Friday, December 14, 2012

7977 Steps Forward

There is a well known saying; "One step forward and two steps back". I am sure that you have heard the phrase. Luckily, when it comes to Austin Animal Welfare, we have steered clear of this phrase since the adoption of our city's "No Kill" Plan in 2010. We may take steps back every now and again. In my opinion, moving the Animal Shelter away from it's former location at Town Lake was a step back for the animals, but generally speaking, in Austin, we have been in a pretty constant forward motion over the last couple of years.

Unfortunately, it's looking like the Austin Animal Advisory Committee is about to put the breaks on our forward motion and possibly start pushing our amazing progress backwards. 

At the Austin Animal Advisory meeting this month (December 12th, 2012) an ordinance draft was brought into the room which would propose a mandatory registration and spay/neuter ordinance of all pet dog and cats in the Austin metro area. 

It sounds harmless enough, you pay a fee to register your pet and if your pet ends up at the shelter, you get a phone-call. WRONG! This ordinance has more power than most people realize and my heart breaks at the thought of the destruction this document could do to our animal welfare system. 

First and foremost, I must state that I am 100% for No Kill (learn about the No Kill Equation). I credit the amazing individuals within the Austin Community for introducing me to the life-saving alternatives and for mentoring me and opening my eyes to the amazing things that can happen when a community comes together.  Over the past 4 years, I like to say that Austin has moved 7977 steps forward. (In 2008, Town Lake Animal Center was the last place that 9946 animals called 'home' before they were killed in our city shelter. In 2011, that number was reduced to  1969 animals that were killed in our city shelter. I don't condone the deaths of all of those 1969, but a 7977 reduction in the number of pet's euthanized is not something to ignore. Especially considering that of the 1969 put to death, a number of those were true euthanasia cases.) 

I often hear that registering your pet brings the same benefits as registering your car. That's not true at all. Despite the obvious reasons (dogs aren't cars, duh), mandatory pet registration and spay / neuter laws are a death sentence for many, many well-taken care of pets within our community (not to mention that you will incur a class-C misdemeanor if you don't comply).

Just a few years ago, a bottle baby kitten would have
been killed immediately upon entering our city shelter.
Today, because of programs like the Austin Pets Alive
Bottle Baby ward, kittens like this little one are given a
chance at life.
Over the past few years, Austin has been a united front in the battle against unnecessary shelter killing. The city shelter has been working with the community to promote adoption, increase return to owner situations and of course the shelter has opened up their doors to the many rescue organizations that are voluntarily stepping up to pull animals from the kill-list. Without these welcoming programs, Austin could easily move back to the 2008 statistics and kill 50% of the animals walking through their doors. These mandatory laws change things and rather than working with the public, Animal Control employees that were once so willing to help bring Fido home when the gate was accidentally left open are now leading Fido into a concrete kennel because his owner couldn't afford to spay/neuter him.

Mandatory Registration and Spay/Neuter laws have proven ineffective in every community in which they have been implemented. In Los Angeles, CA, Mandatory Spay/Neuter Laws were implemented in 2008. Looking at the Dog Statistics in particular, intake increased by nearly 5000 in the first year that the ordinance was passed. That number increased to nearly 6000 additional dogs in 2009, nearly 8000 additional dogs in 2010 and nearly 10,000 additional dogs in 2012 (this is an increase in numbers from 2007, before the ordinance was passed). Along with the increase in animals, the kill-rate has also increased within the Los Angeles Shelter. 

As you can imagine, the costs for housing the additional animals, as well as the costs for enforcing these laws is a huge burden on the city. So, why would any successful No-Kill Community want to bring these ineffective and costly laws to our own community? I personally would not want even a dime of my tax-payer money to be used for ordinances such as these! 

In addition to the financial, fatal (for the animals) and emotional (for the responsible pet parents that lose their pets) toll that this ordinance could take on our city, there is also the underlying threat of future issues. In Sikeston, MO, after responsible pet owners registered their pets with the city, the city passed a breed discriminatory ordinance. As you can see in this video, the city started rounding up Pit Bull type dogs that had never caused an issue, but that had been registered in compliance with the city ordinance. I would like to think that Austin would never implement a breed-discriminatory law, but when laws like mandatory spay/neuter are brought about, there is no guarantee that more irrelevant laws will not continue to creep into our lives. 

Spaying and neutering pets is a sensitive issue and mandating with laws is certainly not going to encourage better decisions. In fact, many pet owners may simply choose not to spay/neuter. There are hundreds of thousands of amazing pet parents that do not spay/neuter their pets, for multiple reasons. I personally advocate voluntary spay/neuter. I have paid money from my own pocket to help out a neighbor when they needed to have their pet altered. Without my help, they truly could not afford the surgery. Does that make them a bad pet parent? Absolutely not! This little pooch is spoiled rotten and rivals my pets in the number of toys and treats he sees. However, if this law was mandatory, my neighbor may have lost her pet due to city ordinance. Or, if she chose to steer clear of the city, her pup may have lacked routine veterinary care for fear of 'getting caught'. Ordinances like these may scare people away from Veterinary clinics and routine pet care. I don't believe that a widespread disease epidemic is going to occur, but I do think that routine care is in the best interest of our community's pets.

Low-cost and readily available Veterinary care, including low-cost Spay/Neuter is absolutely key to improving the animal welfare situation in any city. Education and encouraging pet owners to make the decision to spay/neuter results in more positive outcomes as well as keeping pets where they belong... right at home, where they are loved!

So, what can you do to stop this ordinance? Email the City Council (click here) and let them know that you do not support this ordinance and that you would encourage research into the issue. Not only does this effect your tax-dollars, but this truly effects our entire community (and the communities that look to us as leaders in the No Kill Movement).

Stephanie Conrad
Pet Studio Art | Owner | Artist

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