A Performance Analysis of King County Animal Control Ordinance 10423, Enacted in…

A Performance Analysis of King County Animal Control Ordinance 10423, Enacted in 1992

By: Lee Wallot  Date: 06/30/1998 Category: | Animal Legislation | Canine Issues | Shelter Issues |


This analysis will show that, despite King County Animal Control annual reports to the contrary, Ordinance 10423 has accomplished none of the goals its proponents said it would accomplish. Successes attributed to the ordinance have proven to be simply a continuation of favorable trends already established before the ordinance was put into place. Conversely, the data shows that the ordinance actually had a detrimental effect on prior positive trends. In all categories but one, performances and gains were better before the ordinance than after.

At the same time, the ordinance had many serious negative effects, from generating anger by citizens who resent what they perceived as a tax-and-spend law accompanied by serious restrictions and regulations affecting personal freedom.

Many feel the ordinance has fostered an out-of-control spending spree. In 1990, the total cost of animal control was $1,662,776; in 1997, it was $3,087,350. In 1997, taxpayers paid $1,896,722 out of their own pockets for animal control over and above the revenue generated by licensing. That money came out of the general fund at the expense of budgets for parks and playgrounds and desperately-needed social services.

The data shows that the only "success" was the increase in the number of animals adopted. The tragedy is that this could have been accomplished without enacting Ordinance 10423.

These are important considerations in times of tight budgetary constraints for local and state governments. Obviously, any municipality considering similar legislation should very carefully study the probable financial impact as well as the success or failure of such ordinances in other communities. Communities like King County with such an ordinance already in place must take time to objectively evaluate its performance away from the emotion-driven propaganda that passed the law in the first place. While concern for animals is a noble aspiration, it is time for legislators to acknowledge that people are also entitled to consideration. A bad law is a bad law, period - bad for the people and bad for animals as well.

In 1990, we had no data available of our own, so we were forced to accept the flawed information supplied by the ordinance proponents. This is no longer the case. We no longer have to guess about the ordinance's performance in King County. We have the statistics.


The Ordinance

Ordinance 10423 has been used across the country by animal rights activists as the "model law" for accomplishing the goals of increasing the spaying and neutering of pets and lowering euthanasia rates at shelters. Actually, these goals are ones that almost all of us could agree with. The disagreement comes with the methods the activists pushed into law across the country through what they generally call "responsible breeding ordinances."

Ordinance 10423 was the second such law enacted in the country, right after San Mateo, California, so it is one of the few with a track record. Formulated in 1990 in King County, Washington, by the Progressive Animal Welfare Society and Kim Sturla of the Fund for Animals and enacted in July 1992, it has been promoted across the country as a success ever since. Annual reports issued by King County Animal Control appear to bear out that label until one reads the reports more closely. Only through careful analysis can the misleading information in the reports be discerned. This analysis is an attempt to more accurately portray the success or failure of the ordinance.

The main components of the ordinance are:


  • High differential between altered and unaltered license fees ($10/$55)

  • Mandatory spaying and neutering

  • Mandatory licensing of all dogs and cats from eight weeks of age

  • Door-to-door canvassing for licensing purposes

  • No advertising a pet for sale without the animal's license number.

  • Anyone selling or giving away a dog or cat must notify animal control in writing with the new owner's name, address, and telephone number.

  • Limit on the number of litters allowed per animal.



Many other ordinances also include a breeding fee, but this was defeated in King County.

The ordinance is 25 pages long, so these are only the main points. The county council and the public were sold by emotional blackmail and the activists promises that the fee differential would force people to sterilize their pets to avoid the higher unaltered license fee; increased sterilization of pets would lead to fewer dogs and cats ending up in animal control, the number of euthanasias would go down faster; and the increased income from higher fees and additional licenses would pay for the added costs of the ordinance.

One thing the proponents of the ordinance never mentioned was that the euthanasia rate had plummeted more than 85 percent from 1980-1990 without legislation. Breeders and true welfare advocates (not animal rights activists) had done a very good job selling the concept of spaying and neutering pets for more than 10 years.

