Mandatory spaying, neutering ordinance gains fans

“Monster” was a 4- to 5-year-old pit bull.

Monster was unlicensed and had attacked a neighbor’s dog in 2007.

A little more than a year later, on the day before Thanksgiving, Monster killed a 2-year-old boy in the boy’s home.

Monster shared a common link with dogs involved in two other brutal attacks this year: None of them was neutered or spayed.

To animal control activists and others seeking a mandatory spay-and-neuter ordinance in Clark County, the recent attacks provide yet more evidence for their case.

“We’re always telling people to spay and neuter (their animals) because it’s the right thing to do,” said Gina Grieson, president of Nevada Voters for Animals. “Now we’re saying it’s the safe thing to do.”

Efforts to apply an ordinance similar to one North Las Vegas adopted this year have gained steam recently in Clark County. The county’s Animal Advisory Board adopted a proposal last month requiring dogs and cats older than three months to be spayed or neutered.

It has yet to be accepted by the Clark County Commission, where Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani is planning a series of forums early next year seeking input from opponents and proponents.

Sterilizing an animal is known to have health benefits for the animal, and communities with widespread sterilization efforts have been successful at reducing the numbers of unwanted pets in shelters.

Sterilization also removes much of an animal’s aggressiveness, particularly in male dogs, experts say.

“Testosterone is not a nice hormone,” said Dr. Dave Henderson, a veterinarian and owner of the Sunrise Animal Hospital. “Even in humans, look at the influence of testosterone. We’re in battle mode when we’re on testosterone.”

Nationally, non-neutered male dogs are responsible for between 70 percent and 76 percent of all dog bites, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

In Clark County, which keeps such statistics, about 43 percent of dog bites this year came from non-neutered male dogs. If you add in unspayed female dogs, the number jumps to 63 percent.

Recent attacks have highlighted the aggressiveness of unsterilized dogs:

On July 3, a male and two female pit bulls, one of which was pregnant, mauled a North Las Vegas Animal Control officer while she was on duty. She’s still recovering and has yet to return to the field. None of the dogs was sterilized.

On Sept. 12, a 4-month-old girl was killed by the family’s male pit bull in North Las Vegas. The dog and another family dog, which was shot dead by police but later determined not to have been involved in the attack, were not sterilized.

And on Nov. 26, a 2-year-old boy was fatally bitten by one of the family’s pit bull mixes. Monster and the other family pit bull mix, a female, were not sterilized and are slated to be destroyed.

In the two fatal attacks, the child was being watched by a grandmother while the parents were away.

Calls for a ban on pit bulls are met with resistance by animal advocates and others, both because the effectiveness of such bans are questionable and because of fears that a ban is a “slippery slope” to prohibitions on other dogs.

“It isn’t the breed,” Giunchigliani said. “It’s easy to latch onto that. But it comes back to the owner.”

Sterilizing typically makes dogs less territorial and aggressive. Males, for example, are less likely to escape from a backyard when they smell a female dog in heat somewhere in the neighborhood, and are thus less likely to get into fights with other dogs or bite people.

“I think it’s pretty much the best way to reduce aggression and make sure the animals live a healthy life,” said Joe Boteilho, chief of code enforcement for Clark County Animal Control.

The ordinance adopted earlier this year in North Las Vegas makes it a misdemeanor to have a cat or dog that is not spayed or neutered. North Las Vegas Animal Control Manager Dale Smock said his agency has issued more pet fancier’s permits — which allow someone to have unsterilized animals — than ever before and that his officers are trying to educate delinquent owners before issuing citations.

His office is also directing residents to organizations that offer free or low-cost sterilizations, the lack of which, for Giunchigliani, is one of the primary roadblocks toward an ordinance in Clark County.

The surgeries needed to spay or neuter an animal can cost hundreds of dollars at an animal hospital, which is cost-prohibitive for many people. Places such as the Heaven Can Wait Sanctuary in Las Vegas offer the services for a fraction of the price.

Heaven Can Wait co-founder Harold Vosko said his non-profit organization performed about 7,500 low-cost surgeries last year, and hopes to expand to about 15,000 per year in the next few years.

But those numbers are small compared to the number of animals the Lied Animal Shelter takes in each year. The shelter has to put down more than 30,000 animals annually that it can’t adopt out. Many of those animals are the product of irresponsible breeding.

Giunchigliani said the other obstacle to getting an ordinance in Clark County is the cost, particularly in a time when local and state budgets nationwide are facing tight times. National grants might lessen the blow, she said.

Animal activists acknowledge that enforcement of the ordinance would be difficult, if not impossible. But making it illegal to own an unsterilized animal would be a powerful message that would at least spur people to change, they said.

“If we don’t tell the public that it is wrong to not have their pet spayed or neutered, how many pit bulls are going to kill kids, how many animals are going to die in the shelter, how many kittens are going to go run around (on the streets)?” Vosko said.

Contact reporter Lawrence Mower at lmower@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0440.

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