I thought this blog post would be timely considering the political climate we are in. With today being Election day, we are voting on major issues such as taxes, health care, and foreign policy. While we focus on the issues that affect many aspects of our lives, what about those affecting our pets? There have been several issues that have been up for legislative debate that affect pet health care. Some of these issues up for discussion includes mandatory spay and neuters, bans on elective surgeries such as declaws, and banning of sales of pets from puppy mills.
Mandatory spay-neuter law and its impact on pet health care
Based on the most recent reporting from the American Veterinary Medical Association, there is currently no state-wide law in the United States requiring all pet owners to spay or neuter their pets. However, there are several cities or local municipalities that have successfully passed legislation making altering pets mandatory. These laws vary from region to region with some areas with stricter laws than others. For example, some state counties require that pet owners spay or neuter their pets by 4 months of age. Many of these same laws give an exception to those whose pets are used for breeding, are medically exempt, or service pets. So why are these laws enacted? These are in response to the overpopulation of the pounds and shelters with unwanted pets. These often burden the cities involved financially and with having enough personnel. So what are the argued pros and cons regarding these laws?
Pros: Proponents of these laws see this as an effective way to control over population. Since there will be a significant decrease in unwanted litters, this will prevent the shelters from being overwhelmed.
Cons: Opponents of these laws typically take issue with specific aspects of the law. One issue is the age requirement for these surgeries. Many believe that having pets spayed or neutered at 4 months of age is too young. Another issue is that some breeders believe even if there is an exemption they may still be impacted by the law. There is also the issue that some people believe spay or neutering may have a negative impact on the health of their pets. See perspective on spay/neuter debate.
Banning of elective surgeries (declaws, ear cropping and tail docking)
Another issue of legislative debate has been the ban of specific elective surgeries. Elective surgeries are those medical procedures performed on pets that are not always medically necessary. Some of the most controversial surgeries include declawing in cats, ear cropping, and tail docking. While there haven’t been any statewide bans of these procedures, there are states that have regulations. On the local level there are cities and counties that have been successful in banning some of these procedures. (e.g. declaw bans in counties in California). The states that have regulations on these procedures focus on making sure they can only be performed by licensed veterinarians and only in specific circumstances. It is obvious that proponents for bans of these procedures think of them as cruel and unnecessary. But why resistance for bans of these procedures? From the veterinary side there are many who believe enacting these bans represents government over reach into the profession. Also there is a concern that people responsible for making those final decisions are not fully knowledgeable about veterinary medicine. There are breeders who also may feel like their livelihood may be impacted if they don’t have access to these procedures. There are many who believe they these procedures are necessary to conform to certain breed standards.
Banning pet stores from selling puppy mill puppies
Puppy mills have been a hot topic among animal advocates for a considerable amount of time. Reason being is that puppy mills often involve excessive breeding of dogs typically in inhumane conditions. This often results in puppies being born with several health problems. There have been a few states that have banned these sales in the hopes to improve the welfare of these puppies. The biggest challenge for passing these laws has been proving that puppies are coming from the puppy mills. Many of the pet stores who are involved act in a very secretive manner when acquiring these puppies. Therefore gaining definitive evidence has been difficult.
My perspective on these issues
Mandatory spay neuter laws
Due to my previous experience of working in a no-kill shelter I would be more inclined to support mandatory spay-neuter laws. I could see the direct impact of overpopulation on the shelters. But I understand the resistance to these laws. One is there is a possibility that some responsible breeders may be penalized. Also I understand making the age requirement as young as 4 months of age can be a deterrent. So for this law to be successful there would have to be a way for responsible breeders to continue their livelihood without the risk of being penalized. Also there would need to be more flexibility on the age requirement for the surgery.
Banning of elective surgeries
Compared to when I first started my career and now, I have noticed a significant decrease in the amount of veterinarians willing to perform these procedures. I also find that many owners who elect to have these procedures performed, often have to go to somebody else outside of their regular veterinarian. So in general it seems these procedures are getting less popular. However, there are concerns I have regarding enacting a complete ban on these procedures. One is it may set a precedent for government overreach in a career that already has it own governing body in each state. As I mentioned before, there is a real concern about non veterinarians enacting laws telling veterinarians how to practice medicine. There is also a concern that banning veterinarians from these procedures will encourage more unqualified people to attempt these procedures. This is especially an issue I already see with severely botched ear cropping procedures. Does this mean that there can’t be any regulations for these procedures? Not necessarily, but I believe the emotions on both sides of the issue make it difficult to come to any compromise.
I have seen directly the impact of puppy mill pets on pet health care. Many of these puppies are born with conformation abnormalities that have long term effects on their health. Also there are most likely to have rare and serious diseases that can spread to other pets. So I strongly agree that something needs to be done to close down these puppy mills and provide consequences to those who operate them. I think passing legislation that directly affects the puppy mills would be more effective than attempting to ban sales to pet stores. The reason is that many of the pet stores have found loop holes to avoid consequences by hiring veterinarians and inspectors that work to their advantage.
In conclusion you can see how politics can make a significant impact on pet health care. I believe the biggest challenge with enacting laws protecting pet health care is enforcing them. Many states either don’t have the resources or are not willing to spend money to make sure these laws are enforced. This probably won’t change unless people’s attitudes toward pets change.