The trajectory of the mandatory sterilization movement informed us months ago that something like Los Angeles’ drive to limit pet breeding was imminent. Despite vocal opposition from a reported majority of veterinarians unsure as to the enforceability and advisability of such laws, L.A. went ahead with their legislation requiring spay and neuter of owned pets by four months of age.

It’s been a divisive bit of law, for sure, within all ranks of pet stakeholders. (See PetConnection's excellent post on this topic). Vets, too, in spite of the California Veterinary Medical Association’s eventual opposition of a similar law proposed and failed at the state level, have been duking it out.

For those of you unaware of the issues involved, let me recap the basics:

  • Sterilization of pets through spay and neuter is widely regarded as the most basic mode of limiting unwanted strays. Euthanasia in shelter settings and the cost to society of a booming population of pets are both cited as the prevalent side effects of the failure to control pet breeding.
  • In this context, laws mandating sterilization are viewed as both humanitarian and cost-effective, placing the burden of the problem on the pet owner—therefore less so on our society at large.
  • Mandatory sterilization of pets is viewed as a potentially unconstitutional limitation on basic property rights. In light of the blanket approach to spay/neuter, a surgical procedure not without immediate risks and possible long-term effects, concern for the individual medical requirements of pets is an issue unaddressed by such laws.
  • Moreover, the enforcement of this requirement is a highly questionable, equally unaddressed issue which may place undue legal and administrative burdens on the private sector, bulk of the duties landing in the laps of veterinarians.
  • Finally, the law's particulars, exempting "professional" breeders means it's business as usual for those who are considered by welfare groups to be the ones most likely to propagate pets irresponsibly.

To be sure, it’s a complex, politically and ethically fraught issue. Given such laws’ current vagaries, as much as I believe in spay and neuter, I cannot get behind them. Ultimately, my problem is that I don’t believe they’ll work. More laws seem senseless when so many of our current animal overpopulation problems stem from a huge host of other unenforceables.

Ultimately, I believe it comes down to this: No one has yet figured out how to legislate common sense—much less enforce it.