Spay and Neuter Requirements

There are literally millions of unwanted pets in this country. The number is staggering, and so are the problems they create. Stray animals spread disease, bite people, attack livestock and pets, and cause traffic accidents.

Overwhelmed by the number of animals showing up in their shelters, most communities until recently had only one response: give the animals a few days of care and a humane death. National figures are impossible to come by, but no estimates are below four or five million euthanized animals each year.

That's changing now. Spurred by animal shelter workers sickened by their jobs, shelters and local governments are turning their attention to the

root of the problem: the surplus of unwanted animals caused by irresponsible owners who let their animals breed.

Many animal shelters now require people who adopt dogs from the shelter to have the dogs spayed or neutered. It's the law in most states. If the animal hasn't been sterilized before it's released for adoption, the new owner may have to sign an agreement to get the animal sterilized and to put down a deposit (around $50), which can be reclaimed only with evidence that the animal has been spayed or neutered. Low-cost sterilization is available in many cities.

A much more far-reaching (and controversial) policy is mandatory spaying or neutering of all pets unless the owner acquires a special permit. So far, this approach has been tried in only a few places. Denver, Colorado, requires dogs over six months old to be sterilized unless their owners buy a permit each year. Fort Wayne, Indiana, requires a breeder's permit for anyone who intentionally or accidentally causes the breeding of a dog or cat.17 In San Mateo County, California, the County Board of Supervisors, pressed by Humane Society staff - who put to death up to 10,000 animals every year - declared that such large-scale euthanasia was not a cost-effective, acceptable or ethical solution to the problem of pet overpopulation.

The San Mateo law requires all dogs and cats over six months old to be spayed or neutered unless the owner buys a permit allowing an animal to be kept unaltered. Before an "unaltered animal" permit is issued, the owner must sign a statement promising that the animal will not be allowed to breed until a breeding permit is issued.18 Violators can be fined $100 for a first offense, and up to $500 for subsequent offenses. The law, which went into effect in 1996, resulted in a significant drop in the number of incoming homeless animals.

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