Johnson City Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin said decreasing the euthanasia of animals is an effort that takes on “multiple fronts,” which include construction of the new Washington County/Johnson City Animal Shelter, low-cost spay/neuter programs, education on the importance of spaying and neutering and the spay/neuter ordinance up for the City Commission’s consideration Thursday evening.
The commission, by a 4-1 vote, passed the first reading of an ordinance to adopt a citywide spay/neuter regulation. Commissioner Jeff Banyas cast the dissenting vote.
City Manager Pete Peterson said the ordinance would require residents with a dog or cat 6 months old or older to spay or neuter the animal. Service dogs, working police dogs, non-residents and those who have a certificate from a licensed veterinarian stating that altering an animal would endanger its life would be exempt. Animal shelters, veterinary hospitals and commercial breeders licensed by the state would also be exempt from the ordinance.
Non-exempt owners wishing to keep an unaltered animal would be required to purchase a $25 permit. Peterson said his understanding of the ordinance is that first-offense violators would have 30 days to have a pet altered or purchase the permit. At the end of the 30-day period, those taking no action would be considered to be in violation of the ordinance, which would subject them to Municipal Court.
“Once you get to that level, you could be cited each day that the pet isn’t altered and it will cost you up to $50 per day until you have the pet altered or pay the $25,” Peterson said.
A similar ordinance was proposed in 2009 but failed in 2010.
Several members of the commission voiced support for the proposed ordinance, while others said their vote for approval was made in an effort to get the ordinance to the public-hearing phase that comes with the second reading.
“I’m in support of this ordinance to get it started on first reading so we can have public input next time,” Commissioner Jenny Brock said. “I think this ordinance, as we’ve been dealing with funding an animal shelter and looking at being able to build extra capacity so that we can house the abandoned dogs, our euthanasia rate in our shelter is abysmal, so we’re trying to find extra capacity for animals that show up on our doorstep from irresponsible pet owners. I think this ordinance ... is a humane way to try to decrease the number of abandoned animals and to decrease the euthanasia rate in our city.”
Van Brocklin also expressed his support of the ordinance.
“From my standpoint, while it’s a pretty tepid ordinance in many ways, it’s still something that will help the process overall,” he said. “I hope that as a commission we do end up adopting it. I know everybody is curious to hear what we will when it’s opened to a public hearing at our next meeting, and I, too, look forward to those comments.”
Enforcement of the ordinance would occur when animal control officers respond to violations of animal control laws. While responding to a complaint, officers would inquire as to whether the animal is spayed or neutered and, if it is not, a citation would be issued.
Vice Mayor Clayton Stout said he was voting to approve the first reading to get to the public comment phase. He said questions, such as how capable animal control is of enforcing the ordinance and if additional funding will be needed for enforcement, need to be answered.
“I think there’s some serious questions that we still need to address,” Stout said.
Commissioner David Tomita also said he was voting to approve the first reading to open the public hearing, but he said he was uncomfortable with the ordinance as it does not prohibit the city from becoming the “spay/neuter police.”
“Your responsible pet owners will spay and neuter their pets. ... Irresponsible pet owners will not, and they’re not going to come in and pay a $25 fee to not do it,” Tomita said. “They’re just not going to do it. I don’t know how effective it’s going to be. It might make us feel good, it might make us feel like we’re doing something, but I’m just not sure it’s going accomplish what we intend.”
“I echo Commissioner Tomita’s comments,” Banyas said.
At the start of Thursday’s meeting, Van Brocklin announced that General Shale will donate the brick for the new Washington County/Johnson City Animal Shelter building and the masonry product for the facility’s kennel areas. Van Brocklin said this announcement follows a Sept. 9 meeting he and animal shelter architect Tom Weems had with General Shale President/COO Charles Smith, Executive Vice President Mark Kinser and Vice President for Engineering Kevin Ham.
“The magnitude of this gift will likely approach that that was announced about a month ago from Roadrunner Markets,” Van Brocklin said. “So it’s a very significant, very nice and very generous donation from this great corporate citizen.
“The donation will allow them to showcase a product that has both load-bearing attributes and enhanced energy-efficiency attributes. This has been a discussion of the part of this commission over the last month or so about how important it is to have a facility that is going to be energy efficient when all is said is done.”