SANTA FE, N.M. — Every year in New Mexico, the various public and private animal shelters take in more than 135,000 cats and dogs, kittens and puppies. And every year, those shelters kill around half the animals that come in.
It’s a grisly and expensive reality of 65,000 bodies – in terms of humanity and finances. And House Bill 415, which Gov. Susana Martinez signed into law Wednesday, promises to lessen the carnage and the cost.
The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Carl Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, had near-unanimous support, passing the House 62-1 (Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec, was the lone no vote) and the Senate 36-0. It “requires the Animal Sheltering Board to develop and implement a statewide dog and cat spay and neuter program,” funded by voluntary tax-refund contributions and specialty license plate registrations. The program would “aid low-income households in sterilizing, vaccinating, and spaying or neutering their pets and to educate the public on the importance of spaying and neutering,” according to the bill’s Fiscal Impact Report.
Although the state has had the specialty “Pet-Care Spay/Neuter” license plate for years, it was just last year that the Animal Sheltering Board got permission to distribute those revenues – around $30,000 – to 44 low-cost spay/neuter programs in 28 counties. The new legislation sets up a strategic state program and adds the tax check-off option to help replenish the fund, and it allows for the money to be spent in the parts of the state where it’s most needed, not necessarily where it’s been collected.
Animal Protection Voters, which made the bill a priority during the just-finished legislative session, maintains in a white paper that “cat and dog overpopulation is at a crisis level in New Mexico. Uncontrolled breeding of cats and dogs, including those who are stray, abandoned and even those with homes, has created this serious and costly epidemic.”
In Albuquerque, where the showpiece of the East Side Animal Shelter is two spay/neuter surgical suites, that crisis translates into 18,632 animals brought into the shelters in 2014, with 13,426 spay/neuter procedures performed and 2,384 animals euthanized, according to the Animal Welfare Department. Outside groups including Animal Humane New Mexico help augment the city’s spay/neuter program, and the city says Kennel Kompadres paid for 600 of the surgeries at a private veterinary clinic last year.
City staff maintain that “spay and neuter should be promoted and funded throughout the entire state to help stop pet overpopulation.” City Chief Operations Officer Michael Riordan says fully realizing the city’s potential to spay/neuter – only one surgical suite is being used because of funding concerns, though he says no one is turned away – will depend on public education and outreach that brings more pet owners to the shelter, and that’s where any additional dollars will be directed.
HB 415’s fiscal impact report cites an Animal Sheltering Board study, which estimated a program to help low-income households spay/neuter pets would run between $600K and $2.5 million annually “for at least five years.”
Yet the price tag of those $60 spay/neuter procedures doesn’t factor in the savings Animal Protection Voters cites of no longer having to capture, house and eventually kill 65,000 animals annually, of no longer having to treat as many animal bite injuries, of no longer picking up the cost of as many livestock depredations and traffic accidents from stray animals.
Animal Protection Voters says a similar tax-refund check-off program in Colorado raised $140,000 in 2013, and executive director Lisa Jennings says “imagine if everyone who likes cats and dogs had a S/N plate. Twenty-five dollars of each plate purchase (which adds $37 to a regular plate fee), renewed every year, goes into the state S/N fund. … It’s a fairly simple way to support this life-saving effort.”
APV’s white paper shows animal experts from across the state agree there’s a dire need. From Farmington to Roswell, Pecos to Las Cruces, and Tucumcari to Silver City, the testimonials in support of the program focus on the twin arguments of what’s right ethically and financially. Sena Fitzpatrick of the McKinley County Humane Society in Gallup sums it up with “spaying and neutering reduces animal suffering, prevents livestock attacks from packs of roaming dogs, and keeps children safe from bites that often come from unsterilized animals.”
New Mexico legislators and the governor did their part this session to lessen the costs society bears for unsterilized animals. Now it’s New Mexicans’ turn.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to assistant editorial page editor D’Val Westphal at 823-3858 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.