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Mandatory Spay/Neuter and Other Anti-Breeding Laws on the Upswing

A Golden Retriever puppy


Mandatory Spay/Neuter and Other Anti-Breeding Laws on the Upswing

The scope and frequency of anti-dog breeding proposals in the United States continues to increase, and keeping up with the proliferation of new laws and regulations can be challenging at the best of times.

Consider this: the 2017 Census of Governments indicated that in addition to the federal government and the 50 state governments, there are 90,075 local governments in the US, including 3,031 county governments, 19,495 cities or municipalities, and 16,253 townships. That means new laws are being considered somewhere every day.

In the first half of 2023, the AKC Government Relations team published some 200 geo-targeted legislative alerts on dog-related bills. That’s more than one alert every day! The alerts were emailed to impacted club officers, legislative liaisons and published online at

In the first half of 2023, the AKC Government Relations team published some 200 geo-targeted legislative alerts on dog-related bills. That’s more than one alert every day!

A disturbing re-emerging trend is legislation that mandates the sterilization of all dogs. Mandatory spay/neuter (MSN) proposals that had become less “trendy” in recent years are again being introduced—and sometimes passed—in communities across the United States. Many such laws require the spaying/neutering of all dogs and puppies with few exceptions. Under some recent proposals, the only available exception requires a dog owner to submit a veterinary statement that the dog’s health would be negatively affected by spay/neuter surgery.

Other trends in canine legislation include proposals to categorize accepted animal husbandry practices, such as artificial insemination or assisting in an animal birthing process, as bestiality (a sexual crime against an animal). Some proposals seek to ban all artificial insemination procedures unless performed by a veterinarian.

Other recent measures seek to legislatively misapply canine health testing results, or even ban dog breeding entirely.


Mandatory Spay/Neuter (MSN) Laws May Apply to ALL Dogs

Over the first six months of 2023, AKC fought versions of mandatory spay/neuter proposals introduced in localities from California to New Mexico and Arkansas. A statewide bill in Texas would have mandated sterilization if a dog is impounded at-large twice in its lifetime.

MSN policies are potentially harmful to dogs because they disregard the numerous veterinary studies that correlate sterilization, particularly sterilization of immature dogs, with several health, developmental, and behavioral disorders. For more information about MSN laws, visit AKC GR’s “key issues” webpage about Mandatory Spay/Neuter.

MSN laws can also be punitive. Laws on the books in some cities and counties require any dog impounded for any reason to be sterilized before being released to its owner. Under these laws, every dog—even the show dog you’re travelling with—that temporarily escapes, is accidentally or intentionally released by a third party, or is the victim of a car wreck, would be sterilized if it crosses the threshold of an animal control agency. You cannot reclaim your dog intact.

A current proposal in Kern County, California, would require MSN for any violation of an animal control law (including a dog escaping your yard one time) unless you have previously purchased an intact animal permit. The only exemptions are for puppies under 4 months of age, senior dogs (meaning males over 12 years or females over 10 years of age), dogs that have a “high likelihood of suffering serious bodily harm or death if spayed or neutered due to age or infirmity,” or owners who have a statement from a veterinarian stating the dog is not healthy enough for sterilization. This statement must also include information on when the dog may be healthy enough to have the surgery performed.

The Kern County proposal provides a powerful example of the importance of knowing—and complying with—local laws. Kern County has had intact animal licenses for many years. However, the compliance rate is low. If the current proposal becomes law, exhibitors, fanciers, and hobbyists could risk having their dogs immediately sterilized if they escape one time—unless the owner is aware of the law and has already purchased an intact animal license.

No “directory” of these and other problematic dog laws is available. Even if a bad dog law directory was assembled, it would be outdated in a week.


Laws Seeking to Criminalize Animal Husbandry Procedures

Experienced breeders of domesticated animals learn techniques to assist with birthing processes. For example, during labor, “feathering” (massaging the roof of the vagina) can help restart stalled whelping and preserve the health of a dog and her remaining unborn puppies. Under some proposed laws, this humane and necessary animal husbandry procedure would be categorized as the crime of bestiality.

