Travel New Mexico’s highways, and you’ll witness the tragic reality of dog and cat overpopulation in our state. Skittish homeless animals are often seen running, trying to avoid passing cars. The bodies of those who aren’t so lucky litter our roadsides.

This tragic, unnecessary situation is costly on many levels.

Animal control departments and their nonprofit allies spend more than $38 million taxpayer and donor dollars to control and humanely care for more than 130,000 dogs and cats in New Mexico’s shelters every year. Half these animals end up euthanized.

Stray dogs running at large in our communities can be dangerous, even deadly, for people and livestock.

New Mexicans who work and volunteer in the animal control, sheltering and rescue fields carry the grim physical and mental burden of rehabilitating, euthanizing and disposing of these animals. It is endless, grueling work for compassionate people.

Most New Mexicans want to sterilize their pets to prevent the births of unwanted animals, but face barriers. Many areas of our state have almost zero access to veterinary care, while some people may not have enough funds for expensive surgeries.

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For years, Republican and Democrat policymakers alike have implored the animal protection community to identify and implement a robust funding mechanism — to help people and animals — by making spay/neuter services widespread and affordable.

Senate Bill 51, introduced by Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, and House Bill 64, introduced by Rep. Carl Trujillo, D-Nambé, and Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Española, propose the best solution recommended by an independent Senate-requested study.

These bills are similar to 2017 legislation that passed the state House with an overwhelming bipartisan majority (50-17) before running out of time in the Senate.

SB 51 and HB 64 require large dog and cat food companies to annually pay a fee amount similar to what they already pay in many other states for selling their products (exempting prescription labels, to prevent impacting needs of sick animals) in New Mexico — and the increased portion would fund spay/neuter programs, including mobile clinics for rural communities.

Unfortunately, high-paid pet food industry lobbyists have tried to bully and scare people to stop this productive long-overdue change from happening in New Mexico.

The reality is other states have already enacted this same funding mechanism — and pet food manufacturers, large and small, continue to sell their products there and take in record-breaking revenues.

At the same time, these states have not only reduced the number of homeless animals entering shelters, but also dramatically decreased dog and cat euthanasia.

Don’t worry if the enormous, highly profitable pet food corporations threaten to pass along to consumers the increased fee. Each pet-owning household in New Mexico would pay, on average, less than three cents a week more — or about $1.50 over the course of one year — for pet food.

The approach of SB 51 and HB 64 is proven to be effective, with little to no impact on consumers, retailers and the pet food industry.

Our communities deserve this common-sense solution to save lives and conserve our hard-earned dollars. Because until spay/neuter services are affordable and accessible, shelter animals will continue to die — and New Mexicans are already footing the bill.

Jessica Johnson is the chief legislative officer of Animal Protection Voters.

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