Defending the Freedom to Own Pets


The Future of Dogs in an Animal Rights America

by Walt Hutchens


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How Animal Rights Laws Work

Nine out of ten new laws relating to pets are actually anti-pet in purpose. However, since ‘anti-pet' wouldn't sell, the real purpose is never put on the label. Pet laws must be studied to figure out what they will really do. The true purpose will be found among what would ordinarily be considered the 'unintended consequences' and is often the reverse of what we're told.

The 'law of unintended consequences' is familiar in lawmaking. Unlimited welfare benefits seemed like a way to lift people out of poverty but the long-term effect was to build a cycle of dependence in which successive generations grew up and choose to 'get a check' rather than building the skills needed for adult independence. Laws passed with only the best of intentions thus caused the numbers of the poor to grow, decade by decade.

The difference is that for AR laws, the unintended consequences are the plan.

Everything else is just brightly colored wrapping paper, intended to build support and get the law passed. This tactic has been so well polished that you will find respected and well intended community leaders backing even the worst anti-pet bills.

When animal rights laws are claimed to be needed to prevent tragedy – 'pit bull' bans, extremely punitive dangerous dog laws, sometimes anti-tethering laws – you will often find the mother or other close relative of someone badly hurt or killed by a dog as a figurehead for the effort to pass the law.

These individuals are sincere and you cannot blame them for trying to prevent a repetition. The tactic is effective because it is hard to say "Mrs. Smith, I'm very sorry about Tommy but you don't have a clue what you're talking about." But these poor people are twice victimized – the second time, by an animal rights movement that is cynically using them to put a human face on an anti-human and inhumane campaign.

A few examples of 'what you see and what you get'

1. 'Mandatory spay neuter (MSN) laws' requiring all dogs to be spayed or neutered, generally with an expensive 'intact animal' licenses offered under tight restrictions, are promoted as a way to reduce 'pet overpopulation.' This seems logical: If there are no excess intact animals, then unwanted births can't happen.

But it doesn't work that way. These laws cannot be enforced -- you can't tell if a dog is spayed or neutered (S/N) at a glance (for females, you may not even be able to locate the scar) and going door to door checking for vet certificates is far too expensive.

The owners who were allowing animals to roam are least likely to have them altered.

The first result is that a few dogs are spayed/neutered, a few more are given up, some dogs are abandoned (shelter intakes always rise for a couple of years where these laws are passed) and most dogs are unchanged but owners of the intact ones are now in violation. The owners who either S/N or give up their dogs are the responsible ones: most of them were already confining their animals. The owners who were allowing animals to roam are least likely to have them altered.

These laws have no favorable effect on pet populations: While animal rightists cite San Mateo County, California (where MSN was passed in the early 1990's) as a great success, an honest study of the numbers shows that the law didn't work at all. And it has been the same in every other jurisdiction: Montgomery County, MD, passed MSN in the 1990's but repealed it just a few years later when a watchdog agency concluded that it had only bad effects.

Good breeders stop, move away, or try to hide, selling their dogs only out of the area.

However 'ineffective' is just the beginning. The restrictions on 'intact animal' and 'breeder' licenses are always set up to make carefully planned multi-year breeding programs impossible. Good breeders stop, move away, or try to hide, selling their dogs only out of the area. The supply of dogs from people who breed for health and happiness, match puppies to families, help if there are problems, and take them back if it doesn't work, vanishes.

To get a dog license you have to say if the dog is S/N or not. People who are in violation of an MSN law stop getting licenses. Revenues decline and because licensing is the point at which rabies vaccinations are followed up, so does this important public health measure.

Wait – there's even more. Since they generally point to a violation of the law, unplanned puppies are now effectively contraband. They may be abandoned or dumped – not exactly a humane outcome.

'Oops' litters supply around half of all American dogs: Causing them to be destroyed may create a shortage that draws hidden breeding and fleamarket imports from outlying areas. The poster child for MSN is Southern California where millions of people now live under these laws and sure enough, increasing numbers of puppies are being brought in from Mexico, often using the same smuggling schemes as for drugs.

Even the basic idea – that restricting dog births will reduce numbers entering shelters – is wrong in most areas.

