Update Oct. 20, 2010: Ypsilanti Township, Michigan has voted to adopt an ordinance mandating the spay/neuter of "pit bull type" dogs. The Township says "pit bulls" fill the shelter.Â
Original report: It does seem that if people were stopped from breeding "pit bulls", there would be fewer of them especially that end up in the public shelters.
The problem is that mandatory laws like this haven’t worked elsewhere. It is unlikely that it will mean substantially fewer "pit bulls" in the shelters.Â Instead, it is likely to increase shelter intake and euthanasia of all dogs and balloon animal control costs.Â
"Pit bull", of course,Â is not a breed but a shorthand name for several breeds. Also, there are 20+ breeds of dogs that have similar appearances and are commonly mistaken for pit bull breeds.Â It is almost impossible for anyone including animal control officers to identify a "pit bull" accurately.Â
Recently, in DenverÂ Victoria Voith, D.V.M. did a little test on animal shelter directors, dog trainers and others who work with dogs.Â
They were asked to view 20 dogs on a videotape and identify each one by breed including whether the dog was a purebred or a mix. The professionals were surprised by how few dogs they identified correctly by breed. Voith believes as many as 75% of the pit bull identifications made by shelter workers, animal control or law enforcement are wrong. She is the author of Shelter Medicine: A Comparison of Visual and DNA Identifications of BREEDS of Dogs.Â
In the case of Margolius v. Denver, Â the court found animal control officers could not definitively identify a dog as a pit-bull terrier.
In the Ohio case of Toledo v. Tellings the dog warden testified if a dog was 50% pit bull but didn’t resemble a pit, then the dog was not considered a pit bull. If a dog looked like a pit, regardless of the % of breed, he considered it a pit bull. The dog warden agreed one cannot really tell whether or not many dogs have pit bull in them. The Tellings appeals court noted "Criminal charges have likely been brought based on purely individual and speculative decisions on whether the jaw of a dog is "massive" enough or the chest is muscular enough or the brow is broad enough to be designated as a "pit bull". Â The appeals court found the process of identifying a pit bull was too subjective, basically that there is no definitive way to prove a mixed breed is a pit bull.Â Â The appeals court found it was likely many non-pit bull dogs had been mis-identified.
As DNA testing becomes more reliable, it is proving that many of the dogs identified as pit bull are actually a mix of dozens of breeds with little or none of the DNA of pit bull type dogs.Â
If the ordinance proposed in Ypsilanti Township passes, the reality will be that animal control resources will be used to search out dogs that may or may not be "pit bulls" and impound them because they are not altered. The result will be family pets representing numerous breeds will be taken from their homes and fill the shelters. Â The ordinance will "criminalize" dogs just because they are unaltered and create a climate where dogs are viewed as enemies rather than family members requiring proper care, management, and affection. Â
Not one national health or animal welfare organization including the American Veterinary Medicine Association, the Centers for Disease Control, National Animal Control Association, American Kennel Club, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, American Canine Foundation, National Canine Research Council, among others, supports breed discriminatory laws.Â
Results of similar mandatory spay/neuter ordinances that target pit bulls
San Francisco mandated spay/neuter of pit bulls in 2006. The number of dogs impounded actually increased after the ordinance went into effect. The euthanasia rate for dogs and pit bulls, in particular, remained roughly the same.
Kansas City is another example.Â In 2006 Kansas City passed a law mandating spay/neuter of "pit bulls". In the two years after the ordinance was passed, there was a substantial increase in pit bulls surrendered or confiscated and taken to the city shelter, 38% and more in the second year. Intake of dogs of all breeds increased as well.Â
Euthanasia rates for pit bulls continued to increase.
Kansas City also during this time privatized the shelter and there were substantial efforts to provide free or low cost spay neuter.Â Then, by 2009, euthanasia for ‘pit bulls’ was down 30% from the time the ordinance went into effect and for non-pit bulls was reduced by 63%. But note that euthanasia of pit bulls was down only 50% as much as for other breeds despite the ordinance that was passed specifically to reduce numbers of pit bulls that end up in the shelters.Â The reason is in part because there was at the same time a 25% increase in pit bulls impounded and euthanized simply because their owners had not spayed/neutered them under the new ordinance.
