Time to control pet population

Joanne lives in rural New Mexico with her husband, their two children, and two dogs who joined the family after showing up on their doorstep years ago as hungry, cold, scared puppies. Joanne’s heart melted and they easily decided to keep the pups – but how could they afford to get them spayed? Joanne didn’t want the dogs to produce unwanted litters, but like so many New Mexicans, the cost of the spay/neuter surgeries would be a hardship. Most New Mexico’s counties have insufficient resources for low-cost spay-neuter programs.

Stories like these are commonplace throughout our state. I, and other legislators, have long searched for ways to generate adequate funds to expand statewide, low-cost spay/neuter programs. We even requested a study on this subject, and its conclusions have led me to introduce House Bill 123 to create a long-sought funding mechanism for a truly comprehensive, low-cost spay/neuter effort administered by the state.

Over the years, we’ve made progress: We created a spay/neuter license plate and a voluntary tax refund donation program that together generate modest annual revenue for spay/neuter surgeries in the neediest New Mexico communities. But that progress is not nearly enough to meaningfully stem our pet overpopulation problem. Every year, over 65,000 dogs and cats are euthanized in our state’s shelters for lack of a home. Municipal and non-profit shelters collectively spend over $38 million annually to care for New Mexico’s dogs and cats.

These problematic numbers are staggering – and they are unnecessary.

HB 123 would require pet food companies to pay a reasonable additional fee to sell their products in our state to help address this problem. Currently, New Mexico charges multimillion and multibillion dollar companies only $2 per year to register each pet food product they sell in our state. This figure is miniscule compared to what many other states require. HB 123 asks these companies to pay a new $100 annual year fee per product sold, estimated to generate about $700,000 annually for crucial spay-neuter programs.

The pet food industry has opposed this funding mechanism in other states, but let’s keep their opposition in perspective. New Mexico’s pet owners provide the industry with an estimated $108 million in sales of food and treats for dogs and cats. What these companies pay back to New Mexico in annual fees, paid to safely sell products here, represents a tiny fraction of their incomes.

The industry also has tried to bully and scare pet-owning consumers by claiming additional fees will raise pet food prices and force them to give up their animals. But even if the companies passed along to consumers the entire amount of the added fee, each pet-owning household in New Mexico would pay only about $1.48 more per year for pet food – about the price of a cup of coffee. And remember this: The dogs and cats most likely to be relinquished to shelters are those who are not spayed or neutered. At least three others states charge companies what HB 123 proposes, and one state, California, charges much more. We are missing an opportunity other states already enjoy. The benefits to low-income and rural New Mexicans would be felt throughout the state. Funds generated would provide an estimated 6,000 to 11,000 additional spay/neuter surgeries in our neediest communities every year. Animal control and sheltering costs borne by municipalities and counties would be driven down substantially.

HB 123’s approach is a proven one. Our communities deserve this obvious solution to New Mexico’s crushing pet overpopulation problem. Please support House Bill 123. It is a “win” for animals, for New Mexicans, our counties, and our state.

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