Monday, July 30, 2007

Endless act of transference

Thanks both to Mary and Reid for forwarding this NYT editorial by Verlyn Klinkenborg, Should Most Pet Owners Be Required to Neuter Their Animals? (subtitled: "When it comes to pets, Americans are lost in a seemingly endless act of transference.")



"...the opponents of mandatory neutering make it sound as though the problem can be solved mainly by teaching owners to spay or neuter their pets voluntarily. That might be true, if we thought more rationally about our pets. But keeping pets isn’t about rationality. When it comes to them, Americans are lost in a seemingly endless act of transference.

"It’s apparent in the obesity of our dogs and cats, and in our increasing spending on veterinary care and gourmet pet food and dietary supplements and everything else that helps us treat them as our superconsumerist equals.

"This transference extends to how we think about the sexuality of our pets, which is, all too often, a projection of our own. "



This piece is basically a lament for the recent flushing of California's late mandatory spay/neuter bill and a finger-wagging at its opponents. The transference angle is interesting but I think beside the point (and, well, obvious). Of course our pets are representations of ourselves; so are our cars! But that's not the only reason we own them.

Nonetheless, there are some points in this piece in I fully support. I agree most pet owners are irresponsible, sentimental and short-sighted. And I think it's a shame so many dogs and cats are killed by local governments at our expense (not to mention their own). A wider culture of pet adoption vs. pet purchase would be a wonderful thing to support. Ditto free workshops and literature teaching responsible pet ownership. We have these programs here in Baton Rouge on a (too) small scale, and I think they're great. Being sentimental about pets doesn't preclude the possibility of learning to be sensible about them.

But I don't support mandatory spay/neuter, which doesn't solve these problems. Moreover, I am not at all moved by knowing half a million dogs and cats were killed last year by California municipalities. Mind you, I LOVE dogs and cats, at least most of the ones I know personally. But a number by itself is not evidence of anything significant.

Where do these animals come from? They can't all be secretly disposed, irresponsibly bred Dalmatians set loose in the city park six months after the last Disney movie release. Can they?

Some of them must be feral and presumably breeding on their own, especially the cats; in which case they are (let's be frank) a pest control problem, and the fact that we choose to house them at great expense for two weeks before killing them is merely sentimental and a waste of money.

Those that are neighborhood pets jumping fences and trotting around may or may not be the product of irresponsible backyard breeders or puppy mills. Maybe they're just the result of bad fencing. In either case, it's the owner's loss and no one else's fault if the escaped animal is shot or poisoned by an ill tempered or frightened neighbor, or run over by a car, or stolen. On the flip side, these owners might benefit from neighbors who will catch them up and call the number on the tag. My wife and I do this half a dozen times a year, often for the same dogs. I haven't killed one yet, even though I've caught several harassing my hawks (in this case, my own fault for occasionally leaving my yard gate open).

Government intervenes in these cases at a waste of taxpayer money and because neighbors no longer solve their own problems. This is not a problem of having too small and weak a system of animal control agencies, best solved by more government, laws, fines, seizures of private property and jail time for citizens. This is a problem of weak communities and irresponsible and careless people. No amount of government will cure those problems.

My dog doesn't poop on my neighbors' yards. She doesn't run unsupervised in the neighborhood. She has all her shots. She is a danger to no one except the small animals I hunt with her, the killing of which is her job and the meat of which never goes to waste. In short, she is not a menace to society, and so my city should have little or nothing say about how manage her....especially about when and if I chose to cut out her ovaries.

Also, Klinkenborg shouldn't trouble himself wondering if my dog and I are co-dependent. We are, and we like it that way.

This is not a problem of animal "overpopulation" but is a problem of too much government money (and concern, for that matter) and not enough personal responsibility and neighborly comportment. Of course I could be dead wrong about that. But it won't change the fact that I would rather deal personally with all the stray animals who happen to find themselves on my property than have some nutty urban politician (who, in the California case, doesn't even own an animal!) force me to sterilize mine.

7 comments:

Dan & Margaret said...