In one of several examples of overreaching state proposals, Connecticut HB 6714 redefines the crime of sexual contact with an animal. The American Kennel Club (AKC), the Connecticut Federation of Dog Clubs and Responsible Dog Owners, and veterinarians expressed concern that the bill could be interpreted as prohibiting routine canine reproductive procedures. The bill was amended to ensure that bona fide veterinary and animal husbandry procedures would not be banned, and the amended bill was signed by the Governor on June 27.

Proposed U.S. laws often follow actions in other countries. In June 2023, the Standards Committee of the Royal Academy of Veterinary Surgeons in the United Kingdom deemed canine intravaginal artificial insemination to be an act of veterinary surgery that should only be undertaken by a veterinary surgeon or professional such as a registered veterinary nurse acting under direction. That action prohibits simple side-by-side AI procedures that do not involve the veterinary practice of transcervical or surgical insertion of semen.


Overreaching Dog Breeder Requirements—and Outright Bans

Another area of concern are bills that misapply the results of pre-breeding health and genetic testing. If enacted, as has happened in Europe, these bills could severely and unnecessarily reduce the gene pools needed to maintain healthy genetic diversity in dog populations. In more extreme cases, they could ultimately lead to bans on the breeding of certain breeds, as has been experienced in Norway.

Back here in the U.S., Illinois House Bill 1700 introduced earlier this year would have required genetic testing of all dogs owned by dog breeders. It broadly stated that if any “genetic defect or mutation that causes early death or physical impairments” is found, the dog must be immediately sterilized. This requirement would have applied irrespective of whether the identified genetic condition is a concern for the particular breed or could easily be managed through selective breeding to prevent offspring from developing the impairment. AKC and local clubs provided extensive scientific information to the bill sponsor, who agreed not to pursue the proposal.

In Oregon, Initiative Petition 3 is a signature-gathering effort to place a measure on the 2024 state ballot that, in the promoters’ own words, “is the first ballot initiative in history that would criminalize the killing and breeding of animals.” This proposal includes equating artificial insemination of animals with sexual assault. AKC is working with a coalition of agricultural experts, sportsmen, and veterinarians to fight this measure.


Keep Alert and Informed

AKC believes an essential part of responsible dog ownership is knowing and following any laws to which you are subject. This includes any proper licensing, paperwork, and permits that your county and/or city may require.

Jurisdictions such as Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Fauquier County, Virginia, are among those that have recently established new requirements to obtain a permit to own a certain number of intact animals or to breed a litter. Others, such as Albuquerque, New Mexico, require a special license or permit to own any intact animals. Clark County, Nevada, takes it a step further and requires that the dogs be shown at least once a year to maintain the permit!

Take the time to search for the animal laws for your county and city, and consider contacting your local animal control and lawmakers to introduce yourself as a responsible breeder and interested party. Developing positive relationships with local officials may enable you to provide input on proposals before they are seriously considered. A few minutes of your time can help ensure that you are in complete compliance and not at risk for any harsh penalties, including mandatory spay/neuter.

In a small town, the only prior notice of a proposed law might be a sheet of paper thumbtacked to a bulletin board at city hall on the day prior to the commissioners’ meeting. Or it might be a notice on a town’s municipal website or zoning board’s webpage. These kinds of laws can be enacted quickly—even overnight.

If you hear about a new anti-breeding proposal in your area, be sure to contact AKC Government Relations. We can help work with you to fight or significantly amend the proposals and educate the lawmakers about the many problems with mandatory spay/neuter and other anti-breeding laws. For more information about MSN laws, visit AKC GR’s “key issues” webpage about Mandatory Spay/Neuter laws – for more information about breeder regulation laws, visit the Breeder Regulations and Restrictions key issue page and contact us at: [email protected].

If you learn that dog laws are being discussed or proposed in your community, please share that information with your fellow dog owners and immediately advise AKC Government Relations at:
[email protected].