Monday, September 5, 2011


The so-called "shelter reform" bill (Intro. 655/2011) that is moving toward a vote in New York City has many serious flaws, none more sinister than the language around outdoor cats. They'll become mere "pests" to be exterminated at the will of the city, which will profit from raking in hefty fines from owners who cannot prove their cat has been sterilized. Worse, those residents who cannot pay the draconian fines will be forced to surrender their cats to New York City Animal Care & Control (NYCACC), an infamous pound where the killing of dogs and cats begins early every morning.

Here is the relevant language in the bill:
"Every owner of a cat who permits such cat to roam outside the interior of the owner's dwelling shall have such cat sterilized. At the request of employees or authorized agents of the department, owners shall provide proof satisfactory to the department that a cat found roaming has been sterilized."
The measure was introduced by Council Member Jessica Lappin, whose staff apparently didn't bother to research the dismal track record associated with mandatory spay-neuter laws in cities that have implemented them. In short, these laws are a recipe for disaster and will ensure that the number of animals being killed in shelters will remain at an all-time high. Instead of reforming shelters, these regressive laws lay blame on the public. How do we know the problems with MSN? By looking at cities that implemented it and appraising the data-based evidence, which shows:
  • Mandatory spay/neuter (MSN) laws with punitive fines don't work!
  • Not a single city that has achieved "No Kill" shelter status has done so with MSN
  • Cities with MSN laws still have sky-high kill rates
  • MSN does not increase spay-neuter compliance rates or reduce shelter intake
  • MSN laws are not cost-effective: impoundment and killing is very expensive
  • MSN does not save lives but instead increases the numbers of homeless animals (remember, nature abhors a vacuum)
  • MSN's negative impact is particularly devastating in lower-income communities
  • More animals inevitably will be surrendered to ACC as a result of the high fines
  • The ACC killing machine will go into overdrive in New York City
  • MSN may have serious unintended consequences that constitute a public health concern: punitive fines may encourage people to avoid veterinary care altogether, including risk of inadequate vaccination (eg, rabies) and inadequate deworming
Need more examples from cities that have implemented MSN? In Los Angeles, killing rates quickly increased by 30% after the city passed its MSN law. In Waco, Texas, the fines from MSN took a sad toll in terms of dramatically increased owner surrenders to shelters, where more animals were killed. San Antonio's shelter has a kill rate in excess of 70%; it kills far more animals than it saves.

In contrast, Austin, Texas (an authoritative voice in the national consensus against MSN) saved 72% of animals who entered its shelter system after the no-kill program began; it has since surpassed the no-kill goal of 90%--for 6 months! NYC should be taking notes! And Reno, Nevada, has made its community "one of the safest in the nation for homeless animals." Reno is right to celebrate its progressive thinking and its no-kill shelter. It achieved "No Kill" status through a multifaceted and collaborative program that invests time and assets at the shelter, unites volunteers, and "creates a safety net for feral cats." The "safety net" language is something to think about, given that Reno is a shining success story and an MSN law will take New York City from archaic to downright medieval.

Importantly, despite having conspired in support of New York City's misguided bill, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) previously has issued a position statement strongly opposing MSN. The release states:
The ASPCA is not aware of any credible evidence demonstrating a statistically significant enhancement in the reduction of shelter intake or euthanasia as a result of the implementation of a mandatory spay/neuter law.
Many national organizations have joined the opposition to MSN. Among them is the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), which calls it simply "a bad idea" and points out the obvious: punitive fines will increase shelter intake and killing.
Mandatory approaches may contribute to pet owners avoiding licensing, rabies vaccination and veterinary care for their pets, and may have other unintended consequences. (American Veterinary Medical Association, 2009)
Voluntary spay/neuter programs that are part of a comprehensive and progressive program of reform are part of the solution to homeless animals; mandatory spay-neuter programs perpetuate the cycle of impoundment and killing.

New York City should be taking a page from Reno and Austin and reversing its kill numbers, not declaring war on cats increasing kill rates!

So, as written, Intro. 655 will make it "open season" on all outdoor cats, whether they are feral and live in colonies or curious house cats who were allowed into a backyard and jumped the fence to follow a butterfly. Lost cat? You have my sincere condolences.

Please ask your City Council Member (find yours here!) to "VOTE NO" on Intro. 655/2011. This dangerous bill will increase kill rates. It also will codify for the public an attitude of government-sponsored disdain for animals, who in New York City increasingly are characterized as pests to be "exterminated," regardless of whether they are urban wildlife or companion animals. See a cat on your property, or on your building's grounds? Call the city-sponsored cat exterminators!

If you care about cats, this bill should strike fear in your heart. If Intro. 655 passes as written, the cycle of killing in New York City will only gain momentum. Jessica Lappin is a staunch ally of Christine Quinn, who as speaker of the council has blocked every meaningful piece of animal-friendly legislation in its tracks. Unfortunately, then, Intro. 655 is on a fast track to be signed into law. I only hope that when the killing escalates, the numbers will be reported to the public.

Please come to the Council hearing on the bill, which will be held Friday, September 9th at 10 AM at 250 Broadway -- 16th floor. Testify as to why this bill is bad. You can also write to the Council Members who have sponsored the bill. They may not realize that there are some very dangerous sections in this bill that they should not be supporting.


  1. Austin only saves 72% who enter their system? I thought they achieved "no kill?"

    Heck, NYC is around 70%

    Harris Bloom

  2. Harris - where did you get this information? Austin is one of the leaders in the no kill movement and they had to fight hard to get there. Please check out this link from the No Kill Advocacy Center.

  3. For clarity--yes, the 72% is a percentage that happened earlier, in a previous fiscal year. By December of 2010, Austin's save-rate was 88% rate of all impounded animals. The city approved the no-kill plan in late 2010. In February 2011, the save rate went to 92%; the no-kill goal was 90%, so Austin surpassed it. Some places have achieved 100% no-kill.
    Incidentally, a new director, Abigail Smith (formerly of Tompkins County SPCA), began as the new animal shelter "boss" in March. Historically, a dramatic spike in intake occurs from March until May.
    Also, although Austin adopted a "no-kill resolution" in the 1990s, the killing continued at a high rate despite a budget the nearly doubled. It was not until the "no-kill" equation was implemented that things turned around.

    Killing cannot stop until the option is removed. Sad that NYC has the largest adopter pool in the nation and the worst process for "adopting." It also lies about killing "sick" animals and, as we learned recently, is not very cooperative about turning over documents to auditors. And what "shelter" doesn't release records? Who does it that way?