Typically thoughtful, sensible, logical, and well written, as usual, Matt. They'll never get it :) So when will I see it in the Times??

Steve Bodio said...

Never-- because it is "Typically thoughtful, sensible, logical, and well written"

"Thoughtful, sensible, logical," only applies to science in the NYT these days.

prairie mary said...

Speaking as a person with five years experience in animal control, albeit before the humaniacs really got rolling (1973 to 1978), I'd say that Matt hasn't got the beginning of an understanding of the big picture. He's standing there firmly grasping the tail of the elephant and claiming it's the trunk.

Pet animals share society with us and therefore are vulnerable to whatever moves us. In fact, spay and neuter programs have made a HUGE difference all across the country and little, if any, government money has gone into it. Much time and effort has been donated by veterinarians and volunteers, Their generosity should not be sneered at.

Too many people look around their own lives and their own neighborhoods and conclude they are "typical" and that they are doing the right thing, which everyone else should immediately start doing. You don't live in a neighborhood overrun by feral dogs and pit bulls meant to be vicious, so you don't give a thought to the people who do or how they cope. You don't have a man in your neighborhood who keeps a gun behind the door so he can shoot all cats on sight, so you don't give a thought to what that means to someone who loves their cats. You don't have to go into the homes of alcoholic and deranged old animal hoarders. No concern of yours and YOUR government.

Most animal control programs are paid for by the program itself, by fees and dog licenses.

I do not find this "thoughtful, sensible, or logical. I find it self-important and unenlightened.

Prairie Mary

Matt Mullenix said...

Dan and Margaret--thanks for your comments!

Mary, I regret losing the good will of someone whose thoughts and experience I so admire. Your blog writing on animal control work is unique, moving and exquisitely crafted---and based on personal experience. It will make a great book.

I regret also that my own thoughts on the topic get swept up in strong emotion, which doesn't improve them. But I feel proprietary and responsible for my animals in a way similar to how I feel about my children.

Couching my opposition to animal control (meaning governmental control of my animal husbandry) as a property rights and civil liberties issue is, in some ways, just shorthand for a rationale I am much less able to articulate or defend. At one level, I’m simply offended by the meddling of others in my affairs. It is all I can do to keep my life and personal concerns in order---to raise my children, please my wife, pay my bills, help my friends and generally pursue happiness. My feeling is that everyone, governmental functionaries and animal rights activists included, faces the same challenge. Therefore I am not at all pleased to know my own money is being spent in an ever-expanding effort to arrange my life and choices for me.

If you want to help someone, help your neighbor. If you want to spend money, spend your own.

That’s the rationale I can’t seem to detach from my thoughts on animal control.

There are bad neighborhoods I’ve never lived in and people in dire straits I have never met. I can’t deny that, Mary. It would be impossible for me to imagine what the inside of an animal hoarder’s house looks like were it not for your skilled description. There is more, and I expect you could tell me, much worse out there.

But I don’t believe that blanket, governmental policy is the right approach to solving specific, local problems. It merely reduces everyone’s freedom---the responsible, mentally healthy, non-criminal majority----while simultaneously removing the incentive to improvement for some and the call to charity for others.

In the end, it is tyrannical. Because at no time in the future will there be a lack of societal problems to fix and causes to champion. If our paradigm is that government knows and acts best, then there’s no reason to keep it contained.

Eventually the money may run out but the need to control will continue. By then, too few will have any experience of self-sufficiency or personal responsibility (values antithetical to top-down control schemes) to offer an argument against rule by the strongest hand.

(Henry asked for a nutcase libertarian monologue, and here it is.)

The dwindling and unpopular American ideal of self-sufficiency (even self-importance!) used to be held up as a necessary diligence against tyranny. People who can’t take care of themselves, their families, and their local communities, can choose only to die to else let someone else take care of their needs.

The question is of what makes a better life: freedom to govern oneself, which involves risk, responsibility and work, or governance by others, which requires taxation, force, and submission to the idea that politicians, multi-national corporations and radical pressure groups have your best interests at heart.

prairie mary said...

