Colorado Joins Other States in Mandating Spay/Neuter for Dogs, Cats Adopted from Shelters

Cat in shelter

A similar bill in Kentucky is pending.  

Colorado Governor Bill Ritter now has on his desk for signature H.B. 1185 which would require dogs and cats adopted from animal shelters or rescues to be spayed/neutered. The bill has passed the state legislature!

Colorado’s scheme is typical of several other states: Dogs and cats must be spay/neutered prior to their release to a new owner unless the adopter pays a deposit and signs an agreement to have the animal sterilized within a certain period of time. Once a veterinarian has issued a statement that the surgery has been performed, the deposit is refunded to the adopter.

If the adopter fails to have the animal spayed/neutered, the deposit is forfeited to the state’s Pet Overpopulation Fund and the animal can be reclaimed.  The surgery can be delayed or not performed at all, however, if a veterinarian finds the animal’s health would be jeopardized.      

The requirement does not apply to shelters or rescues that already have programs requiring the spay/neuter of dogs and cats adopted from their facilities.

Other states with similar schemes are Arizona, A.R.S. § 11-1022; California, Cal Food & Agr Code § 30503; District of Columbia, D.C. Code § 8-1807; Florida, Fla. Stat. § 823.15; Kansas, K.S.A. § 47-1731; Maine, 7 M.R.S. § 3939-A; Massachusetts, ALM GL ch. 140, § 139A Michigan, MCL § 287.338a; Missouri, §§ 273.403, 405 R.S.Mo; Montana, Mont. Code § 7-23-4202; Nevada, §574.600 et seq.; New Mexico, N.M. Stat. Ann. § 77-1-20; New York Agric. & Mkts. Law § 377-a, North Dakota, N.D. Cent. Code, § 40-05-19; Oklahoma, 4 Okl. St. § 499.2; Pennsylvania, 3 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§459-901-A, 459-908-A; Rhode Island, R.I. Gen. Laws § 4-19-16; and Utah Code §§ 10-17-102-10-17-107.

Still other states don’t require the deposit, just the agreement that the adopter will have the animal spayed/neutered within a certain period of time. Those states are  Alabama, Code of Ala. § 3-9-2; Arkansas, A.C.A. § 20-19-103; Georgia, O.C.G.A. § 4-14-3; Iowa, Iowa Code § 162.20; Louisiana, La. R.S. 3:2472 ; Missouri, §§ 273.403, 405 R.S. Mo; Nebraska, Neb. Rev. Stat. § 54-638; South Carolina, S.C. Code Ann. § 47-3-480; Tennessee, Tenn. Code § 44-17-502; Texas, Tex. Health & Safety Code § 828.001 et seq.; Virginia, Va. Code Ann. § 3.1-796.126:1; and West Virginia, W. Va. Code § 19-20B-2.    

Along with its requirement of spay/neuter for dogs and cats adopted from shelters, Connecticut provides a voucher at a cost to adopters that is valid for a period of time for a low cost spay/neuter. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 22-380f

Illinois simply requires animals must be spayed/neutered before the adoptions are finalized.  8 Ill. Adm. Code 25.140 Likewise, Delaware requires dogs and cats must be spayed/neutered before they are released to adopters. The only exceptions are for animals that are too young or for health reasons. Even then, the state requires a deposit that is refunded once the animal that was too young is spayed/neutered. 3 Del. C. § 8220

New Hampshire, NH RSA 437-A:2, :3, allows adopters to participate in its low cost spay/neuter program but does not specifically require animals adopted from shelters or rescues to be spayed/neutered.

Surprisingly, a bill, H.B. 1293, has passed the New Hampshire House that would eliminate the eligibility of these adopters to receive state subsidized low cost spay/neuter.

Click here to contact New Hampshire senators and urge them to vote no on this bill.

Maryland’s legislature failed to pass a bill that would have mandated spay/neuter of dogs and cats adopted out by animal shelters or rescues. But a bill in Kentucky that would do just that is still pending. Help Kentucky join the many states that have moved to spay/neuter dogs and cats adopted from animal shelters and rescues. Click here to contact Kentucky legislators and urge them to support H.B. 39.

It makes sense to require spay/neuter of animals adopted from shelters.

But it is not clear how effective, if at all, are the laws that allow adopters simply to sign an agreement to have the animal spayed/neutered, at least without government subsidy of the surgery.

Texas law, for example, allows shelters or rescues to enter into a sterilization agreement with the adopter. but there is no requirement. Under the agreement the adopter must agree to have the animal sterilized within 30 days or 30 days after a baby female becomes six months old or a baby male becomes eight months old. Tex. Health & Safety Code §828.003. The adopter is required to send a letter confirming the sterilization or face a misdemeanor charge; the shelter or rescue can also then take back the animal.  Tex. Health & Safety Code §§ 828.005, .009, .010  There is no requirement the shelter or rescue obtain a deposit from the adopter to insure the surgery takes place. (It should be noted also this law does not apply to animals reclaimed from the shelter by their owners or to counties with less than 20,000 people or municipalities with a population of less than 10,000.)

It is widely reported that enforcement is non-existent. The law seems to have done little to reduce shelter intake and euthanasia rates in North Texas cities, for example, like Dallas, Irving, Garland and Fort Worth.

In New Hampshire there is no particular mandate to sterilize dogs and cats adopted from shelters but spay/neuter is available to adopters for the low cost of $40. The population control fund offers low cost spay/neuter for more animals than just those adopted from shelters or rescues, but, regardless, the state’s euthanasia rate has dropped state wide by 70% since 1994.  

James D. Couch, city manager for Oklahoma City, pointedly told the city, "[A]ny dramatic improvements to decreasing [shelter] intake and euthanasia rates will have to come in the form of a government-funded spay program, either alone or in concert with assistance offered by community animal groups, targeting low-income owners, low-compliance neighborhoods and individual chronic violators. " 

Tacoma has an ordinance that states no animal can be released for adoption unless it has been spayed/neutered. Sec. 17.010.120. There is a municipal spay-neuter fund. Owners can use their vet at their own expense for the spay/neuter, with the shelter making the appointment and transporting the animal to the clinic. If the owner is low-income qualified, the shelter will transport the animal to a participating vet and will pay the cost for the spay/neuter from the municipal fund.  The program which also applies to owners other than those who have adopted animals from shelters,  has been successful in reducing intake and euthanasia rates.   

To ensure the success of laws that require spay/neuter of dogs and cats adopted from shelters or rescues, some enforcement is likely essential, whether through a mandate the animal cannot be released without the surgery or the payment of a deposit by the adopter to be used for the spay/neuter or to be refunded upon proof of sterilization. Alternatively, state or local governments must provide readily available free or low or moderate cost spay/neuter such as with a voucher at the time of adoption.

Let us know what your experience has been in your state or community with laws mandating spay/neuter of animals adopted from shelters or rescues.

In a follow up article, Animal Law Coalition will examine state and local spay/neuter funding and the effect on shelter intake and euthanasia rates.