San Mateo Ordinance Fails Test of Time
Euthanasias up in first year reversing prior trend.
By: Norma Bennett Woolf Date: 03/19/1997 Category: | Animal Legislation | Canine Issues | Shelter Issues |
"Year one of the San Mateo County Pet Overpopulation Ordinance coincided with an increase in euthanasia in the affected unincorporated county and a reversal of the prior down-trend."
So begins the report of The Animal Council of Millbrae, California, on the infamous San Mateo County ordinance. TAC is a watchdog group that gathers statistics on shelter activities in the county. The information in its report came from San Mateo County Animal Control Services, county and state agencies, and reports of the Animal Population Trust Fund.
The ordinance was proposed in late 1990 by Peninsula Humane Society as a moratorium on dog and cat breeding and a requirement that all dogs and cats be sterilized unless a permit was purchased to keep them intact. The final ordinance, without the moratorium or the mandatory sterilization provisions but still restrictive on breeders and owners of intact pets, was passed in early 1992 by county supervisors. Variations have since been passed by the City of San Mateo and Belmont, and amendments have been offered by the Animal Control Services agency.
During the campaign to get the ordinance approved, PHS claimed 10,000 animals euthanized yearly and showed barrels of dead cats on the evening news. In fact, 1738 dogs and 7300 cats were euthanized in 1989-90 in the whole county, not in the unincorporated area the ordinance would cover. These figures represented a 16 percent decline in dog deaths from the previous year and a one percent increase in cat deaths.
Figures gathered by TAC show an incredible decline in dog deaths from 1970-1991. With only three exceptions, deaths went down every year for a total decline of 92 percent in the 21-year span before the ordinance. More than 15,800 dogs died in calendar year 1970; fewer than 1300 in fiscal year 1990-91.
Cat deaths also declined steadily; 21,796 cats were euthanized in 1970 and 7080 in 1990-91, a drop of 67 percent.
Enter the ordinance in 1992. Dog euthanasias in the county rose three percent from 1298 to 1332 animals, and cat deaths increased five percent to 7417 in the first year. At the same time, dog licenses decreased by more than five percent. In the 1992-93 fiscal year, dog deaths declined five percent and cat deaths went down 16 percent; in 1993-94, the numbers declined 12 percent and 17 percent respectively.
But the 1992-94 declines in euthanasias do not confirm the success of the ordinance, for they include the whole county and the ordinance only covers the unincorporated areas. There dog deaths increased from 38 in 1990-91 to 86 in 1993-94, a jump of 126 percent. Cat deaths also multiplied from 168 in 1990-91 to 312 in 1993-94, an increase of 86 percent.
Breeding permits, pet licenses, and fancier's permits
Cat licenses (altered, $5; unaltered, $15) are required by the ordinance, but cat owners are not rushing to make their pets legal. In the three fiscal years in which the ordinance has been in effect, the ACS has collected $11,634 in license fees for 2934 cats, most of them sterilized.
Intact animal licenses and breeding permits are required to keep fertile animals and produce litters. No breeding permits have been granted to cat breeders; of the 50 permits issued for dog breeders from 1991-1994, only eight are renewals.
There were no revocation proceedings against breeding permit holders, no inspections of animals or premises covered by the permits, and no complaints received about permit holders. ACS supplied information about several violations of the breeding permit requirements but did not specify if these violations were failures to obtain a permit prior to producing a litter, failure to renew a permit, or violations of permit conditions. Over the life of the ordinance, 47 citations have been issued for breeding permit violations of some sort.
Fancier's permits are required for those keeping between four and 10 dogs or cats or combination of the two species. As of March 1995, there were 30 active fancier's permits in the county and three applications pending. There had been one complaint resulting in revocation of a permit.
TAC attempted to get written responses to questions about costs from ACS, but such information was not provided. ACS replied that a request for euthanasia costs could not be answered because such costs are integrated into operation of the shelter as a whole.
TAC was not satisfied: "Euthanasia is a mandated public function for which a contractor is used, " the report said. "As such, it is not unreasonable to determine costs, especially in view of the decreasing utilization and the allegation that cost justifies a controversial ordinance."
