Sunday, October 16, 2011

Senseless in San Diego

Despite record low shelter numbers, and thousands of dog smuggled across the border into San Diego County each year, the city of Chula Vista is considering a mandatory spay/neuter ordinance


by Geneva Coats, R.N.
Secretary, California Federation of Dog Clubs

According to the latest US Census, San Diego County is home to over 3 million people. And, by my calculations, there are approximately 2/3 of a million owned dogs in San Diego County. And close to that many owned cats, as well.

How do we arrive at this figure? Over 39% of US households own at least one dog, according to the latest American Pet Products Manufacturers survey. Further, 40% of dog-owning households own multiple dogs. San Diego County contains over a million households. Crunching the numbers, the estimate is that San Diego County is home to at least 625,000 dogs.

Further, shelter numbers in San Diego County (as available on the website of the California Department of Public Health) reveal that, in 2009, for the entire county, there were 371 dogs killed in San Diego shelters. That's less than 0.06% of all the owned dogs in San Diego County.

In 2010, less than 1% (0.78%) of all the dogs in the county, or 4869 total dogs, were killed in San Diego shelters. The exact number of dogs who were truly adoptable, and not ill, injured, aggressive or otherwise not adoptable, is not known, but of course would be even lower than that 3/4 of 1%.

From "Maddie's Fund" website:

"Saving all of our healthy and treatable shelter dogs and cats by 2015 is more than possible - we're almost there!"

Not many when put into perspective, right? Of course, there is always room for improvement. And, none of us want to see any adoptable pet killed unnecessarily. 

In fact, no shelter in San Diego County should be killing any adoptable animals. There is a huge market for dogs in San Diego County. Those hundreds of thousands of dogs have to come from somewhere. If the average lifespan for a dog is about 10 years, then San Diego County will need over 60,000 new puppies each year. Demand far outstrips available supply. At least one shelter in the County, Helen Woodward Humane Society, imports dogs from other states, and sometimes from as far away as Romania. When it was noticed that a proliferation of sickly puppies were being smuggled in from Mexico and sold to unsuspecting consumers in the greater San Diego area, a US Border Patrol survey was conducted in 2005. The survey concluded that, each year, nearly 10,000 dogs and puppies are brought into San Diego County from Mexico.

The City of Chula Vista is the second largest city in San Diego County (after the City of San Diego), and is situated about 10 miles from the Mexican border. Chula Vista undoubtedly absorbs thousands of smuggled puppies each year.

Ignoring the existing market demand and lack of locally-sourced puppies, Chula Vista City Councilman Rudy Ramirez has decided that a mandatory spay-neuter law is needed. Now perhaps we can't blame this gentleman for believing such a law might be necessary. On the City's animal control website, we find this:

The Chula Vista Animal Care Facility encourages owners to always spay and neuter their pets. There is a serious pet overpopulation problem in San Diego County that has resulted in thousands of euthanizations each year.

The fact is that euthanizations in San Diego County are down significantly. The number of dogs euthanized in 2010 is down by 70% over the numbers killed in the late 1990s. Remember, some of these euthanized animals were severely injured, sick, aggressive, or otherwise not savable. Clearly, great progress is being made in the reduction of shelter intakes and deaths. And, this success was achieved without the use of coercive legislation.

"A serious pet overpopulation problem in San Diego County"? There is absolutely no evidence to support that assertion. Let's put the figures into perspective. There are over 3 million residents in San Diego County. Last year, one animal entered a shelter for every 63 county residents. One dog was killed for every 637 county residents. One cat was killed for every 327 county residents.   

When animals are killed in shelters, it cannot be reasonably blamed on "overpopulation."  The number of puppies smuggled in to San Diego County is more than DOUBLE the number killed in shelters. There is a market for pets in San Diego. Spaying/neutering all the local dogs and cats will remove the best sources for healthy, well-bred and well-socialized animals. People won't own fewer pets; they'll just get them from somewhere else. A mandatory spay/neuter proposal would only serve to increase the black market demand and to promote the breeding of dogs in foreign puppy mills.

