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Why is the Guy Who Promoted Horse Slaughter Recommending NY Stop Spay-Neuter?

Jolly, a handsome, neutered dog

New York State is about to cut off spay-neuter funds. It’s a short-sighted idea that leads to more strays and more government spending–like stopping vaccines to save a few bucks. Who would propose such a change? How about Patrick Hooker, a guy who got into the office lobbying pro-horse slaughter, pro veal and is generally not so keen on animal welfare.

Right now the change is buried on page 171 of a nearly 600-page state budget, billed deceptively as “dog licensing reform.” Search for spay or neuter. You won’t find it. I don’t know much about the byzantine Albany budget process, so I turned to the Times Union, where Brad Shear wrote an excellent column explaining that the provision was recommended by the Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets, Patrick Hooker and already approved by David Patterson. In 2008 the embattled governor, he notes, “stole $1 million from the fund and put it in the general fund.”

Hooker got the job in 2007 after working for 16 years as a lobbyist for the New York Farm Bureau. His state bio says he was the “farm advocacy organization’s top lobbyist, serving as Director of the Public Policy Division.” He’s also a hunter and maple syrup producer. The Daily News reports he gets a $1,622 farm subsidy himself.

While Hooker was the chief lobbyist for the Farm Bureau, it was fighting for horse slaughter and against bills that would outlaw the practice. The only reason New York didn’t ban horse slaughter was that the Farm Bureau energetically opposed it, Deborah Glick told WNYT. He’s spoken out for foie gras. The bureau worked against applying the same environmental and immigration laws to farmers that others face. The bureau likes to say it wants rules that are “size-neutral”–code for supporting big factory farms. They’re against laws for minimum cage sizes. Generally, the agency where Hooker directed policy came down opposed to most animal welfare laws, as if they were some crazy idea of meddling cityfolk.

Hooker also worked for upstate Republican John Randy Kuhl. Kuhl was famous for wanting rural western New York to secede from the rest of the state. (That’s a switch: the city has long wanted to brush off the upstate huckleberries and their $11 billion drain on our taxes.) Now he is also famous as the guy who lost to ticklemonster Eric Massa.

People in New York City have paid little attention to the way Albany runs the ag department. Until now. Just last year food activists complained the chairman of the Assembly’s agriculture committee was too cozy with the farm bureau, too. Just how did these guys who support just about every anti-animal initiative going start running dog policy for New York state?

The state suspended its stressed and underfunded low-cost spay-neuter program in October. In New York state when you get a dog license, you pay $3 extra if your dog isn’t spayed or neutered. (And until recently, if your dog was neutered you were supposed to get a notary to certify that–a higher expense.) Your community has to spend it on spay-neuter. I’ve already been all over the issue of how this is absurdly low. It needs to be about 10-30 times higher to  incentivize people to neuter their dogs. Instead we may get an even more backwards policy that would feel right at home in the rural south, where dog populations and animal cruelty go unchecked.

Spay-neuter programs aren’t just more humane, they save a ton of tax dollars. One study showed that New Jersey saved $2.2 million over 6 years with a subsidized neuter program because they didn’t have to kill as many dogs in shelters. It’s also safer for people: dogs are more aggressive if they aren’t fixed and intact dogs  cause 95% of fatal attacks.

It’s absurd that New York state treats pets as agricultural products. I’d imagine that Elliot Spitzer appointed Hooker to seem bi-partisan and to make rural voters happy. Hooker’s certainly in touch with what upstate farmers want. But he’s not qualified to oversee dogs for the rest of us.

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