Opinion: Pet food surcharge bills critical to support low-cost spay and neuter program

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I am writing today to clear up some misinformation.

For three years, several dedicated animal advocates have been working to develop a funding mechanism for our statewide spay/neuter program. We have met with other organizations from around the country who have successfully implemented similar legislation with tremendous success. Euthanasia rates dropped substantially in every case.

We have garnered support from legislators, organizations and individuals statewide. After much effort,  Representative Carl Trujillo introduced a bill in the 2017 legislature. It was stopped from going to a vote by one committee chair. House Bill 64 and Senate Bill 51, a bipartisan effort to fund a state low-cost spay/neuter program, is now before the 2018 legislature and has additional senators and representatives signing on.

Unwanted companion animals are a statewide epidemic that affects not only unwanted dogs and cats, who are born into a state of homelessness, but also our families and counties. Rural counties bear the fiscal brunt of this statewide problem.

For example, self-reported data by New Mexico counties and municipalities in a 2012 study on animal overpopulation showed that $27 million was budgeted by counties and municipalities collectively to fund animal shelters in 2011, representing an increase of $2.1 million from 2008. And while nearly two-thirds of New Mexico counties have either zero or only one low-cost spay and neuter resource, rural counties euthanize 60-80 percent of animals in their shelters, contributing to the more than 55,000 shelter animals euthanized each year statewide.

House Bill 64 and Senate Bill 51 place New Mexico at a crossroads: we can embrace the opportunity to develop affordable spay and neuter resources across our state through a modest $100 per year surcharge on pet food companies’ registration of dog and cat food and treat product lines, or we can resume the grisly mill of euthanizing healthy, adoptable dogs and cats to make space for the endless stream of homeless animals entering our shelters, an approach that is inhumane, costly and ultimately ineffective as long as there are more animals outside our shelter doors who are not spayed or neutered.

The funds generated by this mechanism will help provide additional funding to our local organizations working tirelessly to provide low-to-no cost spay and neuter services. If you want to help Stray Hearts Animal Shelter, help us get these bills to a vote. Stopping the flow of unwanted puppies and kittens is the only way to insure the survival and the mission of Stray Hearts.

The billion-dollar companies on the board of directors of the Pet Food Institute hope to sway New Mexicans against these bipartisan companion bills through misinformation and hand-wringing. The industry, which is the subject of the surcharge, has inaccurately characterized it as a “tax” to be paid by all New Mexicans.

Pet food makers are trying to stoke our fears by threatening us with an increase in pet food prices. However, many companies are likely to absorb the estimated .6 percent the surcharge represents of pet food sales in New Mexico’s $190 million market. If the industry did decide to pass along the surcharge, it would amount to no more the $1.54 per year per pet owner. In short, the industry will adapt as it has in the three states that have passed similar surcharge legislation. Let’s support New Mexico becoming the fourth.

Senate Bill 51, sponsored by Sen. Gay Kernan (R-Hobbs), passed the Senate Public Affairs Committee by a bipartisan vote of 6-1 last week and is awaiting a hearing before the Senate Finance Committee. With only three weeks left of the legislative session, the clock is ticking. I and many constituents of Sen. Carlos Cisneros respectfully ask that SB 51 be brought to hearing as an idea whose time has come. Contact your local and state representatives and express your support for this much needed and proven program. Let’s finally put New Mexico on the right track and bring an end to the needless euthanasia of companion animals.

Harvey Yocum is a Ranchos de Taos resident.

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