Mandatory Spay/Neuter for Memphis

dog and catMemphis, Tennessee has passed a law that mandates spay/neuter. For the most part. 

Under the ordinance no person "shall own, harbor, or keep within the City of Memphis, a dog or cat over the age of six months, which has not been spayed or neutered". This includes "[a]ny person who feeds, shelters or harbors an animal or permits it to remain on" his or her property. Like feral cats.

There are a host of broad exemptions that will continue to allow breeding for (1) use of dogs as service, guide or therapy animals, by search and rescue, law enforcement and other government agencies; (2) use of dogs for herding or as livestock guardian dogs or hunting dogs; (3) dogs or cats registered with the American Kennel Club, the Cat Fancier Association or other recognized registry or trained and kept for the purpose of show, field trials or agility trials; and (4) dogs or cats whose owner has obtained an unaltered animal permit. The permit requires a one time $200 fee and limits breeding of each animal to once a year. 

Also exempt are animals whose veterinarian has said there is a health reason for not being spayed/neutered and dogs or cats "boarded in a licensed kennel or a business, which boards such animals for professional training or resale".

Regardless, tethered dogs must be spayed/neutered.  Also, an unaltered animal with a record of one bite and/or attack must be fitted with a microchip implant and spayed or neutered within thirty (30) days of the incident.

The penalty for a violation is $50 per day.

Will it work?

The city may need to do something else to reach its stated goal "to protect the citizens and pets of Memphis from the dangers of overpopulation of dogs, the overcrowding of the Memphis Animal Shelter and prevalence of dogs that are abused and abandoned".

Like make free or low cost spay/neuter readily accessible and aggressively educate people on the importance of spay/neuter and where they can obtain the surgery free of charge or at a heavily reduced rate.

The law is likely to prompt many people to spay/neuter their pets certainly over time as they get used to the idea. There is low cost spay/neuter available to some extent in the Memphis area, but it is limited. Without free or low cost spay/neuter that is readily available, it is not clear the mandatory law will work to reduce significantly the numbers of unwanted animals that end up at the city shelter. Certainly, the law will be difficult to enforce and could not only divert but also increase animal control costs.

Studies have shown a mandatory spay/neuter law can mean fewer people license their pets, resulting in fewer animal control dollars and greater incidents of rabies and other diseases from animals whose owners fail to comply with licensing and vaccination requirements.

The burden of a mandatory law like this falls on low and moderate income pet owners. With 11% unemployment and a poverty rate that is twice the national average, spay/neuter will simply not be affordable by many residents. Without free, low cost and even moderate cost pay/neuter, many people are likely to simply dump them at least in the initial period following passage of the law. In Los Angeles, for example, shelter intake and numbers of animals euthanized increased following enactment of mandatory spay/neuter in 2008.

For a look at problems at Memphis Animal Services during the past year…