Thomas J. O Connor Animal Control & Adoption Center: Spay or Pay

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1 Thomas J. O Connor Animal Control & Adoption Center: Spay or Pay Compiled by ASPCA and distributed to the field, September Visit the ASPCA National Outreach website for animal welfare professionals:

2 Thomas J. O Connor Animal Control & Adoption Center: Spay or Pay Targeting problem animals and their owners Barbara Hays, Executive Director of the Thomas J. O Connor Animal Control and Adoption Center (TJO) knew that 65% of the animals reclaimed by Springfield (MA) residents were going back into the community intact. She also knew that these animals were most at risk for breeding, biting, and a variety of public health issues. So she and TJO proposed new laws offering owners reclaiming intact animals a powerful incentive to have them altered. Stats In the first twelve months after the Spay or Pay ordinances went into effect, 69% of reclaimed animals were sterilized, compared to 35% before the new ordinances were implemented. How Cool is That? We like the way the Springfield ordinances focus only on problem animals: free-roaming intact dogs with statistical potential to bite and free-roaming unaltered cats. What s more they do it without singling out breeds or species and without penalizing responsible owners. And how cool is it that the program is actually funded by the people reclaiming these animals? Adopt or Adapt According to Hays, this program could work in any size city. The most important thing is to make sure you re actually targeting your problem animals and owners, Hays cautions. If you re punishing innocent and law-abiding people., your laws will fail. Another free resource for animal welfare professionals from 2 of 7

3 Spay or Pay The Thomas J. O Connor Animal Control and Adoption Center (TJO), serving Springfield, MA, and four adjacent municipalities, takes in just over 3000 animals a year (about evenly split between dogs and cats). Before the adoption of new Spay or Pay ordinances, about 65% of the animals picked up in Springfield and returned to their owners were going home intact. According to Executive Director Barbara Hays, data confirmed that the majority of dog bites in the city were committed by large, intact male dogs. This was a particular concern in a city where pit bulls make up 80% of the large dog population. Hays was seeking a way to reduce dog bites. She was also concerned about free-roaming cats producing litter after litter and the resulting public health concerns and cost to taxpayers of dealing with these issues. Her goal, Hays explains, was to find a way to address problem owners of problem animals without penalizing responsible owners or singling out specific breeds or species. Our goal was not to mandate spay/neuter, she explains, but rather to mandate responsible ownership. After extensive research, TJO approached the Springfield City Council with proposed amendments to the animal ordinances: Imposing a new $100 fine for any unaltered animal over six months of age picked up for running at large Increasing fines for several other animal-related violations. The new ordinances, which were unanimously approved and went into effect in June of 2007, offered reclaiming owners opportunities to have their pets sterilized in lieu of paying the increased fines and fees. Ingredients and Prep Work Step by Step Results Words of Wisdom How It Works If an animal is picked up running unsupervised, the owner is charged a $100 fine. Depending on the circumstances, other charges are also levied: $25 first offense fine for leash law violation $30 impound fee $10 per day boarding fee $50 fee if animal is unlicensed $50 fee if animal does not have a current rabies vaccination The total can easily add up to $300, or more. TJO offers the owner three choices: Agree to have the animal altered within ten days and get the $100 back from the city. Adopt his or her animal, and pay the adoption fee instead of fines. The adoption fee for dogs is $175. For cats, the fee is $90. If the owner chooses adoption, TJO alters, vaccinates and microchips the animal. Dogs are also heartworm tested and licensed. Pay all the fees and fines, and reclaim their animal unaltered. If that animal is picked up three times in a calendar year, the animal is declared a public nuisance and spay/neuter, at the owner s expense, becomes mandatory. There is a clear financial incentive to pay the adoption fee rather than the $300 or more in fees and fines for an unaltered animal. According to Hays, it s a really good deal, and most people recognize that. Another free resource for animal welfare professionals from 3 of 7

4 Ingredients and Prep Work People To make the program cost-effective, it s essential to have a veterinarian willing to provide affordable spay/neuter surgeries. TJO has an in-house clinic where most surgeries are performed, costing the program approximately $50. In addition, a local veterinarian performs surgeries for $100. Timeline It took about a year to do the research and craft the new ordinances. Upfront Costs According to Hays, there was no cost to implement the program, and there is no additional cost to run it. TJO simply offers an alternative to the person reclaiming the animal. If the owner chooses adoption, TJO has the same costs they would if they adopted the animal to a new owner. If the owner chooses to pay the fees and fines rather than spay/neuter, TJO has additional income to pay for care or spay/neuter surgery for another animal. The program is actually funded by the owners of the reclaimed animals. According to Hays, you just have to make sure surgery and other costs don t exceed what you re taking in from owners who chose the spay/neuter or adoption options. Step by Step Step 1: Identify and target the animals causing the problems. In the case of Springfield, the problems were unsterilized roaming dogs and cats. According to Hays, TJO carefully crafted every word in the ordinances to target those populations regardless of species, breed, or owner income level. They rejected ordinance models that punish the wrong crowd. For example, they rejected mandatory spay/neuter because they felt it would punish low-income owners and responsible breeders and be almost impossible to enforce. Ultimately, they decided there was no need to give people who keep their animals at home a hard time no need to go knocking on doors looking for problems. They felt they could reduce dog bites and unwanted litters by zeroing in on irresponsible owners who let their unaltered animals roam. Step 2: Do your research. Assemble data that will mean something to your town leaders. Hays researched hundreds and hundreds of laws across the country identifying what worked and what didn t in other cities. In addition, she checked to make sure the proposed changes didn t go outside the boundaries of the Massachusetts state laws. When she went before the Springfield City Council, she was well prepared with that research. In addition, Hays presented other strong data to support her proposal: Data demonstrating that the great majority of local dog bites had been committed by freeroaming, intact male dogs. A list of the costs to the community of irresponsible pet ownership, even beyond the $1.3 million animal control budget: costs of medical care, insurance rates, court costs, traffic accidents, police costs, etc. Most people demand safety in the community and don t want to pay unnecessary expenses, she says. If you can articulate the savings to the community, they ll listen and support you. We made our case so that no reasonable person could argue with the facts we presented. Another free resource for animal welfare professionals from 4 of 7

