab. 

It isn't that we dislike either breed, but both are extremely difficult to place into good homes, and when we see the plea for their safety, we sigh because we know from experience that the chance of this dog finding rescue or a home is smaller than most simply because of stereotype and statistics. 

When I see an effort to decrease the population of a victimized breed, without the insane idea of breed banning, it makes me just a little happy to see the general population moving closer to what I consider the right direction, even if they aren't quite there yet.  Breed bans are wrong, as I discussed in that previous blog linked above.  Breed specific legislation is also wrong, but this one does have some potential.

There are many reasons why breed specific legislation is controversial and weak. 

1. Breed Identification
2. Stereotyping of a Breed
3. Irresponsible Owners
4. Enforcement
5. Free Puppies Don't Know the Borders

1.  Identification of a breed that shares so many common traits with other breeds hinders the enforcement of the law.  Law enforcement also wastes valuable time citing dogs that they believe fall into the category of pit bull, only to find out the dog they cited is a purebred Boxer or Bulldog.  I challenge everyone reading this blog to go to the following page to take a pictorial quiz. .   There are 25 photos of real dogs, and you are challenged to identify on your first try which dog is the pit bull terrier.   Send me a comment to let me know how many tries it takes you to get it right. 

2. Breed stereotypes are dangerous.  For every dog within a breed that is aggressive, there are dozens or more that are not, even with pit bulls.  As a practicing veterinarian with 15 years of experience, there are breeds that I grumble over seeing because of their aggressive and unpredictable tendencies, and pit bulls are not one of them.  Pits, if they are aggressive, generally show me ahead of the game what their plan is.  Rarely have I been surprised by a pit bull. 

3. The weakness in any law always falls to the irresponsible people, in this case, the irresponsible owners.  However, if the law encourages even a small number of  people to move ahead with their decision to spay/neuter their pet, then I see this as a positive. You cannot say any law is weak because some people won't obey it.  That is truth with any law, murder, rape, theft... that does not mean we should not have laws against these crimes. 

4.  Punishment and enforcement of any animal cruelty law is a serious issue in my area.  Reports can be made about abuse or neglect, law enforcement will not act so the animal lingers, or the cases never seem to make it to court despite the stronghold of evidence that sits before them, or the case is made but the punishment is weak.  The law has to be specific enough to enforce, specified punishment has to be significant enough to deter, and enforcement has to be strong enough to save the lives of the animals involved. 

5.  Puppies don't see borders.  Because one town has a breed spay/neuter law, the puppies in the next town will find their way into town via newspaper ads, internet ads, and craigslist.  Once they come into town, we can hope they will become spayed and neutered.

While I see these flaws in the current ordinance, and I still believe that BSL is wrong, I do hope this will make a few positive changes.

1. Fewer litters
2. Lead to MSN
3. Enforcement
4. Decrease Abuse

1.  The obvious change that I hope will come about is a decrease in the number of pit bulls and their mixes that are euthanized in that town each year.   It is too bad they left black labs out of the ordinance...

2. If this law does decrease pit bull euthanansia, perhaps it will help legislators and the general public to open their eyes to the fact that all breed MSN or Mandatory Spay/Neuter laws will decrease the town's shelter budget, decrease the shelter's need/population, and decrease the number of animals euthanized in town each year. 

3. One thing I have learned from experience is that animal cruelty and neglect laws are very weak.  Some cases of animal abuse or neglect have been prosecuted using other non-animal related laws because the punishment was stronger and the law itself was more specific.  In 1997, in Fairfield Iowa, 3 high school students broke into an animal shelter and  bludgeoned 16 cats to death with baseball bats, injuring many others. The prosecutors wanted to charge them with third-degree burglary, trespassing, and breaking and entering because these were felony offenses and offered more severe punishment than animal cruelty charges which are only a misdemeanor. According to an article in the Free-Lance Star Newspaper, "The jury found that the value of the dead cats did not exceed $500- that would be $31.25 each for the 16 cats- thus ruling out felony charges that would have carried up to 10 years in prison and a $15,000 fine." 

4.  The unfortunate truth is that pit bulls fall victim to irresponsible owners more than any other breed of dog.  They are the breed of choice for people who want to gamble on dog fights, own the toughest dog in the ring, then sell their toughest dog's tough little puppies to other fighters.  They go out of their way to make them look mean with spiked collars and cropped ears.  Did you know spiked collars come in pink now?
Fighters pay cash for the dog's ear crop, yet neglect other necessary medical care for obvious reasons.  If mandatory spay/neuter of this breed prevents one puppy from one litter making it into the dog fighting ring, then I believe it is worth it.  If this legislation enables law enforcement to confiscate an intact animal from an irresponsible owner, then take the dog away and fix it.  I guarantee that many people in big cities can tell you where and when dog fighting occurs, yet it continues.
I am a believer in MSN, Mandatory Spay/Neuter Laws. If you opt to keep your dog or cat intact, you should be required to maintain a breeder's license which should have an annual fee higher than the cost of a spay/neuter.

While this law is flawed due to breed specificity, perhaps it is the beginning, and we should be excited about that.  I don't believe this ordinance will hurt any pit bull in any way, certainly not in the way breed bans can and do hurt them.  It does propogate a negative image of the breed which is terribly unfortunate.  But perhaps this ordinance will save a few lives in an indirect way. 

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Lindsay said...

I'm from cedar Falls, Iowa.

I remember the fairfield case well, I was only 17 but it broke my heart...Those things that broke into the kitty sanctuary will move onto people one day... I'm just waiting for a news story to confirm what we already know.

I am the owner of 2 pitbulls and the rescuer of many more.
I am very happy to see a mandatory speuter law. Even if it does just apply to pits for right now. The kindest thing we can do for them is to overall reduce the numbers by having them not born at all, not by just euthanizing the extraordinary numbers!!

Lindsay said...

Took me 3 tries to find the pitbull and I've owned and rescued them for many years

Kristin Redenius said...

Got it on the first try! Dang can I recognize a pit or what? I guess I see far too many of them. Cool quiz though. The tail and body gave it away to me!