Bills Would Establish Statewide Spay/Neuter Program
Posted: Sunday, January 20, 2013 5:00 am | Updated: 12:00 am, Sun Jan 20, 2013. CapitalGazette.com
Some Maryland lawmakers want to create a statewide spay-neuter program designed to save taxpayer money by lowering the number of pets euthanized.
Legislation is expected to be introduced within weeks by member of both chambers of the General Assembly. After studying other states’ programs for nearly two years, a task force issued a report last week recommending the state pay for the program by putting a surcharge on pet food manufacturers.
The task force, commissioned by Gov. Martin O’Malley in 2011, said $8 million to $9 million in taxpayer money is spent euthanizing 45,000 pets a year at state shelters.
State Sen. Joanne Benson, D-Prince George’s, who chaired the task force, plans to introduce a bill to establish the program. She said Del. Barbara Frush, D-Beltsville, whose district includes part of Anne Arundel County, will introduce the bill in the House. Frush could not be reached for comment.
Benson said the state needs to allow those currently unable to pay to spay and neuter their pets to do so. She said Maryland has too many cats and dogs running loose — and too many of them are reproducing.
As a result, an inordinate amount of taxpayer money is spent on euthanizations at state shelters, Benson said.
“It would be just unbelievable if we were not able to pass a bill to take care of it,” she said.
The Task Force on the Establishment of a Statewide Spay/Neuter Fund was made up of two Senate members, two members of the House of Delegates and more than 10 representatives from groups that work with animals, including the Pet Food Institute and the Maryland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The task force reported “an avoidable occurrence of euthanasia in the state ... due to shelter overpopulation.”
According to the report, the Professional Animal Workers of Maryland Inc., or PAWS — the state association of animal control agencies and organizations that work with animals — estimates that intake, housing and eventual disposition costs $175 to $200 per animal.
An informal survey conducted by PAWS members found 38,414 dogs and 57,556 cats enter shelters in the state annually. Of them, 28 percent of dogs and 61 percent of cats are euthanized, the survey found.
A second survey of 26 of 51 animal control and welfare agencies in the state found only 9 percent of incoming cats and 14 percent of incoming dogs had been spayed or neutered.
Carolyn Kilborn, chairwoman of the animal advocacy group Maryland Votes for Animals, who was on the task force, said pet food manufacturers already pay a fee to sell their products in the state. The task force recommends putting an annual $100 fee on each commercial pet food registration in the state.
About 10,700 pet food brands were registered with the Maryland Department of Agriculture in fiscal 2012, the report said.
The state would use that money to pay for the spaying or neutering of pets whose owners cannot afford the cost. Those owners would receive vouchers and the state would pay a pre-negotiated amount to veterinarians or organizations that do the procedure.
If the measure were passed, Kilborn said, taxpayers would no longer take the brunt of euthanizing pets in the state.
Though an extra cost for selling their products in Maryland would be imposed on pet food manufacturers, the report says that the industry could handle it, as it has been stable through the economy’s ups and downs.
Other states use similar mechanisms, the report says.
One state cited by the task force report is Maine, where a program enables low-income residents to pay just $10 to spay or neuter cats and $20 for dogs. Approximately 75 percent of veterinary hospitals participate, the report says.
That program’s funding — approximately $185,000 a year — primarily relies on a surcharge on pet food distribution registration, the report says.
Similar programs in other states have dropped euthanasia rates, the report says. In New Hampshire, one such program has cut euthanasia 77 percent since the program started in 1994. A New Jersey program had achieved a 61 percent reduction as of 2010.
A coalition has formed and set up a website — www.savemarylandpets.org — and a petition drive to support passage of the forthcoming bills in Maryland.
“There is an urgent need,” Kilborn said. This program “would be reliable, sustainable and also fair.”