Even the basic idea – that restricting dog births will reduce numbers entering shelters – is wrong in most areas. America no longer has a general dog 'overpopulation' (too many puppies) problem. Except in far out (mostly southern) rural areas, places with excessive euthanasia rates have an excess of adult dogs. That's a different problem, one that must be addressed in other ways. To the extent that MSN has any effect at all, it simply lowers dog quality, thus making the adult dog retention problem worse.

MSN laws are a bomb, tossed in the middle of the American 'dog supply system.' But the unintended consequences are the plan. These laws are often supported by the well-intended but they are written by people who know exactly how they will work.

2. Anti-tethering laws either set limits on how long a dog can be tied outdoors ("no more than one hour at a time," "not over three hours daily") or completely forbid it. This sounds okay -- most of us believe that most dogs should be kept as house pets, don't we? Some breeders simply wouldn't sell you a dog as a pet if you said "We will chain him in the back yard."

However, most chained dogs do fine – I grew up with a real sweetheart of a German Shepherd who was perfectly happy on a chain.

There is no evidence that chaining contributes to aggression; such problems come from a combination of poor breeding and poor early socialization. Dangerous temperaments show up among in-home pets just as they do among dogs kept on chains, in fenced yards, or allowed to roam.

Many people cannot afford a secure fence and many of those who can, live where covenants and/or laws make a fence impossible.

Anti-tethering laws lead not to happier dogs, but a reduction in the number of dogs.

Sledding and many hunting dogs are routinely chained, ditto many dogs kept for security purposes. These dogs are not intended as pets and if they were brought indoors, many would lose their reason for being.

Many dogs kept outside are very unhappy if brought inside: depression and/or destructive behavior are common. Some pet dogs kept outside can be trained to live indoors but the project will require at least weeks of close supervision by an adult with good dog skills. If the family works and goes to school during the day, keeping a dog chained because they can't have a fence, the odds are against moving him inside.

The usual recourse when people are forced to stop chaining is a small homemade wire pen -- far more confining and less secure.

The overall result of these laws is more dogs getting loose, more abandonments, and more given up at the animal shelter. Anti-tethering laws lead not to happier dogs, but a reduction in the number of dogs. Again, the unintended consequences are the plan.

There are several other very common types of AR laws:

Breeder licensing schemes. These are mandatory spay/neuter from the flip side. Claimed to be needed to prevent irresponsible or abusive breeding ('fight puppy mills') the real goal is to make home breeding impractical.

Pet limit laws. These laws claim to reduce dog nuisances but since the overwhelming majority of dog owners are already within the limit, they don't replace any other law. The chief effect – and the goal from the AR point of view – is wiping out home based dog rescue and home breeding. Zoning laws are sometimes used in exactly the same way, for example dog breeding may be defined as 'manufacturing' and permitted only in areas so zoned where residential property is uncommon and often not very desirable.

Humane education laws. Who could oppose education? But 'humane' is matter of values and values are best taught by parents. Attempts to teach values in the schools collide with two issues: Whose values? (Is hunting okay? Use of animals for education and research purposes? Eating of meat or wearing of fur and leather?). And where will the teaching materials come from? All current comprehensive 'humane education' materials were developed by anti-animal use organizations, HSUS and others. They are strictly propaganda, aimed at training future generations to reject existing and majority values in favor of those of a tiny group of cultists.

A subtle but nasty effect is that these programs undermine the moral authority of parents. PeTA, for example, produced a comic book with a cover showing a woman with a knife, blood, etc. on the cover (slaughtering a rabbit) and the banner "Your Mommy KILLS Animals." It's hard to imagine anything worse for modern society.

Steady increases of the penalties for all forms of animal-related offenses. Laws work well when they reflect settled majority values: All of us agree that murder should be against the law and very strongly punished and all but the alcoholics support strong measures against drunk driving. When laws go beyond protecting us against behavior we all consider wrong and instead try to change the values of the majority, they no longer work well and tend to lessen respect for law. Increasing punishments within practical limits has little or no good effect. The 'war on drugs' shows us the borderland: Does any respected authority believe that doubling the minimum penalties would result in less drug use?

Many areas of animal law are similar. We have laws against abandonment, cruelty, dog (and other animal) fighting, neglect, and other actions that the great majority of us consider wrong. Year by year, we see efforts to double and redouble the penalties but with rare exceptions (such as a very few places where the law still gives deliberate cruelty a slap on the wrist), penalties are already high enough to have whatever deterrent effect is practical. Still more punishment simply means more plea bargains instead of trials, regardless of guilt.