TAC reported that ACS also ignored the request for cost analysis relating to specific provisions of the ordinance or to the status of the Animal Population Trust.
The report also suggested that the Trust has not fulfilled its mission to provide additional sources of low-cost sterilization services for those who do not wish to use the PHS clinic, and that, in spite of denials, ACS is actively seeking to expand the ordinance to other communities in the county.
PHS Community Liaison Committee
This committee was formed when members of the public complained that PHS practiced an "exclusionary philosophy" as a public contractor and was intended by the county to include members of the public to have access to the humane society operations. However, PHS chooses the members and runs the committee, so it is no more open than it was before the ordinance was proposed.
"The committee has become a vehicle for PHS's interests and a means for it to augment its own support at the expense of community values" the report said. "For example, PHS presented their own feral cat co-op program as a voluntary joint effort whereby cat feeders would receive support services in exchange for meeting PHS requirements. Shortly thereafter, the ordinances requiring cat feeder registration surfaced with claims that the committee endorsed the proposed law. Had the committee actually reviewed any laws or proposed laws, they might have uncovered various flaws such as lack of definitions, etc."
Furthermore, "Using the committee as attribution, PHS developed its own rental housing program which requires sterilization for tenant pets."
The TAC report on the San Mateo ordinance is available by writing The Animal Council, PO Box 168, Millbrae, CA 94030.
Animal control memo in San Mateo defies statistics
A memo from Connie Urbanski, animal control program manager in San Mateo County, to the county supervisors on August 18, 1993, said: "The numbers indicate that there is a significant drop in the animals received and euthanized at the shelter. The numbers also indicate that the licensing numbers have slightly increased in dogs and greatly increased in cats. Although the pet overpopulation ordinance is responsible for the changes in the stats, I feel strongly that it is the education and public awareness portion of the ordinance that is making a difference, not the permits and differential licensing."
The ordinance is in effect in the unincorporated portion of the county, but Urbanski's figures cover the whole county. Actually, euthanasia in the unincorporated area went up in spite of the education, public awareness, and licensing portions of the ordinance.
Euthanasia rates for all of San Mateo County (with rates for unincorporated ordinance area in parentheses) for dogs were:
- 1989-90, -16 percent (-20 percent);
- 1990-91, -16 percent (-47 percent);
- 1991-92 [ordinance implemented March 1992], +3 percent (+39 percent);
- 1992-93, -5 percent (+45 percent);
- 1993-94, -12 percent (+12 percent).
Urbanski's memo covered compared 1991-92 with 1992-93, the first full year of the ordinance. Figures from 1993-94 have become available since that report. In real numbers, PHS euthanised 90 dogs from the unincorporated portion of the county in 1988-89 and 86 dogs from the same area in 1993-94, after the ordinance had been in effect for two years. The number dropped to 72 in 1989-90, then to 38 in 1990-91 - before the ordinance. After implementation of the ordinance that was supposed to eliminate "overpopulation" of dogs and cats and make people more responsible owners, euthansias went up to 53 (1991-92), 77 (1992-93), and 86 (1993-94) - and licenses declined 35 percent.
An examination of the 1991-92 and 1992-93 statistics provided by Urbanski also reveals that intake of dogs went down about two percent, reclaims by owners went up about three percent, and adoptions increased less than one percent. With fewer dogs coming in and more dogs returned to their owners or adopted, the drop in euthanasias could be expected to be more than five percent.
In addition, Urbanski's figures do not cover the pre-ordinance period in which euthanasias declined steadily from 1970 when 15,884 dogs and 21,796 cats died in the shelter to 1991, when 1298 dogs and 7080 cats were euthanized.
The "success" of the San Mateo ordinance is touted throughout the country by animal rights groups working to control dog and cat breeding in several states, counties, and cities throughout the country. Several Florida counties and Las Vegas, Nevada, are fighting this legislation, and activists are conducting seminars in several areas to teach local radicals how to use the system to pass similar laws.
