Mandatory Neutering: Barking Up the Wrong Tree?

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Remember “The Price is Right”? Then you’ll recall TV host Bob Barker closing each episode with a request for his audience to spay or neuter their pets in order to control the pet population. (In Shrek 2, there’s a pointed comment when one character was threatened with the “Bob Barker Treatment.”)

Now lawmakers are introducing mandatory spay/neutering laws and microchip bills around the country. What exactly are these microchips? And what do they do?

The chips are inserted non-surgically under the skin with a needle. They are as small as a grain of rice and contain info with the animal’s licensing history, allowing owners to quickly locate lost pets. And mandatory neutering needs no explanation. But does the government really have the right to remove the reproductive organs of man’s best friend?

Those supporting the legislation argue it will reduce the overwhelming number of animals euthanized each year. Prevention is better than cure, or is it? Critics say it’s downright unconstitutional.

Several cities on the West Coast are on board and are creating quite a trend. Huntington Beach recently introduced the controversial legislation and picked up strong support. “The idea is to produce fewer unwanted animals and therefore less euthanizing and therefore more cost savings to society,” Councilman Keith Bohr, who proposed the bill, told The Orange County Register. “I hope that by us doing it, other Orange County cities will follow.” If enforced, owners would receive a 30-day grace period to prove their pets are in compliance, meaning sterile and identifiable. Is Big Brother watching? Surely there are more pressing needs than policing pet owners. Failure to follow the guidelines results in a $150 fine, which would increase every 30 days. Sounds like the only thing multiplying is the city’s budget.

The Huntington Beach proposal mirrors an ordinance passed by Los Angeles last year. Santa Cruz, San Mateo and Stanislaus currently have mandatory spay/neutering laws, along with counties in Colorado and Washington. Since Santa Cruz adopted the law a decade ago, the number of homeless animals has dropped from 14,000 to 5,500 a year, and euthanasia has decreased from 30 to 17 percent in dogs and 60 to 50 percent in cats.

But some council members maintain that these cities are barking up the wrong tree. Opponents say the plan is a needless example of a “nanny” government and enforcement would be difficult if not impossible. Councilman Don Hansen rebutted the Huntington proposal: “I just don’t think it is the council’s business or even the state’s business to regulate pet ownership.” Admittedly, the facts show that mandatory neutering reduces overpopulation and thereby decreases the number of pets that undergo euthanasia.

However, animal lovers are sure to see these compulsory measures as cruel and unusual. And, furthermore, is it even constitutional? You know the answer. Like everything in law, there’s a gray area.

According to the Institute for Animal Rights Law, it is constitutional. The Tenth Amendment offers states power to enact laws that are reasonably related to public health, safety and welfare. They argue that since the laws do not affect “fundamental” constitutional rights, we should only ask whether the laws are a rational way to deal with the overpopulation of animals.

But according to (and dozens of other blogs on the topic), the laws are unconstitutional. The Web site, whose mission to educate the public and state government about the inefficiency of mandatory neutering laws, is outraged and maintains that these bills are a violation of our fundamental rights. “Breed-specific legislation (BSL), or ordinances singling out specific breeds of dog for banning or strictures, is unconstitutional because it violates the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution (commonly referred to as citizens’ civil liberties), particularly the equal protection and due process clauses.”

Bottom Line: Some will argue that the facts speak for themselves and that these measures lead to fewer doggy deaths. But I see mandatory neutering as more than a pet peeve. After all, who gives the government the right to tell me how to take care of my dog’s internal parts? I’m fine with mandatory leash laws, and ‘scooper’ laws….but mandatory neutering goes too far. What’s next? Mandatory doggie biscuits?

Huntington Beach looks at mandatory pet laws
Institute for Animal Rights Law
LA Times (Registration required)


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Lis Wiehl joined FOX News Channel as a legal analyst in October 2001. To read the rest of Lis's bio, click here.