The Very Real Importance of Spaying and Neutering

posted October 15th, 2007 by
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Story by Ruth Steinberger

The number of animals entering the Tulsa City Shelter each year alarms individuals and humane organizations striving toward a reduction in animal suffering in Tulsa. 
According to city records, in 2006, 17,734 animals entered the Tulsa City Animal Shelter. Of those 12,541, or 70.7%, were killed. Whether resulting from ignorance or a lack of caring, this tragedy costs over 1.5 million dollars per year. While the intake number changes slightly from one year to the next, the relative percentage of animals released through adoption or to rescue organizations, or being euthanized, changes little.   

Without increased support for an aggressive spay/neuter effort, including enforcement of existing laws, the numbers will be unlikely to drop. 

Regulations in the City of Tulsa require all pets over the age of six months to be spayed or neutered, unless the owner has a breeder or hobbyist exemption.  This means that any resident of the City of Tulsa who advertises to sell or give away pets in the classifieds, and who does not have this permit, is literally advertising that they have broken the law. While budget constraints prevent enforcement except when the animal is reported as a public nuisance, statistics show that enforcement of the spay/neuter ordinance is imperative to reducing shelter intakes, addressing many animal-related complaints, and based on the findings in other cities, would likely save money. 

Enforcement of Tulsa’s spay/neuter ordinance is a humane issue, a public health issue, and a budget issue. Overall, whether or not pets are altered affects the communities in which they live.  Responsible pet ownership, which includes sterilization, determines if a dog will be a good canine citizen or will become a taxpayer burden.  

For all municipalities, the spaying and neutering of pets in the community is the single greatest element in creating a humane solution to shelter overcrowding.  It is not possible to build a big enough shelter, or provide enough adoptive families, to address pet overpopulation. 

Hundreds of examples of spay/neuter efforts resulting in dramatically lowered shelter intake rates exist. In Oklahoma, the cities of Okmulgee and Bristow have both dramatically reduced shelter intakes by offering sterilization services for low-income residents, with the  

1) Bristow shelter intake being reduced by over 85% and  2) Okmulgee at more than 75%. There are no examples of a euthanasia rate being humanely lowered by a primary effort aimed at an increase in adoptions in the absence of effective spay/neuter programs. 

Euthanasias are driven overwhelmingly by the number of animals entering the shelters, not simply by a failure to send enough animals out. Ultimately, fewer animals entering the shelters translates to fewer animals destroyed. 

Judy Kishner, founder and President of SPAY OK, a non-profit spay/neuter clinic operating in north Tulsa since 2004, said, “A walk through the city shelter is a sobering experience. If you figure that most of the dogs originated in Tulsa, those animals are testimony to the need to enforce this law. These are mixed breed dogs that would have been prevented had this law not been broken by the owner of the mother dog or cat.” 

Referencing that some criteria deems dogs under three years to be ‘adoptable,’ Kishner continued, “Sadly, each day that this law is ignored provides the promise of at least three more years of a shelter full of unwanted dogs needing homes. It’s like bailing out a boat without fixing the leak. The cycle needs to end.”  Kishner added, “This is an issue for everyone.  Roaming animals, looking to breed and wandering neighborhoods, affect quality of life for humans. They don’t have to bite you to be a nuisance.”

The average dog will have three to five homes in her life, and less than one in ten dogs will remain in one home for life. Most mixed breed canines will become unwanted by age two.  Simply, too many dogs are bad for the community, the taxpayers and the animals themselves. 

Over 86% of dog bites requiring a hospital visit involve unsterilized (intact) animals. In fact, although the breeds often thought of as dangerous dogs, including Pit Bulls and Rottweilers, account for a disproportionately high number of serious bites and fatal maulings, these incidents overwhelmingly  involve unneutered animals.

Spay/neuter is also the backbone of all efforts to reduce animal suffering.   From the humane perspective, whether or not a pet is sterilized is a predictor of whether or not the animal will remain in the home or be released to a shelter or even abandoned, and it is the single greatest predictor of whether a dog will actually become the victim of an accident or an act of cruelty.  

Roughly 80% of canines found dead on the road are intact males, and the majority of animal cruelty cases involving canines  involve intact adult males as well. 

Jim Weverka, Animal Control Manager for Lincoln, Nebraska and two time past President of NACA (National Animal Control Association) explained the dollars and sense side of this issue in 2002. He cited an advisory board in Lincoln that formulates animal control policies based on strong city wide enforcement and on avoiding policies that are impossible to enforce.  For example, most animal related complaints made to municipalities involve behavior that is directly related to breeding including roaming, fighting and property destruction through marking, etc. While Tulsa’s animal control ordinance mandates that cats must be kept indoors or on the owner’s property, in Lincoln cats that are allowed outdoors must be sterilized. Weverka pointed out the common sense of this issue, “Because of roaming and other breeding related issues, unaltered animals are seven times more likely to be picked up by the municipality. That costs money.” Ultimately, these issues also tie up the courts and law enforcement personnel as well.

Peter Marsh, nationally known for developing the first successful statewide spay/neuter program, a program which reduced the kill rate in New Hampshire by 80% in under four years, explained that spay/neuter is absolutely the first line in halting animal cruelty. Marsh told Tulsa Pets Magazine, “You simply cannot move forward on humane issues without first addressing pet overpopulation. It is hard to tell people that animals are important in an environment in which they are disposable.” 

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