While the goal of reducing shelter deaths is laudable, mandatory spay-neuter laws don't help. In fact, the opposite is true. Every locale that has enacted a mandatory spay/neuter law has seen a RISE in shelter admissions and killings. 
  • San Mateo County's Peninsula Humane Society spearheaded the nation's first mandatory spay/neuter law. They did not have the expected success with that approach. In the areas of the county where the ordinance was implemented, dog deaths increased by 126 percent, while cat deaths went up by 86 percent. Licensing dropped by 35 percent.
  • Fort Worth, Texas repealed their mandatory spay and neuter law as licensing and compliance plummeted, and cases of rabies increased.
  • Memphis, TN passed a mandatory spay and neuter law last year. Since then, shelter intakes have risen 8% in that city.
  • Los Angeles is another case in point. After decades of steadily declining shelter numbers, LA reversed the good trend in one fell swoop with enactment of a mandatory spay and neuter law. Intakes and deaths immediately rose by over 30% and continue in an upward spiral.
  • Lake County, CA has has a mandatory spay-neuter law. Their shelter killings are now four times higher than the state average.
  • Montgomery County, MD repealed their MSN ordinance after there was no improvement in shelter deaths, but there was a 50% drop in licensing compliance.
  • Aurora, Colorado, also has had a dramatic drop in licensing compliance since their mandatory spay-neuter law passed.

No mainstream animal welfare organization supports mandatory spay and neuter. The American Veterinary Medical Association opposes it. So does Best Friends Animal Society, American Humane Association, Maddie's Fund, Alley Cat Allies, the American Kennel Club and the No Kill Advocacy Center. The ASPCA also opposes mandatory spay neuter, saying: 

"The ASPCA is not aware of any credible evidence demonstrating a statistically significant enhancement in the reduction of shelter intake or euthanasia as a result of the implementation of a mandatory spay/neuter law."

Mandatory spay and neuter does not work because it does not address the reasons that animals enter shelters. Those reasons are varied, but they have nothing to do with births. Animals enter shelters due to social problems like loss of a job, home foreclosure, or divorce or death of the owner. Mandatory spay/neuter does nothing to help pets remain in their homes. Ownerless cats make up a large portion of shelter intakes and spay-neuter laws won't reduce the numbers of feral cats. 

Sometimes there are behavioral issues for which training programs might provide a useful solution. To help get more animals adopted, shelters could implement more proactive ideas like extended hours, foster programs and off-site adoptions. Advertising campaigns can help educate prospective pet owners to consider a shelter animal when they are thinking of getting their next pet. Trap-neuter-release programs are proven methods for feral cat population control.

Besides, a recent national pet population survey reveals that 78% of owned dogs and 88% of owned cats are already sterilized. The public is cooperating with voluntary spay and droves!  

Education coupled with voluntary, low-cost sterilization clinics, has been very successful.  Collaborative, supportive programs always outperform punitive and coercive programs like forced spay/neuter. Such laws do not serve the best interests of pets or their owners.

Community programs in our California cities should be based on education, science and fact, and modelled after programs with proven success. Mandatory spay-neuter is a proven failure. Chula Vista officials should reject this cruel and counterproductive policy. 

Please attend Rudy Ramirez's "town hall meetings" and make your voice heard on this issue.

Chula Vista City Hall
276 Fourth Ave.
(Fourth and F St)
Chula Vista, CA 91910

Monday   October 17 @ 6 pm
Thursday October 20 @ 1 pm
Saturday October 29 @ 9 am

And now, for a glimpse into the crystal ball:

Dear Abby,

Recently my city forced me to have my dog Chipotle neutered. Chipotle was my best friend! I took him wherever I went. Unfortunately, Chipotle was a tiny Chihuahua who barely weighed three pounds. He died during his neuter surgery. I am devastated. What should I do?


"Chumless in Chula Vista"

Dear "Chumless",

First, I'm very sorry about the loss of your Chihuahua "Chipotle". There is no sense suing the veterinarian when the City of Chula Vista is clearly the responsible party. Get a good lawyer and take them for every gold Chip in their treasure Chest.



  1. Perhaps Chula Vista should instead impose a ban on the import of "rescue" animals for adoption, pass an ordinance barring landlords from restricting the size of pets and permitting reasonable security deposits for owned animals, and the creation of community based programs for helping residents keep their pets instead of surrendering them (such as access to training assistance).

  2. "People won't own fewer pets; they'll just get them from somewhere else. "

    I think that's your key phrase .. the *real* goal is to reduce pet ownership, and ultimately 'phase it out'.

    I just checked craigslist posts for Friday, Saturday and Sunday this past weekend for S.San Diego county (where Chula Vista is located).