'Bond' requirements when animals are seized. Seizure of owned animals was provided in laws as an emergency measure, to protect animals in immediate danger that cannot wait for a trial. Modern animal control practice in many areas, however, is that if there is (or can be claimed to be) a justification for seizure of any animal, they are all taken. Then, after a time, the owner can go to court and attempt to prove that there were no grounds for the seizure.

The only check on these abuses is that animal control must hold and care for the seized animals pending trial. The trend is toward laws requiring animal owners to post what is called a bond and is typically $10/day/animal within a few days following the seizure, often in 30-day chunks. Ten dogs = $3000; pay now or your animals are forfeited and may be disposed of. Then you go to trial: Generally you don't get your bond back even if you are found not guilty.

A true bond secures performance: show up for trial or finish the job as contracted and you get your money back. These so-called seizure bond provisions are just prepayments to shelters and since actual shelter expense to care for one more dog is $1-2/day, it's at a very generous rate. An Ohio bill contains an innovation: rather than requiring a bond if animals are seized you have to do it to obtain a license allowing you to have over fifteen dogs for breeding or rescue. If any animal is seized; your bond is forfeited.

Where these laws are in force you will generally be offered the choice of pleading guilty to a lesser offense, forfeiting most animals, and capping your bond amount at elapsed days. So much for that annoying 'due process' thing in the U.S. Constitution.

The claimed justification is to protect animal control from the up front expense of large seizures and thus make them possible. The real effect is to complete the conversion of seizures from a limited tool needed for occasional urgent situations, to a profitable and perfectly legal form of abuse 'under color of law.' These laws almost completely eliminate the need for control organizations to make the case that a violation has occurred, thus freeing them to campaign without check against breeders, rescuers and anyone else they don't like.

These trends are just beginning but as they continue, dogs could easily become too expensive for most of us to own.

Laws that give power over dog care to others who don't have to pay. Guardianship (increased government power), private right of action laws (anyone can go to court to get power over your dogs), and increasing values set by courts on the value of a dog's life (because pet ambulance chasing lawyers will make veterinary malpractice insurance necessary) will all drive up costs of ownership. These trends are just beginning but as they continue, dogs could easily become too expensive for most of us to own.

One final observation. The true effect of an animal rights law may be very well hidden. Long or complicated bills need several readings and at least one should be from the bottom up, since 'killer' provisions often appear near the end. Focus on the real world effects; they're often not as they seem.

An example of 'well hidden.' A 2004 North Carolina proposal promoted to ‘end the tragedy of euthanasia' would have taxed pet foods in order to fund (among other things) low cost spay/neuter programs. Sounds okay so far, doesn't it?

But the funds were to be distributed to counties equally and to jurisdictions within counties according to population. The result would have been that the urban counties already having very high S/N percentages would have gotten most of the modest amount of money from the tax and incorporated areas within the remaining counties most of the rest, leaving pennies on the dollar for the less populous unincorporated rural areas that actually had the problem.

The same proposal contained a requirement that all shelters sterilize all animals prior to adoption. The effect on well-off counties would have been small, since most of them already were doing so. However in the poorer counties, 100% pre-adoption sterilization (rather than the weaker measure of requiring it by contract) would have jacked up the price of an adoption from $50-75 to perhaps $250 thus essentially ending unsubsidized adoptions. When you looked at the numbers, it was clear that there wouldn't be enough money for more than a fractional subsidy.

The true effect of the proposal would have been to greatly increase euthanasia rates in the rural areas where the problem existed.

Opposition grew, the measure never was introduced as a bill.

A second example of ‘well hidden.' The Albuquerque New Mexico ‘HEART' ordinance contains a list of the usual sorts of serious mistreatment that will be considered animal cruelty. Much farther down the text of the law there's a short paragraph that lists by number only, several earlier paragraphs of minor violations that will also be charged as cruelty – leash law violations, having bees in an area accessible to your dog, and so on. In yet another section you discover that not only is any cruelty violation a bar to getting a permit (to conduct any animal business or to keep or breed an intact animal) but the presence of any person in your household who has had such a conviction is also a bar.

Maybe they won't find out? Well, you're required to state when applying that no such bar exists. In Albuquerque, if your mom gets fined because her dog gets loose and she later moves in with you, your pet breeding days are over. HEART is in effect now and there will be a strong effort to pass it at the state level within the next year.


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