Low income, the law and surplus Animals
by Bob Christiansen
In trying to find solutions to pet overpopulation we must keep in
mind that less than 3% of dog owners are responsible for surplus
births. The main reason for cat overpopulation is feral,
free-roaming, unowned cats.
When government looks at ways of solving transgressions, fines
and fees play an important role in modifying human behavior. This
approach work well with human violations like drunk drivers for
example, people fear penalties and fines for violations. This
tactic, however is not effective with low-income animal owners.
When progressive organizations study their regional pet
demographics they find a disproportionate amount of surplus pets
coming from low-income areas.
Here are the reasons why!
On average, 1 in 3 dogs are licensed. Licensing is a failed
system despite the fact that it is the law. It promises to return
lost dogs home. In fact, if your poor, it instigates their
demise. Dog licensing nationwide is not obeyed by a majority of
citizens. 30 to 35% compliance rates are the norm.
There are many reasons why licensing has an overall negative
effect. The poor simply do not license their pets. As a result
they run scared of authority. They are afraid to make use of any
services that will expose them to law enforcement. They do not
visit veterinarians, participate in shot clinics, use low-cost
spay/neuter programs, or seek health assistance for injured or
suffering pets. They do not redeem pets that end up in shelters
and often dump pets rather than take them to shelters and face
possible fines. When confronted by officials that require
payments for fees and fines, owners forsake ownership. After all,
the average cost to obtain a new dog is only 50 to 75 dollars, or
in some cases, by simply answering an ad in a paper.
Animal advocates, frustrated by continually high euthanasia
rates, exasperate the problem even further by proposing tougher
laws compelling owners to spay/neuter. Disincentives in the form
of higher license fees for intact pets, breeding bans,
door-to-door license sales, higher penalties and limits on the
number of animals allowed in households are proposed.
Cash-starved animal control officials welcome the thought of more
The poor are put in a no-win situation by intact license fees and
fines. Where anti-breeding ordinances are in effect, many poor
people might like to neuter their pets, but cannot afford to do
so. Nor can they afford either the registration fees for having
unaltered pets or the fines for noncompliance. This failed policy
unjustly targets the poor. Plain and simple, it's extortion:
pay/spay or we kill your dog or cat!
The main reason for licensing is, in theory, to return lost pets
home. In reality, it's a pet tax. Designed to pay for government
services. Unfortunately, 70% to 75% of dogs and cats that enter
animal control shelters in California have no identification.
Stray pets produce a tremendous impact on shelter capacity and
are the root cause of high euthanasia rates. Let's be real. Stray
dogs are not a breeder problem. They are an owner "pet retention"
Furthermore, strays negatively impact the resources of the
system. There are no impoundment revenues collected from owners
who cannot be found. License and impoundment fees generated by
responsible owner's pay for services that are disproportionately
used by unidentified, unlicensed dogs and cats.
Study of programs that have enacted harsh anti-breeding
ordinances reveal increased euthanasia rates and, in the case of
high differential licensing, lower licensing rates. This means
lower revenues for animal control programs. In turn, this results
in more general fund, taxpayer dollars to underwrite enforcement
and promotion programs. At the same time, 60% of the dog owning
public who don't license their dogs become irate at public
officials and animal control enforcement officers, especially
when they employ door-to-door campaign tactics reminiscent of
The Humane Answer:
Better organizational management
More attention needs to be paid to objective, scientific research
that defines the surplus animal problem. Local demographic
characteristics of low-income and high-animal-problem rates need
to be studied. Targeting high-problem areas within a community
with helpful, people-friendly intervention programs will yield
the most benefits (for people and pets) per funds spent.
Studies show that breeders of planned litters create
proportionately low animal control problems. It's the unplanned,
accidental, mixed breed litters that become animal control
problems. Purebred animals that enter shelters are usually
relinquished or stray pets that were once owned.
These distinctions need to be clearly made (no one intentionally
breeds animals of mixes pedigree for profit). Once this is done,
a clear picture emerges. The majority of animal control dogs and
cats are from unplanned, accidental litters with a large portion
coming from low-income areas.
Low-cost spay/neuter programs need to target areas that show
greater incidents of producing unwanted litters (usually
low-income areas) to solve the dog surplus birth problem.
The surplus cat problem is largely caused from unowned, intact,
feral and free-roaming felines that rapidly reproduce and supply
the bulk of kittens to households. Pedigree cats represent only
3-4% of all owned cats nationwide.
The solution to the stray dog problem is mandatory permanent
identification (microchips) not anti-breeding legislation. When
used in tandem with visual identification this modern system
provides a means to return animals home. It also provides
tracability to owners, thus encouraging responsible animal
A mandatory system would reduce the stress on shelter
capacity and give animals in shelters more time to be adopted.
Governments should promote microchips by offering a FREE lifetime
license when owners produce proof of a microchip. The strategy is
this; people won't have to pay up-front to underwrite animal
They pay when their pet becomes an animal control
problem. Poor people will not have to live in fear of the
government and will participate in low-cost community programs.
This program is already being advanced in Canada.
The course is very clear to those who study the facts.
Anti-breeding legislation with financial disincentives does not
work. In fact, it increases killing in shelters. The need is
clearly for fewer disincentives (high fees and fines, at least
high for the poor) and more services directed to the poor. For
instance, if fees and fines, including license, redemption,
impound, surrender and adoption fees were prorated according to
income, and even eliminated for those below the poverty level,
great gains could be realized.
We must keep in mind that less than 2% of pet owners are
responsible for surplus births. This makes fee structures
critical in reducing surplus births.
Positive action is necessary. Not only are low-cost services
needed, but also removal of disincentives is necessary to up
participation rates in low cost programs.
Animal control must realize by prorating fees they are gaining
revenue. The unredeemed dog brings in no revenue, while a
prorated fee that a poor person can afford (or work off) would
lead to a partial recovery of costs and, more importantly return
the pet home.
A license fee that the poor can afford would remove
the fear that keeps that person from participating in low income
spay/neuter or shot clinics. Prorated license fees would reduce
surplus births and decrease animal death.
Copyright Bob Christiansen 1999 from CLC Publishing
www.saveourstrays.com email firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2001 Bob Christiansen's CLC Publishing
See also all about Microchipping
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