It is good public policy for governments to create clear, strong incentives for dogs and cats to be spayed/neutered—and at an early age, before the first litter.
Achieving higher levels of spay/neuter advances at least four policy goals:
- To decrease animal suffering. Reducing the number of unwanted cats and dogs leaves fewer homeless animals to wander the streets and the countryside, where they are exposed to the elements, hunger, and disease, and can become victims of abuse and cruelty.
- To decrease shelter euthanasia. Our shelters and rescues simply do not have enough capacity to house all of the unwanted cats and dogs who need homes. And many animals have health or behavioral problems that make them difficult or impossible to adopt out. Even with good shelters and rescue organizations, too many animals without homes means that too many animals will eventually be euthanized.
- To protect community health and safety. Stray, unmanaged cats and dogs can be a source of bites and scratches (and the risk of infection and transmission of dangerous diseases, like rabies); automobile accidents; and community nuisance (begging at restaurants, harassing other animals, engaging in heat behaviors such as roaming and yowling, etc.). Worse, negative impacts on humans can, in turn, result in certain people committing acts of animal abuse and cruelty.
- To save money for governments and for taxpayers. Promoting and encouraging spay/neuter, thereby keeping dog and cat populations in check, allows communities to redirect a certain portion of their funds that would otherwise be spent on sheltering and animal control.
What kinds of laws are needed to carry out strong spay/neuter policy?
- Neutering assistance laws. States and localities should establish spay/neuter assistance programs that provide financial support to people who want to spay/neuter but lack the means to do so. Equally important is that these assistance programs have a reliable stream of funding—for example, from spay/neuter license plates, pet food surcharges, tax checkoffs, or other sources.
- Pre-release sterilization laws. States and localities should require that animals in the custody of shelters, humane societies, and animal control facilities be spayed/neutered prior to release. Neuter before adoption requirements reflect not only good policy, but also common sense: it is illogical for any government to add to the already large and expensive problem of pet overpopulation by allowing animals to leave public agencies un-fixed.
- Licensing laws. Jurisdictions with dog or cat licensing requirements should charge a reduced fee for animals that have been spayed/neutered.
For these or any laws to be effective, government officials must ensure that they are enforced and also that the public is educated on what is required and how to comply.