The activists came in with their legislation at a time when the problem was already under control and had, in fact, almost reached the point of being solved in many areas of the country. Their use of statistics showing many thousands of animals being killed never mentioned that 60-70 percent of those euthanasias were unadoptable animals - animals euthanized at owner's request (usually because of the pet's age); animals too sick or injured to be adopted; and animals unadoptable because of temperament or behavior problems.


Analysis Parameters

We used the four years of 1994-1997 for this analysis for the following reasons:

  1. The ordinance was enacted in July 1992 but no enforcement except the higher license fees could occur until all contracting cities had signed on.
  2. 1993 was the first full year of the ordinance; setting up a new reporting system and establishing new operating rules resulted in reporting errors and unreliable data for that year.
  3. 1994, 1995, 1996, and 1997 were the first full years of enforcement without unusual or one-time influences.


License Differential

Does a large license differential actually result in increased spays and neuters?

To support that it does, King County details the increase in altered licenses from 31,538 in 1990 - before the ordinance - to 53,992 in 1997 and a decrease in unaltered licenses from 11,286 in 1990 to 4415 in 1997.

At first glance, it appears the figures might actually support the claim of success. But look again: the data includes 1990, 1991, and half of 1992 - before the ordinance was fully enforced. It is very poor analysis protocol (but very effective propaganda) to include data from years prior to a period being analyzed as part of the analysis. More effectively, the "before" should be compared independently to the "after." When we compare those three years before the ordinance to the last three years after the ordinance, we find the following:



Altered license increase

1990-1992: 5742

1995-1997: 2997

Unaltered license decrease

1990-1992: 3715

1995-1997: 287


Altered license increase

1990-1992: 3190

1995-1997: 2830

Unaltered license decrease

1990-1992: 1369

1995-1997: 3

If license numbers are any indication, it would appear that the people of King County were doing a pretty good job of neutering and spaying long before Ordinance 10423 came along with its high-priced and restrictive "solutions."

As to the question of whether a large license differential was successful in encouraging spaying and neutering, we have only to look at the target four years of 1994-97 for the answer. For those years, the distribution of licenses in all categories remained relatively stable with little change. If the licensing differential actually did what the activists said it would do, each year the juvenile licenses should have been renewed as adult neutered licenses the following year. This did not happen.

Dogs: Total juvenile licenses issued 1994-97: 14,574

Altered increase 6419

Unaltered decrease ( 556)

Senior lifetime decrease ( 252)

Net increase 5611

Total juvenile dogs not licensed as adults: 8963

Cats: Total juvenile licenses issued 1994-1997: 15,177

Altered increase 4787

Unaltered increase 8

Senior Lifetime decrease (518)

Net increase 4277

Total juvenile cats not licensed as adults: 10,900

Statistics show that while people do take advantage of the lower licensing fee for juveniles when caught in the door-to-door canvassing, (with the canvassers having no way to verify the age of the animal), on the next licensing period when the juvenile licenses should have converted to adult licenses, a large percentage are not renewed. Since the fee differential between juvenile licenses and altered adult licenses is only $5 (to $10) and would make little impact on an owner's wallet, it is apparent those animals are not being neutered and the owners are simply not willing to pay the high $55 fee for an unaltered pet but prefer instead to take their chances at being caught by animal control.

Shelter Deaths

Do these laws reduce the number of pets euthanized at shelters?

As to whether such laws reduce the number of animals euthanized at shelters, King County points as proof to the 50 percent reduction from 1990-1997. However, once again, such a statement is flawed and misleading even though numerically correct. King County is again including the years before Ordinance 10423 in its calculations and conveniently ignoring the fact that a program's success or failure must be based on the time frame it is in effect. Ordinance 10423 was not in effect from 1990 through mid-1992. In fact, if we compare the same three years before the ordinance to the last three years after the ordinance, it becomes evident that the euthanasia rate was dropping faster before the ordinance was enacted. Once again, it is important to emphasize that the performance for 1990-1992 was achieved without coercive legislation.


