Fur could fly once again at tonight’s City Council meeting, when policy makers consider a law requiring cat and dog owners to either spay or neuter their animals or pay the piper for the privilege of not doing so.
If the council approves the proposed ordinance, a public hearing on increased spay-neuter fees will follow. If the council turns down the ordinance, the public hearing to follow will address two related fees: voluntary embedding of a microchip for animal identification, $25, and spay/neuter deposits for animals that cannot be spayed or neutered at the time the animal is adopted. For dogs the deposits would be $75, and for cats, they would be $50.
The proposed ordinance recommends a “carrot and stick” approach. It would charge people for the privilege of having unaltered animals and double charge them if their unaltered animals are found off leash where they shouldn’t be, or otherwise misbehaving. On the other hand, it would charge a very low fee for an altered dog license.
Ordinance opponents, however, say the way to get pet owners to alter their animals is make the operation free or very low cost and making community education around the issue a priority.
The ordinance, prepared by the city’s legal department, is based on recommendations approved by the council majority in February. It would:
• Set the licensing fee for altered dogs at $7.50 annually and for unaltered dogs at $30. People with unaltered dogs with violations such as having been deemed vicious by animal services authorities or having been caught running at large, would be charged $60 for their license.
• Exempt persons 65 years old and low-income individuals from paying license fees.
• Create a cat license for unaltered cats, charging owners $30. Altered cats, or those which cannot otherwise reproduce, would not require licensing.
• Make it an infraction to feed feral cats, unless the person feeding the animals is taking steps to get the animals altered.
• Require that most unaltered animals adopted from rescue groups or from the animal shelter be altered before they are transferred.
• Require that most unaltered impounded animals be altered and licensed before their release to the owner.
• Create “fix-it” tickets. When an animal owner receives a citation for an animal running at large or a dangerous animal, citations can cost $100. The cost of the infraction will be forgiven if the pet owner gets the pet altered within 30 days of the infraction.
• Enforce complaints against animals, such as allegations of vicious or barking dogs, on a complaint-driven basis.
City staff estimates the cost to put the ordinance in place at $57,000 for the first year and $20,000 annually for subsequent years. Costs include an increased burden on the finance department to process the unaltered cat licenses and implement the multi-tiered dog-licensing structure. Finance department staff would also have to cross check dogs on the “bad” dog list – those with citations – with applicants for an unaltered license, answer numerous questions on the new fee structure and train personnel on the new fees.
Councilmember Dona Spring, who supports the ordinance, says staff has overestimated the costs and has proposed a system that is more complex than necessary. Every applicant for the unaltered license should not have to be cross-checked with the city’s “bad dog” list, Spring said. Only the unaltered animals, picked up by animal control for various infractions, should be cross-checked for previous violations, she said.
Spring underscored her support for the proposed law.
“The ordinance will make people realize that there is a cost to the indiscriminate breeding of animals,” she said. “Our goal is to reduce the batches of puppies and kittens that come to the shelter.”
Councilmember Diane Woolley opposes the ordinance, but says her goals are like Spring’s – to have animal owners breed their animals responsibly.
But Woolley says the complex system of punishing pet owners is not the way to go. Rather, the city should focus its attention on educating, rather than punishing animal owners, she said. The program should be driven by incentives rather than negative disciple, Woolley said, arguing that spay and neutering programs should be free or very low fee.
Woolley said she feared the program would be one more area where discrimination against people of color could come into play.
“I hate to be institutionalizing another tool for discrimination,” Woolley said, contending further that the complexities and costs involved in the ordinance might dissuade people from licensing their pets at all.
The city’s staff report on the ordinance concurs that the ordinance might not work as it should.
“The degree of effectiveness of the proposed ordinance alone in reducing the number of unwanted and unclaimed animals, without a low-cost spay/neuter program, without increased animal license enforcement, and without public education is speculative,” it says.