Gillian Wood Pultz is executive director of the North Fork Animal Welfare League and a board member of the New York State Animal Protection Federation.
Fourteen years ago, New York took a wise and humane step toward dealing with the problem of unwanted domestic animals. Now the state is poised to take a step backward.
In 1996, New York initiated the Animal Population Control Program (APCP) to subsidize the cost of spay-neuter surgeries performed on dogs and cats adopted from approved animal shelters. In 2006, the program was expanded to include companion animals owned by people receiving public assistance.
The funding for this program comes from a $3 surcharge on the licensing of unaltered dogs - that is, dogs that aren't spayed or neutered - and the sale of specialty vehicle plates advocating spaying and neutering. Since its inception, the program has paid for approximately 90,000 surgeries, preventing millions of unwanted animals from being born and flooding the already overburdened shelter system.
But the proposed 2010-2011 New York State Executive Budget seeks to eliminate this lifesaving program.
The APCP is a proven system that worked, helped animals, helped people and was self-sustaining. In 2008, however, Gov. Eliot Spitzer doomed the APCP to insolvency by reallocating $1 million from the program to the state's general fund. Although the money was specifically collected to help animals, it was not used for that purpose.
The proposed permanent elimination of the APCP is extremely shortsighted, as it will increase the number of animals impounded in our already overcrowded shelter system. This increase will inevitably result in euthanasia due to lack of space. The cost of impounding an animal until it can be legally euthanized is three times more than spaying or neutering.
These significantly higher costs will decrease valuable shelter programs while increasing the risk that unaltered animals pose to the public. The National Canine Research Council reports that 92 percent of the dogs involved in fatal attacks on humans are unaltered, and evidence suggests that spaying and neutering dogs decreases their aggression. Losing this program would turn the clock back on animal welfare and public safety by decades.
The newly formed New York State Animal Protection Federation has a solution that will maintain these vital services without affecting the proposed state budget - or creating any new fees or taxes for New Yorkers.
The federation recommends continuing to collect the $3 surcharge on the licenses of unaltered dogs. Once those funds are collected, they will be turned over to a nonprofit organization to distribute to veterinarians and organizations across the state that will provide subsidized spaying and neutering services. The proposed system will have much less overhead, since it will be administered by an unsalaried nonprofit board instead of by State Agriculture and Markets employees.
It's time we tell our government to stop taking away services we care about - services that prevent companion animal overpopulation, abandonment, neglect and abuse.