Madison, Wisconsin to Consider Mandatory Spay/Neuter Law for “Pit Bulls”

I love it when people propose legislation and, in anticipation of the opposition, not only condescend to tell the public they shouldn’t oppose it, but give the public specious reasons why they shouldn’t oppose it.   That’s what Madison, Wisconsin Animal Services spokesman Patrick Comfert did when touting Alderman John Strasser’s breed-specific mandatory spay/neuter ordinance (BS MSN) for “pit bulls,” which will be heard by the Madison City Council today, February 4, 2014.

Comfert, who compiled the statistics and helped Strasser compose the draft ordinance, told the Wisconsin State Journal that,

We never considered a ban . . . People have wonderful pit bulls. A ban is discriminatory. What this is saying is that we recognize that this particular dog is a problem, and the numbers back that up.

So let me get this straight.   A ban is discriminatory, but a breed-specific law specifically targeting “pit bulls’” genitalia somehow isn’t discriminatory?

And all that Mr. Comfert’s numbers may “back up” is that the city of Madison could quite possibly just be lazy and may not be trying to find homes for “pit bulls.”   Still, Mr. Comfert tries to assuage his opposition:

Im sure there will be some who are worried that any sort of legislation mentioning ˜pit bull will affect its reputation . . . I hope those people will see the good in this. If they love the breed, Im hoping they love the breed enough to admit that it comes with some problems.

Wow, is that ever manipulative!   So Mr. Comfert is saying if you love “pit bulls,” whatever that is this week, you’ll lay down for his and Strasser’s invasive — to your privacy and certainly your dog’s — nanny-state legislation.   That’s slimy even for a politician.  

First of all, “pit bull” is not a breed, which is why enforcing breed-specific legislation (BSL), any breed-specific legislation, is impossible.   Secondly, you will always have those who, thanks to breed-specific laws, harbor banned or restricted dogs underground where they don’t license, vet, or vaccinate their dogs, and statistics on MSN from over 20 years ago back that up.

As Nathan Winograd noted in Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America,

“Studies show the primary reasons people do not sterilize their pets are cost and lack of access to spay/neuter services . . . The higher the cost, the lower the rate of compliance . . . Punitive legislation will only discourage people from caring for homeless pets or drive disadvantaged people ‘underground,’ making them even harder to reach and help” (112).

Driving people “underground” was just one of several negative outcomes when the nation’s very first mandatory spay/neuter (MSN) law was passed in San Mateo County, California in 1991:

 . . . dog deaths in the areas governed by the MSN ordinance increased 126% and cats 86%, while areas of the county not covered by MSN laws decreased.   Licenses declined by 35%. It was primarily pushed by the Peninsula Humane Society (PHS). The PHS assessed the San Mateo MSN law to have been ˜disappointing since it led to increases in shelter killing. (From MSN a Failure Everywhere.)

Likewise, Santa Cruz County, California passed an MSN law in 1995 which saw the Animal Control budget skyrocket and licensure compliance plummet.   The same happened in Los Angeles County, California when they passed an MSN law in 2000: Licensure compliance declined and the Animal Control budget almost tripled from $6.7 million to $18 million.

Are Madison aldermen and Animal Control really so naive as to think that the dogs they call “pit bulls” won’t likewise be relinquished, dumped, or taken “underground” simply because the City hands out low-cost spay/neuter vouchers? (And did they try these vouchers before they resorted to an MSN law?)   For instance, after Riverside County, California passed a breed-specific mandatory spay/neuter ordinance for pit bulls in October of 2013, owners started dumping their dogs on what has come to be known as dead dog alley, a stretch of dirt road just inside the limits of the city of Indio, California in Riverside County.  

Its called dead dog alley because dogs are dumped there by owners who can no longer afford to keep their dogs thanks to Riverside Countys breed-specific mandatory spay/neuter ordinance, and abandon them on the desolate dirt road where the dogs frequently get run over.   Would you call that humane???

 No, indeed it is not humane, which is why Winograd so cuttingly concludes that,

“While some activists simply do not know better [than to pass MSN laws] and mean well, others obstinately ignore facts, experience, and history and continue to push these types of laws . . . They will continue to blame the public and they will continue to fight for more and tougher laws. They will argue that their community is different, that their situation is unique, that citizens in their community are particularly or peculiarly irresponsible. None of this is true, but they do not care” (117).

Winograd is referring to the culture of bureaucracy which often keeps Animal Controls and shelters from successfully adopting a ‘No Kill’ policy.  

This bureaucracy, in the interest of self-preservation, places blame on the public for supposed pet overpopulation, when the blame should instead rest squarely on the institutions themselves.   While mired in red tape, these institutions have become entrenched in a culture of killing instead of seeking ways — like low-cost spay/neuter clinics, more adoption days, better community outreaches, and well-written ads in local newspapers — to save animals’ lives.


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