5 Step 3: Seek input from those with a vested interest. As Hays put together the TJO proposal, she sent drafts to the police department; the local kennel club president; the CEO of the Massachusetts SPCA, the largest animal welfare organization in the state; and anyone else she felt would have an interest in the legislation. She invited input regarding the fairness and enforceability of the proposed laws. She then enlisted the help of the city attorney to make sure everything proposed would hold up in court if challenged. Results The Numbers Between June 1, 2007 and May 31, 2008, 189 Springfield residents reclaimed animals that had come into TJO intact. Of those, 99 (52%) elected to take advantage of the new program and have their animals altered. In all, during that time, 69% of 292 reclaimed animals went back out into the community sterilized (including 103 that came in altered). In the 12 months before the new ordinances were implemented, only the 35% of reclaimed animals that came in unaltered went out altered. Of 30 reclaimed pit bulls that came in unaltered between June 1, 2007 and May 31, 2008, 18 were sterilized by TJO under the new program. Interestingly, instead of owners abandoning their picked-up animals rather than pay to reclaim them, the reclaim rate went up by 15%. Hays says, It s almost as if some members of the community are grateful for the affordable opportunity to do the right thing. According to Hays, there is no data yet on the impact of the ordinances on intake; however, she observes that repeat offenders are down. Beyond the Numbers Hays notes that owners who elect to adopt their pet have a stronger commitment to the animal. Because the animal is now sterilized, vaccinated, heartworm tested, and micro-chipped, we ve inadvertently established a value for that animal, she explains. It s pretty amazing to witness the pride these owners are now expressing in their animals. Critical Factors Springfield is city with a high poverty rate, a high incidence of gang activity, and a high crime rate. As a result, many people have large guard dogs, and pit bulls are very common. In this environment, laws designed to reduce the number of free-roaming intact dogs with a statistical probability to bite was of great interest to city council. The Spay or Pay concept is very simple and is easy to understand and implement. It did not require the creation of any new bureaucracy, and it required no expenditure of city funds. Having the city attorney actually craft the laws gave city council members confidence that the ordinances would hold up in court. Thinking Outside the Box According to Hays, the TJO staff found that giving owners who had not acted responsibly a chance to become responsible could change the mindset about their animals. If TJO altered, vaccinated, and micro-chipped the animals, owners were apt to do a better job of keeping them at home. TJO found some unlikely allies by reaching out to everyone with a vested interest in the proposed legislation. For example, the Springfield Kennel Club was a strong supporter of the new laws. Another free resource for animal welfare professionals from 5 of 7

6 Their Next Steps Hays is very concerned about the low reclaim rates for pit bulls and cats. At TJO, between June 1, 2007 and April, pits entered the facility. Of those, just 40 were reclaimed. For cats, the reclaim rate is just 2%. Hays is committed to finding ways to raise those rates. Hays is also trying to get Spay or Pay laws passed in the four other municipalities in the TJO service area. Because the other cities and towns are more suburban, government officials are not as concerned about safety, and the legislation is not a high priority. According to Hays, the wheels are turning but slowly. Words of Wisdom What Worked TJO is very happy about all aspects of the program. Be Prepared For According to Hays, TJO is still working against cultural biases against sterilization, and owners who have been conditioned by society and the media to believe that the dog s virility is a reflection of the owner s virility. She worries that we may never overcome those biases. Another free resource for animal welfare professionals from 6 of 7

7 TJO Animal Control & Adoption Center: Thumbnail Sketch Thomas J. O Connor Animal Control & Adoption Center 627 Cottage Street Springfield, MA Barbara Hays, Executive Director The Thomas J. O Connor Animal Control & Adoption Center provides residents of Springfield, Holyoke, Chicopee, West Springfield, and Hampden, MA, with animal control services and 24 hour emergency response for ill, injured or aggressive animals. Springfield, a city of 150,000 residents, accounts for 66% of the requests for service. The Center takes in just over 3,000 dogs and cats annually. When appropriate, the Center places unclaimed animals into new adoptive homes. Unclaimed animals are screened for both health and temperament. All adopted animals are spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and micro-chipped. The Center also offers training classes for dogs. Staff 12.5 FTE Operating Budget $1.3 million Business Type Municipal animal control Another free resource for animal welfare professionals from 7 of 7

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