In the blue corner, it’s the Humane Society and ASPCA crowd. In the red corner, it’s the AKC and Cat Fancier’s Association. How’s that for a bruises-all-around match-up? It’s such a potentially ugly fight I’m impressed that more hasn’t been written nationwide on this topic. And it wasn’t even on my radar until this past Tuesday. Bad blogger!


At issue is a proposed bit of legislation mandating spays and neuters for all of California’s pets aged four months or greater. Similar legislation in Rhode Island targeted cats and got rave reviews from across the land. But this time it’s about dogs, too. And that’s what’s fueled an uproar loud enough to be heard even in my politically-sleepy corner of the country.


For the record, I don’t know that vets will necessarily come out on one side of the issue or another. And this is one fight I, for one, don’t relish getting involved in. But I will—because otherwise you’ll think me as cowardly as I truly feel at this moment.


First let me detail the opposing points of view:


The pet welfare advocates cite the millions of pets euthanized (not to mention the billions of dollars spent on their shelter care) due to explosive overpopulation. They say that, so far, almost all the money spent on the problem deals with the “back end”—getting the unwanted pets off the street and finding them new homes or euthanizing them. With this legislation they hope, finally, to address the “supply” issue by forcing pet owners to contribute to solving a gargantuan problem they’ve helped create.


The individual-rights-for-pet-owners camp dissents on a fair number of fine points: They argue it’s unenforceable, except in those cases where responsible owners take in pets for medical care. Therefore, the law would penalize the responsible and leave the bulk of the problem undisturbed. Furthermore, they contend that legitimate breeders would be overburdened with the costs and restrictions of permitting requirements (buying a “get out of jail free card” for intact pets would be possible with this law, but restrictive and expensive).


Both camps make great points. I agree with both of them. Do I believe the overpopulation crisis will be solved by this law? No. But I do think it’ll help. Do I want it to make it through the legislature? I do. But with less restrictive, more reasonable permitting requirements (so as not to penalize responsible owners and breeders) and with a credible enforcement plan attached.


But here’s the clincher:


I want to be sure that law enforcement duties aren’t dumped on vets. If I, as a California vet, was required to turn in breeders and owners of otherwise unaltered animals I would lobby against this legislation in a sec. And I would refuse my law enforcement duties in an act of civil disobedience.


As it stands, in Miami-Dade county, where I live, I’m supposed to turn in pit bull owners—or to refuse them service. Sorry. You don’t pay my bills and I’m not about to judge my patients by their breed—how do I know what they really are, anyway?


I hate laws that make my work more legally challenging than it has to be. I’m not a law enforcement officer or a lawyer or a judge; I’m a vet. I take an oath. I work to provide needed care to animals and I can’t refuse basic care under any circumstances. I have to do it for free if need be—in keeping with my oath. That’s the law I stand by.


You want to hand me a law that says I have to turn in those seeking care for their pets? Much as I might agree with your law, I won’t. It goes against my oath and my respect for my patients’ privacy. I’m not capable of determining whether a patient is spayed or not under most circumstances, anyway. If one comes to me for breeding assistance or a C-section, you’d better not require me to ask for a permit. I won’t do it.


If I believe animals are being bred under poor conditions—sure, I’ll turn them in the same way I’d turn in an owner whose dog was beaten with a baseball bat. But it’s up to MY discretion…not to the law’s blowsy will with respect to my duties.


Perhaps the legislature hasn’t yet though through the enforcement issue. That’s the way it’s looking to me right now. And when they do, it would be a good idea to consider a vet’s opinion. Because any simpleminded thoughts on having your friendly neighborhood vet do the dirty work isn’t going to fly in most veterinary circles.