1990: 13,765

1992: 10,510

Decrease: 3225 or 1085 per year

1995: 7936

1997: 6606

Decrease 1330 or 443 per year

To directly analyze the effect of the ordinance on euthanasia, we once again go to the years 1994-97. During that time, the total number of animals handled by animal control remained stable at approximately 14,400 per year. Please note that the number of animals entering animal control during those years did not decrease significantly as the ordinance proponents said it would. In fact, in 1993-1994, the number actually increased.

This is an exact reversal of the trend observed in the years prior to the ordinance when the number of animals entering shelters went from 20,849 in 1990 to 15,969 in 1992, a reduction of 4880 animals. The figures for the last three Ordinance 10423 years are 14,375 in 1995 to 14353 in 1997, a reduction of 22 animals. Is the ordinance successful in reducing the number of animals handled by animal control? The figures tell the story in black and white.

What are the influences that affect the number of euthanasias? They are the total number of animals handled, the redemption rate by owners, the number of adoptable vs unadoptable animals, and the number of actual adoptions. In looking at our target years of 1994-97, we have already shown that the number of animals entering animal control was relatively stable at 14,300 per year. The number of animals redeemed by owners remained stable at approximately 2300 per year. The unadoptable animals euthanized remained stable at approximately 6200 per year.

There were only two significant changes for those years: First, the decrease in the number of healthy animals euthanized and second, the increase in the number of those adopted.

Adoptions 1994-97: Increased 2297.

Euthanasia of adoptables 1994-97: Decreased 2236.

Because no other numbers changed significantly in that time period, only one conclusion is possible. Increased adoptions alone made the difference in lowering the euthanasia numbers of adoptable dogs and cats. Ironically, with all its draconian restrictions, fees, and regulations, Ordinance 10423 never addressed the issue of increasing adoptions at shelters as a possible solution to the euthanasia problem.

Another important statistic to look at is that there were 4000 unadoptable cats euthanized in 1997 compared to 2000 unadoptable dogs. That figure for cats has remained virtually unchanged for 1994-97 and for the most part represents disposition of feral cats. We have known for 10 years that feral cats contributed the greatest percentage to the euthanasia rates. The ordinance proponents knew it also - but nothing in Ordinance 10423 ever acknowledged or addressed the issue.

Eight years ago, breeders and other opponents of the ordinance tried to tell the county council that what was needed was to increase adoptions and address the feral cat issue instead of instituting the draconian measures of an ordinance that would do nothing to solve the problem of animals being killed at shelters. The activists used emotional blackmail and hyperbole to convince them otherwise


Voucher Programs

Are voucher programs successful?

King County also offers a spay and neuter voucher program it says is successful. With each unaltered and juvenile license, they give a $25 voucher good towards sterilization by a veterinarian. From 1994-97, 22,081 vouchers were issued and 1215 were redeemed, a rate of 5.5 percent.


The income-expense analysis in the chart accompanying the report (but not included in this article) is pretty much self-explanatory. However, a few things should be mentioned.

In the 1996 annual report, King County says "pet licenses increased by 52 percent from 1992-1996." While this is certainly a true statement, it is a misleading one: nowhere in any annual report has there ever been any data showing how much that increase cost the county to attain. It also does not point out that more than 5000 of these licenses each year generate no income because they are senior renewals at no fee.

Then there are statements such as "canvassing revenues reached nearly $300,000 with expenses of $236,000." Again, while such data may be true, it is nonetheless both misleading and inaccurate for the purpose of analyzing the financial performance of a program. It is the bottom line that is important in such an analysis, not carefully selected and edited parts.

For instance, comparing 1991 (the last full year before the ordinance) to 1997 (the last full year after the ordinance), the bottom line shows that:

Income increased $359,743 (43.2 percent)

Expenses increased $1,118,098 (56.8 percent)

Net cost to King County from 1992-1997 (life of the ordinance) $8,397,096.

Cost to handle animals:

1991 (before ordinance) $105.36 per animal

1997 (after ordinance) $215.10 per animal

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