In communities where laws have mandated spay/neuter regardless of breed, there has been an increase in shelter intake of animals, not a decrease, and substantial increase in animal control costs. Â See attached listing of a sample of communities where mandatory spay/neuter laws have failed.
Take Los Angeles:Â For several years before a mandatory spay/neuter law took effect in 2008, shelter intake and euthanasia rates were declining likely because of increased access to free or low cost spay/neuter. In the two years since the law was passed, shelter intake and euthanasia rates have increased just like in the breed specific examples of San Francisco and Kansas City.
There are a number of studies and findings in the attachment that illustrate problems with mandatory spay/neuter laws:Â Fewer people license their pets, resulting in fewer animal control dollars and greater risk and even incidents of rabies and other diseases from animals whose owners fail to comply with licensing and vaccination requirements.Â The burden of a mandatory law like this falls on low and moderate income pet owners, and many will opt to surrender their pets rather than comply. Animal abandonment could increase.
Alternatives that will work to reduce shelter intake and euthanasia rates
You can reach a lot of pit bull and other pet owners and convince them to spay/neuter their dogs simply through education.Â Partner with local veterinarians, vet techs, dog trainers, local rescues and advocates, and offer educational programs about the importance of spay/neuter and provide the public with information about where they can obtain spay/neuter and the costs.
The key to encouraging spay/neuter is also the availability of a subsidized, low cost spay neuter program. Providing free or low cost spay/neuter will avoid the harsh costly results of a mandatory law and result in a decrease in shelter intake and euthanasia instead of an increase. See attached listing of examples of states and communities where there were substantial reductions in shelter intake and euthanasia rates because of subsidized spay/neuter.
Along with programs to encourage spay/neuter, it makes sense to provide training and pet owner classes to help pet owners keep their animals rather than surrender them. In other words, examine why people are surrendering these dogs and help address those issues.Â
Studies have shown that it is voluntary spay/neuter that reduces shelter intake. See attached listing. But targeting certain populations of animals has worked to reduce intake: animals adopted from shelters. The Louisiana SPCA claims its shelters now take in less than Â½, 11,000 down from 23,000, of the animals they did in the mid-1990s. The LA SPCA attributes the decline in shelter numbers to programs requiring spay/neuter for animals adopted from its shelters.Â
Also, targeting low income areas to benefit from subsidized spay/neuter makes sense. It saves costs and focuses on the population that is generally the least likely to spay/neuter.
The impact of dog breeding in your area should not be underestimated as a contributor to shelter intake. It has been estimated that up to 50% of dogs in public shelters are from breeders. It would be important to implement regulation of breeders and restrict places where they can sell puppies to the public to avoid impulse buys and enable the township to track them.Â
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Attend the meeting on October 19 and call on Ypsilanti Township officials by contacting Karen Lovejoy Roe, email@example.com Brenda Stumbo firstname.lastname@example.org Larry Doe email@example.com Mike Martin firstname.lastname@example.org Michael Radzik email@example.com Stan Eldridge firstname.lastname@example.org and urging them to NOT PASS a breed discriminatory law and instead do theÂ following:
- 1. Develop an education program in partnership with local veterinarians, dog trainers, local rescues and advocates, and offer educational programs about the importance of spay/neuter and provide the public with information about where they can obtain spay/neuter and the costs. Advertising and marketing would be important in getting this message across to the public. Along with that, determine why dogs are surrendered and help develop community based training and pet owner programs that will help owners keep their pets rather than surrender them to the shelter.
- 2. Ensure animals adopted from the shelter are spayed/neutered.
- 3. Create incentives for spay/neuter such as reduced licensing fees, a free training session or other giveaways from local veterinarians and other businesses.
- 4. Determine where in the township the animals that are not spayed/neutered are coming from and develop a subsidized spay/neuter program for those areas. Subsidized programs can be developed with local rescues and advocates, veterinarians, vet techs or vet tech schools, and local businesses. It would make sense to reach out to nearby townships and counties and create a regional resource for low cost spay/neuter that targets low income areas.
- 5. Require dog breeders to register or obtain licenses, limit breeding by age and number of dogs per breeder, ban the sale of dogs in pet stores and along roadsides, street corners, sidewalks and other public areas and at flea markets and festivals; require inspections of breeders’ facilities and track sales of dogs by breeders.