The City Law includes mandatory sterilization requirements for 8 week-old puppies and kittens who weigh at least 2 pounds.
The question is not “can the surgery be performed on a 2 pound 8 week old puppy” but rather, based on the totality of the circumstances, can the veterinarian recommend the procedure for a puppy or dog housed before and after surgery in a pet store and obtain informed consent from the animal’s owner.
For the following reasons, as NYPWA experts and NYC veterinarians testified, the answer is no—not without violating the standards of veterinary practice the State requires.
The State considers it unprofessional conduct if a veterinarian fails to obtain informed consent before proceeding with any medical care or surgery, and has disciplined veterinarians who have failed to obtain informed consent.
The State requires each pet store to designate a veterinarian to provide care to pets in the store, and to provide accepted veterinary standards of care to all pets in pet stores both pre- and post-operative. This cannot be accomplished if a veterinarian performs the mandatory surgery because, no matter the age, there are environmental stressors in a pet store that, when added to the stress of anesthesia and surgery, will harm animals. This is most serious for puppies whose immune systems are still developing.
The Law prohibits the transfer of ownership until after the pet is sterilized. Therefore, the pet must return to the pet store after the surgery for post-operative care, which according to veterinarians is substandard care.
“A pet store is not a suitable environment for post-surgical recovery of baby animals.” “Post-operative care typically provided by pet owners in their home cannot be performed in a pet store.”
Recently scientists have discovered that early gonadectomy is harmful to pets. “Gonadectomy prior to puberty or sexual maturity may make the risks of some diseases higher in certain breeds and individuals.”
The American Veterinary Medical Association, the Society for Theriogenology and the American College of Theriogenology are opposed to mandatory sterilization laws for privately-owned pets. Based on scientific evidence, veterinarians and specialists now recommend delaying sterilization until the first heat to prevent the harm from premature removal of endocrine glands needed for proper growth and certain metabolic disorders and cancer.
According to the Association of Shelter Veterinarians, “A veterinarian should make the final decision regarding acceptance of any patient for surgery . . . [t]he surgeon should use discretion regarding minimum and maximum patient age and body weight taking into account the availability of staff expertise and necessary equipment to care for patients. Owned pets may be best served by scheduling surgery at 4 months of age or older . . . [i]n situations involving animals that will be placed for adoption, neutering is best performed prior to adoption . . . to ensure compliance.”
The interstate pet market is based on sales of puppies between 8-14 weeks of age, the time for optimal socialization with their owners. The City’s response to professional objections to early sterilization is that the pet stores should hold onto these puppies for a longer period of time. According to animal behavior experts “[d]elaying sales as the City has suggested traumatizes the animals [and] increases undesirable behavioral traits that are detrimental to successful lifelong pet ownership.”
For all these reasons, the City Law creates an insurmountable obstacle for pet stores and veterinarians to comply with both the State and City Law, and should be considered preempted by State law.