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Nick Avgerinos
Nick Avgerinos
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Citizens Wonder if “The Price is Right” for Proposed Spay and Neuter Ordinance

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It’s not every day Bob Barker comes to Chicago. His long-running stint as host of “The Price is Right” was punctuated by his signature sign-off: “Help control the pet population. Have your pets spayed and neutered.” So when he learned of Chicago’s proposed city ordinance that would require cats and dogs over 6 months old to be spayed and neutered, it was essentially a moment of “Bob Barker, come on down!”

And that’s what he did. Mr. Barker attended a three-hour hearing at City Hall, where he was a strong proponent of the ordinance. Despite his speech, the City Council’s License Committee took no action, postponing any decision until a later date. There are impassioned supporters on both sides of the debate. The ordinance is backed by PAWS Chicago, as well as the Humane Society of the United States. Notably, however, it is opposed by the Chicago and Illinois State Veterinary Associations, which maintain that the decision to spay or neuter is best left up to the pet’s owner and veterinarian on a case-by-case basis.

The ordinance is sponsored by Ald. Ed Burke (14th), chairman of the Finance Committee, and Ald. Ginger Rugai (19th). They support the ordinance due to its potential for keeping Chicago residents safe from animal attacks, citing evidence that sterilized animals are less likely to be vicious. Animal attacks, especially dog bites, are a widespread problem and can be very dangerous. In April, a woman was attacked by five pit bulls while on her way to pick up her children at school on the southwest side; that incident apparently prompted this legislation.

Previously, the Chicago City Council considered an ordinance mandating that dogs be microchipped in an effort to track down the offending dog’s owner. That proposed ordinance was prompted when two female joggers were attacked, one fatally, in Dan Ryan Woods in 2003. That legislation failed, however; widely criticized as being too invasive, policing private conduct. Some citizens have similar feelings about this proposed ordinance, including serious doubts about enforceability.

If passed, the ordinance would require dog and cat owners to have their pets sterilized by the time they’re 6 months old. Those who failed to comply could be fined $100, while those who intend to breed their pets could obtain a permit to do so, provided that they submit to a criminal background check and pay a fee. The city already requires that owners license their dogs, which costs $5 or $50, depending on if your dog is sterilized. Unfortunately, there’s widespread non-compliance with that ordinance. So, the question remains whether the proposed legislation would be any more effective.

In theory, it’s a great idea. As Bob Barker explained: “It will help the animals themselves. It will prevent tremendous animal suffering. But beyond that, it will save taxpayers in Chicago thousands, millions of dollars probably. In California, it is now costing $250 million a year to capture the animals, house the animals and kill the animals.” The question is whether it’s feasible in practice. And, for some, whether the legislation goes too far with infringing on personal freedom. No matter what the City Council ultimately decides, though, it’s important that we take responsibility for our own pets, making every effort to prevent possible personal injury and property liability issues. Because the price is always right if it means promoting safety.