The Animal Council answers Peninsula Humane Society
A letter from Sharon A. Coleman, President:The Animal Council
To the editor:
In response to your request that we verify the data contained in the NAIA News July-August 1995 article "San Mateo anti-breeding ordinance fails the test" after a complaint by Peninsula Humane Society executive director Kathy Savesky at the recent meeting of the Society of Animal Welfare Associations, we submit the following:
To our knowledge, the only dispute is our showing on page four of our report that the euthanasia rate in the ordinance (unincorporated) are increased after ordinance implementation. PHS argues that in 1991-92, they began reporting unincorporated city addresses as "unincorporated" rather than city as had been done in the past. Thus, the "unincorporated" boundaries were expanded, resulting in an expected increase in euthanasias. To this contention, we offer the following counterpoints:
The countywide euthanasia rate for 1991-92 actually increased five percent over the previous year.
Euthanasia rates in the following years 1992-93 and 1993-94 continued to rise for unincorporated (the ordinance area) over the base year until a decline for cats only in 1993-94. At the same time, rates for the county continued to drop. Boundary changes do not explain this difference.
If boundary changes were made for shelter-processed animals, corresponding boundaries should have been used for licensing. However, for 1992-93, countywide licenses increased by one-half of one percent while unincorporated (ordinance-area) licenses (dogs only) declined by a whopping 35 percent.
Notwithstanding whether boundary changes were made or implemented consistently, the effective mechanism of the ordinance was based on the licensing system! If licensing declined, it is unlikely that any changes in euthanasia rates resulted from the sterilization or breeding permit requirements of the licensing system.
Finally, we are enclosing for your reference copies of our original questions and the actual responses from Connie Urbanski, program manager of the Division of Animal Control of San Mateo County. At the top of page one of our request, we asked "If different boundaries were used, please note. Urbanski did state that prior to 1991-92, data was "not collected in a manner to reflect categorical comparisons accurately" and that the county and PHS did not distribute numbers in the same format. The categories referred to are the breakdown of gross euthanasia numbers and not geographical boundaries.
In some (San Mateo county) cities unincorporated can vary from house to house, so this determination will always require ongoing exactitude. The boundary change was only mentioned at the May 15, 1995, hearing before the Board of Supervisors in response to a pointed inquiry from a supervisor. The discrepancy between euthanasia and the percent decline in licensing was never addressed. We noted this discrepancy on page four of our report in the notes following the section "Unincorporated San Mateo County euthanasia and rates of change."
San Mateo County was never concerned with numbers or statistical methodology. In fact, rigorous application of such methodology would reveal the true scheme to use criminal laws to control individual conduct regardless of whether that conduct in any way contributes to a real local problem. We still have outrageously irresponsible animal owners disregarded while marginal individuals whose lives are dedicated to animals are targeted for conduct - usually sloppy housekeeping under unusual conditions - that is harmless to animals and are subjected to egregious persecution and vigorous prosecution.
The county now has four separate licensing structures to administer and has fallen months behind in issuing licenses and permits. Renewal forms include the words "expect delays." Checks remain uncashed for months and renewal periods must be extended to compensate.
We appreciate the opportunity to clarify our data and its sources. The NAIA News article noted the most compelling argument against the ordinance - there had already been a 92 percent decline in euthanasia over the prior 21 years. The risks of micromanaging individuals through criminal law and the ensuing unintended effects of avoidance behavior - less licensing and possibly less rabies vaccination - and loss of good will in a diverse population counterbalance any arguable benefits.
Euthanasia rates for all of San Mateo County (with rates for unincorporated ordinance area in parentheses) for dogs: 1989-90, -16 percent (-20 percent); 1990-91, -16 percent (-47 percent); 1991-92 [ordinance implemented March 1992], +3 percent (+39 percent); 1992-93, -5 percent (+45 percent); 1993-94, -12 percent (+12 percent). In real numbers, PHS euthanised 90 dogs from the unincorporated portion of the county in 1988-89 and 86 dogs from the same area in 1993-94, after the ordinance had been in effect for two years. The number dropped to 72 in 1989-90, then to 38 in 1990-91 - before the ordinance. After implementation of the ordinance that was supposed to eliminate “overpopulation” of dogs and cats and make people more responsible owners, euthansias went up to 53 (1991-92), 77 (1992-93), and 86 (1993-94) - and licenses declined 35 percent.
About The Author
All Authors Of This Article: | Norma Bennett Woolf |