Proposal offers hope to thousands of NM animals

Travel New Mexico’s highways, and you’ll witness the tragic reality of dog and cat overpopulation in our state. Skittish homeless animals are often seen trying to avoid passing cars. The bodies of the unlucky ones litter our roadsides.

This tragic situation is costly on many levels. And every New Mexican pays for it.

Taxpayer-funded animal control departments, along with nonprofit allies, spend more than $38 million to control and care for 135,000 dogs and cats in New Mexico’s shelters annually. Half these animals are euthanized.

Stray dogs running at large in our communities can be dangerous, even deadly, for people and livestock.

Workers in the animal control and rescue fields carry the grim burden of rehabilitating, euthanizing and disposing of these animals.

Most New Mexicans want to sterilize their pets to prevent the births of unwanted animals, but they face barriers. Many areas of our state have almost no access to veterinary care, while some people cannot afford the surgeries for their animals.

For years, Republican and Democrat policy makers alike have asked animal advocates to identify a robust funding mechanism by making spay/neuter services widespread and affordable.

Senate Bill 51, introduced by Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, proposes the approach that was recommended by an independent Senate-requested study as the best, most feasible, reliable and equitable option.

The identical House Bill 64 was introduced by Rep. Carl Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, and co-sponsored by Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Española, and Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces.

The bills’ broad support is reflected among many of Kernan’s colleagues on the key Senate Finance Committee – the panel with enormous influence on whether the bills progress. Supporters include Sens. Steven Neville, R-Aztec, William Burt, R-Alamogordo, Carroll Leavell, R-Jal, Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa, Howie Morales, D-Silver City, George Muñoz, D-Gallup, and Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe.

SB 51 and HB 64 would require pet food manufacturers to annually pay an additional $100 fee per dog or cat food product – an amount similar to what they pay in several other states to sell the same product – to fund spay/neuter programs, including mobile clinics for rural communities. The bills do not apply to livestock feed, and they exempt both prescription diets so pets prescribed special foods won’t be impacted and any manufacturers whose annual sales are $3 million or less so small businesses are not harmed.

These bills are similar to 2017 legislation that passed the state House with a bipartisan majority, 50-17, before stalling in the Senate.

Unfortunately, pet food industry lobbyists have tried to scare people and stop this productive, long-overdue change from happening in New Mexico.

But other states have already enacted this same funding mechanism – and pet food manufacturers, large and small, continue to sell their products and take in record-breaking revenues. Local retailers and product variety flourish. The latest state to adopt this mechanism is West Virginia, a state similar to New Mexico in both population and household income, increasing its annual pet food manufacturer fees to $100.

At the same time, these states funding spay/neuter with pet food manufacturer fees have reduced the number of homeless animals entering shelters and dramatically decreased dog and cat euthanasia.

New Mexicans shouldn’t worry if the highly profitable pet food corporations pass along to consumers the increased fee by proportionally raising pet food prices. Based on the latest data, each New Mexico pet owner would pay, on average, only $1.38 per dog or cat for the entire year – that’s less than 3 pennies a week.

The approach of SB 51 and HB 64 is proven to be effective, with little to no impact on consumers, retailers and the pet food industry. Our communities deserve this common-sense solution to save lives and conserve our hard-earned dollars.

Because until spay/neuter services are affordable and accessible, shelter animals will continue to die – and New Mexicans are already footing the bill.