A story in the latest issue of Fanc-e-Mews, the online newsletter of the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA), caught catmanager’s eye this morning.

Titled “Mandatory Spay/Neuter: The Wrong Answer for Cat Lovers,” the story (direct link here) assesses the impact of proposed legislation to require the spaying and neutering of owned adult cats.

An example is this year’s New Mexico House Bill 1106, called the “Pet Owner Responsibility Act”. It would, with limited exception, require the surgical sterilization of every cat or dog over the age of 6 months. An intact permit could be obtained for certain show animals entered into competition at least once a year, along with certain other requirements.

(The text of the bill, for those curious, is here.)

Unfortunately, the story does not provide other examples. A sidebar at the top of the story (“Legislative Alert—State”) does list two communities in California trying to enact legislation. The third item in the sidebar is a bit misleading, however. A quick glance might leave readers thinking that Minnesota has proposed similar spay/neuter legislation. However the CFA’s concern with Minnesota is a proposed law allowing the state to license and inspect anyone owning six or more intact female cats. Such legislation could be viewed as a proxy for spay/neuter legislation because it would force pet owners (with six or more cats) who aren’t breeders to spay their cats or pay a fee to be licensed as breeders. Strictly speaking, however, the Minnesota legislation does not address the issue of mandatory spaying and neutering.

Catmanager suspects a deeper motivation for this story is CFA opposition to breeder regulation.

The story offers several reasons why CFA considers spay/neuter legislation to be a bad idea:

  • 1. The legislation addresses a nonexistent problem: “cats enter shelters because of failure of owners to alter their pets.” I agree that understanding a problem should precede legislative attempts to fix the problem, and the CFA correctly notes that cats are surrendered to shelters because of behavior problems, housing issues, and so on, not because they haven’t been altered. But CFA mischaracterizes the issue. Spay/neuter legislation isn’t intended to curb cats who are surrendered because they are unspayed. It’s intended to curb the flow of owned, intact cats who become strays because owners allow them to wander off (or actively abandon them) or because owners allow queens to reproduce and their kittens to wander off.
  • 2. The legislation will divert resources away from badly needed trap/neuter/release (TNR) programs, which the CFA characterizes as one of the “real solutions to the problem.” Catmanager likes TNR (I’m a big fan of Alley Cat Allies), but I also know that studies of such programs have shown, at best, mixed results. A recent study in Preventive Veterinary Medicine (abstract here) showed promising results from a TNR program in Rome, Italy. However, the study authors also found a high rate (approximately 21 percent) of new arrivals, especially including abandoned cats, to feral cat colonies. They conclude from this that TNR programs “without an effective education of people to control the reproduction of house cats (as a prevention for abandonment) are a waste of money, time and energy.”
  • 3. Legislation will cause well-meaning people to stop feeding/caring for strays. Isn’t this beside the point if the intent of the legislation is to reduce the number of strays? Frankly, well-intentioned people who feed stray/feral cats are only helping those cats to reproduce. Colonies tend to form around available food supplies and will grow to meet the available supply.
  • 4. Legislation could lead to “entire breeds of cats [being] forced into extinction.” The point the CFA is trying to make is that if hobby breeders are forced to decide between registering as breeders (and possibly submitting to inspection) and spaying/neutering their cats, they will give up breeding, thus leading to a reduction in the genetic diversity of some breeds and the outright extinction of those breeds with only a small following. Catmanager finds this argument overwrought and highly speculative. Surely legislation can be crafted that addresses the valid concerns of breeders. This is, in fact, happening in Sacramento County, CA, where the county is working with a facilitator to “reach a consensus with dog and cat breeders on specifics of the proposed ordinance [requiring spaying and neutering].”
  • 5. Legislation won’t change people’s attitudes. Probably true, but I disagree with CFA’s claim that when the legislation proves ineffective “veterinarians are often conscripted into becoming government agents . . . required to report unaltered pets who receive treatment.” Yes, this could happen. But I don’t think it’s a realistic possibility. Is there any precedent for this sort of deputization? (Laws requiring pet licensing are in place in many towns and cities, but I’m not aware of veterinarians being required to report people who don’t license their pets. And laws requiring human healthcare workers to report child abuse and veterinarians to report animal abuse seem to me to fall into a rather different category.) Besides, state VMAs and the AVMA are effective lobbying organizations and would put up a considerable fight.

Catmanager doesn’t necessarily believe that laws are the answer to the problem of stray and feral pet populations, but I feel the CFA overstates their case. Well-crafted laws can play a role (sharing the stage with a number of other solutions) in addressing this highly complex issue.

If you’re interested in exploring further, you might check out The National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy and this publication from Save Our Strays.