By Rep. Carl Trujillo/Santa Fe Democrat | Guest Columns –
Albert Einstein is credited with saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. When it comes to addressing the costly problem of pet overpopulation, New Mexico desperately needs to do something different.
New Mexico can move away from the “insane” and expensive spiral of spending tens of millions of tax dollars every year to round up, house, and eventually euthanize 70,000 homeless animals by signing into law my House Bill 64, which was co-sponsored by Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Española, and Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces. A mirror Senate bill was sponsored by Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs. This legislation enacts a modest manufacturer-level fee – not a tax on consumers – and will allow New Mexico to do something different, decisive and smart about the costly, dangerous and tragic problem of pet overpopulation.
Every year New Mexico’s counties, municipalities and partner nonprofits spend over $38 million in animal care, control, spay/neuter services and other costs in response to the overwhelming problem of cat and dog overpopulation. Despite these valiant efforts by professionals and volunteers year after year, these endeavors have not been enough to reverse the trend of an ever-increasing pet overpopulation problem in our state. That problem is not only a cost issue and a humane issue, but also a public health and safety issue for our communities as well, as past attacks by feral dogs on livestock and even young children have proven. In rural counties, where law enforcement is also tasked with providing animal control services, sheriffs and officers are often diverted from enforcing other important laws when they are spending precious time responding to loose animal reports.
In 2011, the Senate requested a feasibility study to determine the most effective approach to create a sustained funding mechanism for providing affordable and accessible spay/neuter services in our state. That study was done, and the funding mechanism identified as the best among many evaluated is the very same mechanism put forth in HB 64.
HB 64’s added spay/neuter fee, paid by pet food manufacturers when they register products to sell in the state, is dedicated to a program directly related to the industry paying the fee. It is, by legal definition, not a tax. Consumers are not being asked to pay any additional costs for pet food. But if manufacturers do pass the added fee costs down to consumers by proportionally raising prices, every mathematical calculation shows the impact per customer will be mere pennies – if not fractions of a penny.
Not surprisingly, three other states have already implemented this same funding mechanism to provide spay/neuter services: Maine, Maryland and most recently West Virginia. This simple program deserves a chance to succeed in our state. Through this very same program, in just three short years Maryland has reduced its statewide euthanasia rate by 29 percent because of increased spaying and neutering of its dogs and cats. If New Mexico had the chance to achieve the same kind of outcomes, it is estimated our shelters would spend $500,000 less each year euthanizing homeless animals within three years. Those savings should grow higher over time. Shelter intake and associated costs will also decrease. Imagine the positive programs that could be funded with those dollars saved.
We can no longer afford to address pet overpopulation the same way we have for decades. Our efforts, while admirable, have fallen short by many orders of magnitude. We need to implement the proven, sensible and fiscally-responsible program articulated in HB 64, to pull New Mexico out of its pet overpopulation malaise and stop tax-dollar waste.
Gov. Susana Martinez has the power to create this powerful change with a stroke of her pen. I’m hopeful she will give New Mexico the tools it needs to effectively address these challenges and move us into a brighter and safer future for New Mexico.