Jackson City Council candidates are being asked in WBBJ interviews: "What would you do to address the animal over-population problem?" This is curious because the current city council and mayor already answered this question when they voted in April to move ahead with construction of a new Animal Care Center building currently costing $1.5 million, and hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to operate. Despite efforts over the last three years to have spay/neuter be part of the discussion (attempts and arguments are documented at westtnspayneuter.org/news), the organizers and approvers of this plan did not avail themselves of public input, nor experts willing to counsel, nor did they seriously consider solutions or ideas from most area rescuers or spay/neuter groups, nor did they appear to consult any data or research. If they had, they might have learned that an expensive scaling-up of the existing Humane Society business model will be ineffective to address the flood of unwanted animals that plague Jackson and west Tennessee.
Experience shows us that we cannot rescue our way out of our pet over-population problem. Rescuing is expensive (in time, money, resources) and inefficient, while accessible and affordable spay/neuter options prevent and correct. In committing the City to be in the animal rescue business for decades to come, our leaders have missed a huge opportunity to do the preventative work that is so desperately needed here, with a business model that can operate in the black - that of low-cost spay and neuter services for area pet owners. A clinic would be an economic generator: while this facility will take in animals from Jackson residents only, a spay/neuter clinic would be a destination and resource for folks from all surrounding counties - pet owners, rescues and s/n assistance volunteers who will avail themselves of shopping, restaurants, and entertainment for the day while they wait for services.
Kennels and cages will fill up whether there are twenty, forty or two hundred. Animals will be turned away at the door to remain in over-burdened homes, un-sterilized and reproducing, or left to run loose to be a hazard, or someone else's stray (or rescue), or will end up in shelters and eventually euthanized. It is disingenuous to call a facility "no kill" when animals are living in cages for weeks and months and the larger animal welfare ecosystem is unhealthy.
During this election there have been calls for transparency, communication and fiscal accountability in our government. Here is an excellent example of what not to do. There are many questions about the plan that are not being answered:
No one has provided numbers of how many animals will be adopted from this larger facility and the per animal cost is unknown. We know that the cost of housing, feeding and vetting animal in a facility is high - my back-of-the napkin figures have each animal in this facility costing at least $300 to rescue. In contrast, providing a low-cost spay neuter option can be done in the equivalent of a storefront for $50 per pet, and these animals already have homes.
Some pets are very attractive to adopters, others are difficult to place. Will the city give area rescues the adoptable puppies and dogs or the less desirable ones that need rehabilitation? How will the city enact trap, neuter, release (TNR) projects that are so needed and necessary to control cat populations? How will they work with Animal Control to do necessary euthanasia for un-adoptable animals? The city has controlled the Animal Care Center facility for two years - Can they tell us how long will animals stay at the facility or what will be done differently to ensure that pets get adopted quickly? How will having a larger facility bring more families to adopt when our region is already saturated with strays and nothing is being done to staunch that flow of homeless animals?
The final folly of this plan is the proposed spay/neuter ordinance, which is set to be voted upon at the next city council meeting on May 7. Had the authors of this plan asked anyone working in spay/neuter they might have learned that we do not support ordinances because they are practically unenforceable, or will be enforced unevenly, penalizing those who can least afford a retail vet experience. Having talked with hundreds of pet owners, I can attest that our clients love their pets dearly and want to be responsible by fixing them. (Those who are willfully allowing their animals to breed are guilty of other offenses that are not being enforced.) The ASPCA has a detailed paper which looks at research and concludes that s/n ordinances are not effective and can have the opposite effect of causing animals to be surrendered to shelters. This is available at https://www.aspca.org/position-statement-mandatory-spayneuter-laws
So, what is the community to do about the pet over-population problem? One councilman I spoke to last year shrugged his shoulders and told me "the City spends money poorly all the time". For those who care about animals and our city's residents (and our neighbors), however, shoulder-shrugging is not an acceptable answer. I hope our electorate will hold elected officials accountable to do what is best for the financial health of the city, physical health and care of the city's companion pets, and the happiness and well-being of its citizens.