Winter 2003 News


FROM THE PRESIDENT'S KEYBOARD

Winter is my season. Winter is the time of the year when I get more accomplished, enjoy life more, feel more strongly about things, and let more things slide. Most people feel this way in the Spring - what with the blooming and the growing and the renewing and all that. But Winter is really where it's at. Winter has snow. Snow is the only thing that can make sounds seem both quiet and loud. And snow is the easiest and quickest way to make ugly things look pretty. And winter has light and fire defeating darkness - you sure don't get that in the Spring. So Winter is my season.

I hope that No More Homeless Pets of New Mexico will get lots of things accomplished this Winter. We are planning more financial assistance programs for spaying and neutering. We are also planning to work with government representatives at the state level and in Albuquerque to educate the public about the need to control the overpopulation of pets, and secure funding to get it done. If winter is your season, too, then please lend a hand. We need people in all parts of the state to get in on the action, both financially and by informing people of our mission. Let us know if you can help by writing, sending a donation, or calling our message line at 843-NMHP.

Thanks for caring about our critters. Have a Wonderful Winter.

Sincerely,
Laura Banks, DVM
President, No More Homeless Pet of New Mexico


BOOK 'EM, DANNO

We have a problem.

We are awash with dogs and cats in New Mexico. At last count, over 90,000 unwanted pets are held in our animal shelters each year. More dogs and cats are born in our state than ever could be placed in good homes, because not all pet owners have their pet spayed or neutered. Tax-payers pay almost $14 million every year to capture, feed, house, and dispose of unwanted pets. Hundreds of thousands of additional dollars are raised by non-profit animal shelters and rescue groups to assist in combating this problem, which often leads reasonable people to proclaim, "Why don't we just pass a law?"

Not as easy as it sounds.

On the surface, passing a law that would mandate pet owners to sterilize their pets seems like the answer. Looking deeper, however, shows that this proposed solution is actually a complicated legal issue that involves property rights and constitutional questions, and is a tinderbox of controversy. On one side of the issue are animal welfare advocates who cite the moral responsibility of the government to curb the unnecessary killing of animals and the expenditure of public money. On the other side, dog and cat breeders - backed by the AKC - claim laws that mandate sterilization are unconstitutional. Legal scholars have come to the front with various opinions, and some laws have been passed while others have been stymied.

What are "spay/neuter laws"?

The type and scope of "pet population control" laws vary. Very few attempts have been made to institute an actual mandate for surgical sterilization. Some communities have tried, with varying success, to initiate moratoria on pet breeding, without mandating actual sterilization. Some laws include exemptions for certain individuals who have appropriate licenses or permits. A more common approach to the control of irresponsible pet breeding, and the method used in many areas of New Mexico, is to initiate certain pet licenses, permits, and regulations that make it more difficult or costly to maintain an unsterilized pet or to breed pets, in the hope of discouraging all but the most dedicated, professional breeders. These types of laws have also met with mixed success, but somewhat less controversy and fewer constitutional challenges.

The legal eagles

The upshot is that municipal and state governments are allowed to regulate some aspects of the ownership of pets, especially where public health and safety are at stake. The debate is centered on the appropriate level of regulation, and the success of the constitutional challenges. These legal challenges to spay/neuter laws, often elevated to the level of state supreme courts, can turn on the complicated interpretations of legal proofs and constitutional requirements. And those laws that are passed, face the uphill battle of effective enforcement. Overworked, under-funded animal control departments rarely have the ability to take on the added load of enforcing a wide-sweeping, controversial regulation.

What's the point?

The most compelling reason to downplay the significance of spay/neuter laws in the fight against pet overpopulation is the issue of the cost of pet sterilization to the pet owner. Many owners would love to have their pets spayed or neutered but simply cannot afford it. This, of course, initiates the common response, "Then you shouldn't have the pet in the first place." While this is valid in some instances, many pet owners have acquired their pet simply because no one else wanted it. Mandating sterilization that pet owners can't afford lands those pets in the shelter for euthanasia. And asking veterinarians to decrease their prices so that even the poorest pet owner can pay, lands those veterinarians in the unemployment line - leaving no one to perform the needed services.

What about shelters?

Another knot in the rope of pet overpopulation is the sterilization of dogs and cats that are adopted from shelters. While sterilization before adoption is standard practice in progressive shelters, smaller shelters like we have here in New Mexico find this cost prohibitive for them as well. Small shelters must decide if it is better to send an animal out the door unsterilized and risk a ten-fold return of offspring, or put the animal to death. This conundrum has been partially addressed by our state's shelter sterilization law. It requires that adopting owners put down a small deposit and promise to have the animal sterilized on their own. The following is the text of that state statute:

New Mexico Statutes Annotated 1978
CHAPTER 77 (LIVESTOCK CODE)
ARTICLE 1 (DOGS AND DOMESTICATED ANIMALS) 77-1-20. Sterilization agreement and sterilization deposit required. (1993)

A. No animal shall be released from an animal shelter to an adopting person unless a sterilization agreement has been signed and a sterilization deposit has been paid, as provided in Subsections C and D of this section.

B. In addition to any adoption fee charged, a sterilization deposit of at least twenty-five dollars ($25.00) shall be imposed on the adoption of each animal from an animal shelter.

C. Animals less than six months of age shall be released only upon payment of the adoption fee and a sterilization deposit and after the adopting person has signed an agreement stating he will have the adopted animal sterilized when it is no older than six months of age.

D. Adult animals over the age of six months shall be released only upon payment of the adoption fee and a sterilization deposit and after the adopting person has signed an agreement stating he will have the animal sterilized within thirty days of the date of adoption.

E. The sterilization deposit shall be reimbursed only upon presentation of a receipt from a veterinarian that the adopted animal has been sterilized.

F. An unsterilized animal reclaimed by its owner shall be released without being sterilized upon payment of the twenty-five dollars ($25.00) for the sterilization deposit and impoundment fees imposed by the shelter, and the owner shall sign an agreement stating he will sterilize the animal within thirty days after release or will obtain a breeder permit or its equivalent. The sterilization deposit shall be reimbursed upon presentation by the owner of a receipt from a veterinarian that the animal has been sterilized.

Although this law attempts to address the problem, obviously a $25 deposit is not enough to discourage an owner from forgoing the trip to the veterinarian and proceeding to produce pups to sell for hundreds of dollars a piece. And enforcing the state required "sterilization agreement" is often not legally possible for municipal officers.

What can be done?

The contribution of legal mandates to pet population control is unknown. What is known, however, is that many people do want to have their pets spayed and neutered but need financial assistance to do it. What is also known is that New Mexico has no comprehensive public education campaign to point out the connection between the actions of individual pet owners and the number of unwanted pets in our shelters. These two factors are the basis for the activities of No More Homeless Pet of New Mexico, and the reasons we ask for help.

The Mission of No More Homeless Pets of New Mexico is to reduce the number of unwanted cats and dogs in New Mexico until every cat and dog is guaranteed a loving home. No More Homeless Pets of New Mexico will accomplish this mission through:

1. Accessible and affordable spay and neuter programs;
2. Increased pet adoption opportunities;
3. Advocacy and educational programs.

We'd love to hear from you!

Many people in New Mexico have taken advantage of the opportunity to have their dogs or cats spayed or neutered with the help of financial assistance programs. No More Homeless Pets of New Mexico and other animal welfare groups in all parts of the state have conducted programs to help low-income pet owners with the cost of visiting a veterinarian to have their pet "fixed." If you and your pets have benefited from one of these programs, or if you know someone who has, please let us know! Send your story to: NMHP, P.O. Box 94390, Albuquerque, NM 87199.


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