Chicago’s Proposed Mandatory Spay/Neuter Ordinance

Since I’m largely sympathetic with the stated objectives of the mandatory spay/neuter ordinance placed by Alderman Edmund Burke and Alderman Virginia Rugai before the Chicago City Council and wary of kneejerk reactions, I decided to do a little research and reflection before arriving at my position on the ordinance.

The current text of the ordinance to the best of my ability to determine is here. Chicago doesn’t make it particularly easy to review pending legislation.

I am opposed to the proposed ordinance.

The ordinance has four stated objectives:

…eliminating brutal dog attacks, combating the phenomenon of dog fighting, improving the quality of life for domesticated dogs and cats and reducing the multitude of homeless pets in the City of Chicago

Under the ordinance it shall be illegal to to possess an unspayed or neutered cat or dog over six months of age within the city limits of Chicago with the following exemptions:

  • a health exemption certified by a licensed veterinarian
  • animals owned by licensed breeders
  • “Dogs or cats of breeds approved by and registered with a registry or association recognized by the commission whose programs and practices are consistent with the humane treatment of animals, and the dogs or cats are kept for the purpose of showing or competing in legitimate shows or competitions hosted by or under the approval of the recognized registry or

    To the best of my ability to determine there are currently no such registries or associations recognized by the commission. This should be remedied before any ordinance of this sort is passed.

  • animals actively pursuing any of a variety of working titles that are registered similarly to the provision above with the same caveat as above
  • service dogs
  • animals owned by a guard dog service
  • dogs being trained or in service with law enforcement agencies

Breeders must be registered with the city, pay an annual fee of $100 for each cat or dog being bred, and pass a criminal background check.

Unfortunately, the ordinance as written is ineffective, redundant, and inadequate, places an undue burden on law-abiding pet owners, and will have secondary effects that actually exacerbate the problems the aldermen are trying to solve.

The ordinance is unlikely to have much effect on dog attacks. The Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association has challenged the empirical basis of the ordinance’s claim that spaying or neutering will reduce dog attacks, indeed the organization’s statement suggests that spaying females, since it is likely to increase testosterone production and, consequently, aggression may even increase dog attacks. For the ISVMA’s complete statement see here.

The ordinance is unlikely to have much effect on dogfighting. Those who engage in dogfighting are already breaking any number of laws already on the books. By Illinois statute (720 ILCS 5/26‑5) dogfighting is a class 4 felony, punishable by a $25,000 fine. Those engaging in it are also likely to be engaged in violating state and city laws governing gambling, the sale of food and alcoholic beverages, laws against cruelty to animals, ordinances governing public displays, and so on. The idea that anyone would be willing to break all of those laws but will be deterred by a mandatory spay/neuter ordinance is far-fetched.

Whether this ordinance would improve the quality of life for domestic cats and dogs is open to question. Studies of cancer prevention are ambiguous on this subject. There is some evidence that spaying a female too early is a cause of incontinence and incontinence is one of the many reasons that pets are turned over to shelters. The position of the ISVMA is that the issue is too complex to legislate.

While I support the idea of voluntary spaying and neutering to reduce the number of unwanted cats and dogs, according to the Anti-Cruelty Society Chicago has been very successful in reducing the number of animals euthanized without a mandatory spay/neuter ordinance.

Passage of such an ordinance is likely to have several perverse secondary effects. The first such effect is the increased expense and time overhead it will impose on otherwise lawful and responsible pet owners while having little effect on those predisposed to break the law. The second is that the experience with such laws elsewhere is that while they’ve had little success in achieving the stated goals they’ve succeeded in increasing the number of pets turned in to shelters by people unable or unwilling either to bear the expense of having their pet spayed or neutered or purchasing the necessary breeding licenses. Rates of decrease in euthanization sometimes slowed after passage of mandatory spay/neuter laws. In some cases the rate of euthanization actually increased after the passage of such a law.

A significant number of responsible organizations have gone on record as opposing the ordinance including the Chicago Veterinary Medical Association, Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association, the American Kennel Club, the International Kennel Club, and my national breed club, the Samoyed Club of America, just to name a few of the organizations that oppose the ordinance.

Better education; more enforcement; no mandatory spay/neuter.