You can stamp your little foot and pout or you can get down to city hall and put in your two cents worth. This is a democracy.

What you're spouting here is paranoid nonsense.

Prairie Mary

Rebecca K. O'Connor said...

In the end to me, the argument in Cali -- where I live-- is that the laws would apply to responsible people like me, not those who completely dismiss animal control. My AC has been good to me, irritated and apologetic when neighbors squeal on me for having "illegal birds" in my yard. They do their job from what I can tell. But I know that I would be the only one in my neighborhood agonizing over breaking the law by keeping my dog intact. Everyone else would wait for my overworked, unpaid and unfortunately ineffective (because of the two reasons prior) animal control officers to harass them for breaking the law. Which is unlikely to happen. This is why it makes NO SENSE in CA. San Franciso ships dogs in to their shelters because their adoption rate is so high. What the hell do they know about what's going in my neighborhood??? But it's those people that are lobbying.

I pay 3X as much to keep an unaltered dog than for a dog who is spayed. And that's a lot money to me, but I'm willing to pay and I think it's a good incentive to be responsible. However, I live in a city that according to the census has an average income of $25,000 a year (IN CALIFORNIA) and I know that all the pit mixes I see wandering the streets may have dangling gonads, but they are certainly lacking licenses unlike my dogs. So why in the hell would making it mandatory to spay affect anyone but me in my neighborhood?

I feel responsible to help animal control. They do imperative work. Hell, I foster a couple of dogs every year. But I resent the senate regulating my animals when no one else is likely to comply. And that is hardly PARANOID NONSENSE. --and I did and continue to go to city hall... for all frickin good it does me in this ridiculous state. I almost lost the right to responsibly hang on to good genetics in the proven hunting dogs I love. But no matter-- I can't prove I have a fiscal reason to breed, so surely next year, I will lose this right. Forget that I have proven myself a responsible and loving animal keeper. In California, it's not paranoia. It's life.

Gregg Barrow said...

prairie mary said, “In fact, spay and neuter programs have made a HUGE difference all across the country”

“HUGE” in what way?

Because, (as was stated by Dr. John Burchard in his guest post here) everywhere mandatory spay and neuter has been tried, shelter and euthanasia numbers have increased, animal control costs have increased, licensing compliance and revenue have decreased and rabies vaccination compliance has decreased.

According to the grassroots organization, Save Our Dogs

* San Mateo County California* – dog euthanasia rates increased by 126%, dog licenses declined by 35%

* Los Angeles City, California – enforcement costs rose 269%, from $6.7 million to $18 million; and compliance to mandatory dog licensing declined

* Fort Worth, TX - Rabies vaccination and licensing compliance declined after passage of a mandatory spay-or-pay ordinance. This led to an increase in rabies in the city

* Montgomery County, MD – Euthanasia rates declined more slowly than they had been prior to the mandatory spay/neuter law; licensing compliance declined by 50%

* King County, WA -- euthanasia rates fell at a slower rate after mandatory spay/neuter. License compliance has decreased. Animal control expenses have increased 56.8% and revenues only 43.2%

* Camden County, NJ -- mandatory spay/neuter ordinance has not stopped it from being called “consistently one of the leading, if not the leading killers of animals in the state of New Jersey” (ref: PAWS NJ)

* Aurora, CO – euthanasia and shelter intake rates increased. Licensing compliance dropped dramatically, compliance costs have increased 75% with revenue increasing only 13%

The fact is that mandating spay and neuter does not work to decrease the unwanted pet population. These laws don’t work because they don’t address the primary reasons why dogs are relinquished to shelters. Pet Population Study

This paper on the long-term health effects of Spay and Neuter is located at: Spay Neuter Study

It is well researched, scholarly and worth your time.

My wife and I still work with several rescues and offer free training and discounted boarding to anyone that adopts (from the shelter or a rescue), so we are still very much involved. We are presently facing mandatory spay and neuter, as well as mandatory micro chipping legislation in our county.

If you have documentation that demonstrates the effectiveness of these programs, it would be of great interest to us.

Gregg