"For animal lovers, the spay and neuter law that Palm Beach County commissioners will consider Tuesday is the best step the county can take to cut down on the number of animals it must euthanize every year. So, why are so many self-styled animal lovers so fiercely against it?
"The reason is the ordinance's demand for greater regulation of backyard or "hobby" breeders, pet owners who breed one or two litters per year, producing no more than 20 kittens or puppies. The rules for bigger, commercial breeders would not change. But the hobby breeders, for the first time, would have to register and be subjected to county oversight, meaning inspections and tracking of sales.
"Hobby breeders say they're not the problem. If they love animals as much as they say they do, however, they should support requirements for spaying and neutering most dogs and cats, in an effort to reduce the numbers of unwanted, homeless animals put to death.
"Palm Beach County killed 18,248 animals last year. Most, 12,000, were cats. While that number has doubled in the past eight years, the number of dogs euthanized at the shelter has dropped from 4,799 to 4,137.
"Animal Care and Control Director Dianne Sauve, who is championing the ordinance, attributes the decline to an increase in the number of dogs going from the pound to rescue leagues for adoption. But there are limits to how many dogs that option can save.
"The hobby breeders champion is County Commissioner Bob Kanjian, who considers the ordinance overreaching and ill-defined. He says he would support an ordinance aimed more precisely at the estimated 200,000 dogs and 280,000 cats that are not licensed. Ms. Sauve argues that the ordinance would help her agency to reduce illegal breeding, often involving pit bulls, but she doubts that she can single them out.
"Since they follow the rules, hobby breeders say, they shouldn't be punished. But how does the county know if they follow the rules? The pound gets purebred dogs along with pit-bull mixes.
"Someone isn't following the rules. The law would make sure that everyone has
"The hobby breeders also argue that the law would force pet owners underground, meaning that fewer animals would be inoculated against rabies. In fact, an e-mail sent by an officer of the Florida Association of Kennel Clubs urged members to remove their addresses from official documents and rent a post office box to escape detection. Doesn't the group's fear of
scrutiny argue for stricter scrutiny?
"While Commissioner Kanjian criticizes Ms. Sauve for failing to document the results of similar laws elsewhere, the law wouldn't be the first in Florida. Monroe County has had a spay-neuter law since 2006 and, coupled with free sterilizations since 2000, shelter admissions in the Upper Keys have dropped 55 percent. Ms. Sauve also cites a similar law in Denver, where euthanasia rates have dropped by 60 percent since that law went into effect in 1995.
"Animal lovers agree that reducing needless deaths is a worthy goal. The spay-neuter ordinance would make sure that the animals they love would not become part of the problem."