    A total of 8 (eight) dog ads and 4 (four) cat ads were placed for the entire region.

    This law is NOT NEEDED!

  4. Mandatory spay/neuter does nothing to address the public's insatiable appetite for the company of pets, nor why the resulting relationship so often fails. Whether we do or do not agree that another species should "serve" us in any capacity, the fact is that for thousands of years pets have done just that and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Until we find the answer to that complex question, we need to take action to care for them as best we can.
    Shelter dog/cat problems are, IMHO, best solved by addressing sourcing and providing support around pet ownership. Locally sourced pets from knowledgeable, qualified and responsible breeders could serve as at least one part of the solution.
    I encourage hobby breeders to embrace their roles in reducing shelter numbers by focusing their expertise and passion on the breeding of healthy, well suited family pets.
    Increasing community exposure and involvement could help shape the public's expectations and standards for the way puppies ( and their parents) are raised. It's clear that huge numbers of dogs end up in shelters due to owner relinquishment. If those people could turn to an involved, educated breeder for support ( or as a safety net), I suspect those numbers might plummet.

  5. Hi "LocalDog"
    Thanks for the endorsement for local hobby breeders. I wish politicians felt the same way, but unfortunately they seem to have been bought and paid for by those who don't believe that other species should "serve" us as pets. This is an "animal rights" philosophy. Animal rights extremists prefer to see dogs and cats die in shelters than share the company of man. Pathetic losers that they are.
    How much below LESS THAN 1% of the dogs in the community should we reasonably expect shelter numbers to drop? Numbers have already plummeted to a no-kill level. There are 70% fewer dogs in shelters in San Diego today than there were in the late '90s.
    See the graph in the article? Nationwide, we are already at no-kill levels. No crisis here. We'd love to have hobby breeders be able to providing healthy happy dogs for the community, but alas, the politicians don't seem to share a similar philosophical enthusiasm.
    In California, owner relinquishment accounted for less than 18% of dogs in shelters in 2010. Another 8% were already dead when collected by the shelter. That leaves 74% of dogs captured as strays or turned in by someone who found them. 19% of all dogs in shelters were subsequently returned to owners. Cats have separate demographics. All numbers can be found on the California Dept of Public Health website. Oddly enough, no one seems to actually look at the stats, much less consider their significance.

  6. Interesting figures. I wonder if nation relinquishment numbers are higher as per the NCPPSP study ( or if numbers have dropped even since the study ( and if so why?).
    How to make these stats more digestible and accessible to the general public...?
    Also, any indications where are all the strays coming from?

  7. I don't know about the nationwide relinquishment numbers; I don't think that any precise nationwide figures are tabulated. The doens't contain shelter numbers that I am aware of.
    As to getting the stats more into the public eye; it's something that is slowing coming to fruition. The media is reluctant to cover such stories as "horror stories" alway seem to make for more sensational press releases and those seem more often destined for the news outlets. Good news is not as marketable.
    The latest APPMA survey shows that there are over 78 million owned dogs in the US. Approximately 3 million dogs enter shelters each year, and that is just a small percentage of all the dogs that are owned. It's not a stretch to think that a small percent have strayed from home, or an even smaller percent are given up by their owners. The focus needs to be on moving forward and re-homing the adeoptables, rather than worrying so much about where they come from.
    Oh, yes, let's not forget that it is raining dogs from other countries. Hundred of thousands of dogs are brought in every year from ouside the continental US. Many of these are brought in by "rescue" groups, and many more are smuggled in. There are several posts here about humane relocation on this blog, and check the NAIA website for more info on that also.

  8. Here's an update to this article. Chula Vista animal shelter manager admits in meetings and in the news media that they NEVER kill any adoptable animals. That means that the only animals killed are those that are ill, injured, aggressive, and those completely unsocialized to humans (like feral cats).
    80% of the deaths in Chula Vista are cats, presumably ownerless, unlicensed, and not suitable as pets. These cats should be neutered and released, not killed.
    Chula Vista is at NO KILL right now, and oppressive laws will only cause increases in shelter intakes and deaths. The shelter manager seems to believe that there should not be animal control departments, as she stated she wished they could pass some sort of laws that would "put me out of a job." How realistic is that? There will always be a need to care for stray, injured, ill or displaced animals. Some will be pets and some will be wildlife. That's just the nature of life on our planet.
    It seems the authorities in Chula Vista don't live on the same planet as the rest of us.