AMONG THE ANIMALS: Legislation under consideration could save thousands of animals’ lives

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Puppies left at a NW shelter when someone didn’t spay their dog

Published in City Living Seattle
Feb. 7, 2012
By Christie Lagally
Copyright Pacific Publishing Company

For a lifetime, we have heard the mantra to spay and neuter our pets, and most of us heed the call.

But for many Washington residents, access to spay/neuter services and the ability to pay for them is not as straight-forward, and unwanted pets are a natural result. Public spay/neuter programs are a vital and effective life-saving tool to help reduce the number of animals that end up in shelters.

Sadly, tens of thousands of animals are brought to Washington shelters each year, with roughly a third or more of the animals euthanized.

Recently, the Seattle Humane Society announced some exciting news: It has achieved a benchmark of 100,000 spay/neuter surgeries over the last 30 years. Similarly, last year alone, the Feral Cat Spay/Neuter Project in Lynnwood performed 7,415 surgeries, and PAWS performed more than 500 public spay/neuter surgeries through its clinic and more than 1,300 shelter-animal surgeries in 2011.

While this is a big achievement, unfortunately, it is not quite enough to make a statewide dent in our pet-overpopulation problem, yet. Many animal-welfare groups are hoping for help from our state Legislature.

The legislation

Currently, the Washington state Legislature is open for business, and among the many other bills awaiting consideration in either the House or Senate are House Bill 1226 and Senate Bill 5151 — the so-called “spay/neuter-assistance bills.”

The Washington Alliance for Humane Legislation (WAHL) is advocating for these bills to be passed to implement a program to provide statewide spay/neuter services. This program would initiate a small fee on pet food paid by pet-food distributors to provide roughly 65,000 spay/neuter surgeries for pets of low-income families or homeless animals each year.

It is expected that the fee, which would cost Washington pet owners about 2.5 cents per pound of pet food, would bring in about $10 million per year and, in the long run, would dramatically reduce the burden that animal overpopulation, euthanasia and animal control has on state and local governments.

This spay/neuter program would not use any general funds.

In fact, according to WAHL board member Rick Hall, a statewide spay/neuter program has many additional benefits, including reducing the euthanasia of tens of thousands of cats and dogs in Washington shelters and helping to reduce the growth of feral-cat colonies.

Hall explained that at least eight other states in the country have similar programs, and states such as New Hampshire saw a 75-percent decrease in euthanasia and a 34-percent decrease in shelter intakes during the first few years its program operated.

More than 80 animal-welfare groups statewide have come out in favor of the spay/neuter assistance bills.

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Kittens at PAWS during ‘kitten season’

A proactive solution

Kay Joubert, the director of companion animal services for PAWS, said the organization “fully supports” the bills.

She explains that we need statewide spay/neuter programs to fill in the gaps in rural areas where no spay/neuter services are available. This program encourages pet owners to utilize the services of local veterinarians who would be compensated by the program for providing low-cost spay/neuter services to the community.

“PAWS was originally formed to provide access to low-cost spay/neuter services. It’s a core philosophy of PAWS,” Joubert said. “We can’t adopt our way out of the problem of pet homelessness. We have to have a multi-prong approach.”

Joubert feels that most pet owners won’t mind paying a little extra for pet food because they recognize that this program is a preventative measure.

“Our research shows that the pet-food fee is insignificant to the customer,” said Hall, whose research found that even simple price variance between pet-supply stores was larger than the difference a pet-food fee would add to the cost of food.

Nonetheless, several groups are against HB 1226 and SB 5151 because the fee is like a tax at a time when new taxes are as unpopular as cleaning the kitty box.  Most notably, the Pet Food Institute and the Washington State Veterinary Medical Association spoke out against these bills during a legislative committee meeting last spring, based on their concern that a tax or fee on pet food would be a burden to pet owners.

“I’d rather fund schools instead of prisons,” Joubert said, and I agree. I would rather fund a statewide spay/neuter program instead of shelter euthanasia. It’s simply a better use of our money and improves our community overall.

To find out more about the spay/neuter assistance bills, visit the Washington Alliance for Humane Legislation at www.savewashingtonpets.org. To learn more about PAWS, visit www.paws.org.

To have your pet spayed or neutered, contact your veterinarian or one of the following clinics listed on the Seattle Animal Shelter website at www.seattle.gov/animalshelter/spay-neuter-clinics.

CHRISTIE LAGALLY is a freelance pet columnist who manages the website “Sniffing Out Home: A Search for Animal Welfare Solutions” at http://www.sniffingouthome.org.

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