The latest web poll for the month of April on Web-DVM dealt with whether it should be mandatory by law to have canines and felines spay and neutered, with the right to breed obtainable by application for a license. The voting was just as I expected with 61% not in favor, versus 39% in favor (total of 122 participants since April 9, 2008).
The reason I was not surprised that the majority was against this type of legislation, is that on the surface, it may seem a bit tyrannical, impinging on our rights as pet owners, and as Americans in general. To many it may seem to spell of a "big brother is watching," and to be sure, I understand why some would feel this way. However, as one who is in favor of mandatory spay/neuter legislation, I would like to present my case for why this should be so. After explaining my reasons for my stance on this controversial topic, it is my hope that I may convince some of those opposed to my point of view, that my position does indeed have merit.
My first point begins with the tragedy of animal shelters overflowing with puppies, kittens, dogs, and cats, many of which are sweet animals that would make excellent pets. Their circumstances that placed them in the shelters are often the result of people callously discarding them simply because the pet of a couple breaks up and neither wants it, owners have to move and cannot be bothered with making accommodations for the pet, or people adopt pets on a whim and abandon them because they realize that there is some work and responsibility that goes with pet ownership. The most tragic circumstance is the animals in the shelters that have been well cared for and accustomed to love from elderly owners who have passed away and there is no family available (or willing) to take them. Whatever circumstances brought them there, if the animals do not get adopted in an allotted amount of time, they get euthanized to make room for the constant influx of more animals with the same predicaments.
We clearly see this situation continuously playing out before our eyes, but in the rural and poorer sections of the county that I live, intact animals are are allowed to roam and breed at will, creating more offspring to contribute to an already unacceptable problem. When their children wish for a pet, rather than go to the shelter and rescue a doomed animal, they instead wait for a neighbor's cat or dog that has multiple litters a year to pop out yet another litter and pick one out (these people in turn are not likely to have their own pet altered, so they are destined to contribute to the problem in due time).
Allot of this action is simply born out of ignorance, but who will inform the public and convince them that they are contributing to the tragedy of overflowing shelters? The veterinarians certainly cannot, as these demographics tend to infrequently seek veterinary care for their pets. Many do not even listen when we have the opportunity to educate them, clinging to religious or philosophical beliefs, or outdated notions of not interfering with nature's way. Then, of course, there is always the occasional dimwitted man who refuses neutering because he equates the pet's castration with the concept of his own (few things in practice irritate me more than this!).
However, if animal control officers had the authority to fine people with unaltered animals (just as they do for unlicensed pets or pets not vaccinated for rabies), they would be inclined to have it done. This would lead to a less excessive pet population overall that would encourage adoption from shelters and rescues, as well as decrease the numbers of homeless animals flowing into the shelters. Also, altered animals live healthier, more well adjusted lives, make better pets, and are less inclined to run away or wander.
My other main point about mandatory spay/neuter is the fact breeders have no real accountability, other than 14 day puppy/kitten lemon law. A veterinarian's license is a matter of public record. If there are any judgments against us for legal, ethical, or competency violations, all one needs to do is go to the Florida professional website and have a look. This enables the consumer to scrutinize veterinarians prior to choosing one to care for their pets, and provides a means for the state board to suspend or revoke the licenses of veterinarians that are in repeated violation of ethical, competency, and legal guidelines. Why should this not be the same for breeders, many of whom time and again we find to be violators ethics and competency?
If breeders have to apply for and maintain a license that stands as a matter of public record, breeders will be significantly more accountable for their actions. When they act in a manner that is not ethical, such as: breeding animals before the age that many genetic diseases clinically manifest (2 years), thereby possibly unknowingly passing inherited genetic disease to offspring, knowingly breeding animals with inheritable genetic disease, keeping the parents or puppies/kittens in cruel or unsanitary conditions, falsifying paperwork, etc. In my experience, 9 out of 10 breeders are guilty of at least one of these violations, and with very little accountability within the law for these infractions, the consumer and pet that was purchased under these circumstances suffer with no legal recourse for justice or compensation.
With a state license necessary to breed legally, people who wish to breed and sell animals still may have the right to do so. The difference would be that making them carry a license to breed, disciplinary action can be taken against their license when they act in an unethical or inhumane manner.
The breeding of animals should not be taken so lightly. Not approached with prudence, restraint, and scrutiny, both animal and human suffering often result. With too many people not taking any interest in educating themselves on the true implications of breeding and the responsibility that comes with it, then it becomes the responsibility of the government to enforce a set of lawful guidelines and ethics that people must adhere to or suffer consequences.