City Commission defers spay and neuter ordinance, changes sought in wording

Gary B. Gray • Nov 7, 2013 at 10:24 PM

City commissioners on Thursday deferred a vote on a spay and neuter ordinance after more than an hourlong debate and a late request by Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin that some language be changed to reflect a more complete fix.

The vote was 4-1 to defer on a second reading, with Commissioner David Tomita voting against.

Following commissioner comments and a public hearing, it appeared the ordinance may have been headed for defeat.

“You hear a lot of ‘it works’ but you don’t see a lot of numbers,” Tomita said. “I still question the affect of this, at least as far as real numbers. I would like to see the data that supports this theses, but I haven’t.”

Van Brocklin, who strongly supports the move, said perhaps the Animal Control Board could add components, such as education and further possibilities once the new animal shelter is built. Eventually, he spotted wording in the ordinance that spelled out how a person could pay a $25 opt-out fee, be cited later for letting their dog or cat run free and be able to use the fee purchase to bypass the requirement that such animals actually be spayed or neutered.

Vice Mayor Clayton Stout asked for an up-or-down vote, but that didn’t happen.

So, more data will be gathered on the effectiveness of similar ordinances and verification will be sought that shows it helps reduce euthanasia rates.

“There are many facets to this problem,” Commissioner Jeff Banyas said. “I’d like to see us work on the educational component and ramp up a no-kill policy first before we try this.”

Johnson City currently has no specific municipal code on the books that dictates spay and neuter regulations. The city basically has followed state law, which states that all animals adopted from animal shelters must be spayed and neutered.

The new ordinance would retain that requirement and add another: that all Johnson City residents “owning, keeping, harboring, or having custody of ...” any dog or cat 6 months old or older must spay or neuter the animals.

Washington County-Johnson City Animal Shelter Director Debbie Dobbs proposed the change. A first reading of the ordinance passed 4-1 on Oct. 17 with Banyas casting the lone dissenting vote. A similar proposal was introduced in 2009, but commissioners voted it down.

“Debbie is excellent in the way she handles things,” said Mickii Carter, former Johnson City mayor and proponent of the ordinance. “Euthanasia is not a good answer, but a no-kill shelter is not a good alternative. This gives Debbie one more enforcement tool. What we’re doing now doesn’t work.”

Language in the ordinance states the city “recognizes that the over-population of dogs and cats in the city is a public nuisance that endangers the health, welfare and safety of its citizens and pets.”

In 2012, the shelter took in 7,245 animals and euthanized 4,544, or nearly 63 percent.

“I understand we have a problem with irresponsible pet owners,” said Johnson City resident Steve Meroney. “I’m not going to have my dog neutered. I think it’s very invasive. It’s mutilation in my mind. My dog’s 11 years old, and he’s in perfect health. Other than that, for me to pay a $25 fee to be a breeder ... bull! That’s not going to happen.”

Dobbs said the requirement, which would be enforced within the city’s corporate boundary, has worked well in certain communities and not so well in others, but the end goal here is to make people more responsible for the care of their pets and to reduce “senseless killing of pets by way of euthanasia.”

If passed, the ordinance also would also Animal Control employees responding to possible rabies cases or reports of bites to people to inquire whether the animal is spayed or neutered.

“We’re not going to be going door-to-door to see if your dog or cat has been spayed or neutered, but potential problems can sometimes be made worse by animals that have not had this procedure,” she said. “I want to stress that the question only will be asked if there is a violation.”

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.

“Commercial breeders” are defined as any person licensed by the state who possesses or maintains 20 or more unsterilized adult female dogs or cats in the city for the purposes of selling the offspring.

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. At that level, residents could be cited each day the pet isn’t altered and cost up to $50 per day until the fine is paid or the pet is altered.

All fees collected would go to the animal shelter.

Commissioners also approved a roughly $70,400 contract with Johnson City’s Rainey Contracting to demolish the former WW Cab Co. building at 128 N. Commerce St. The city acquired the property and will use it as part of a large downtown flood mitigation project.

The contract includes construction of one new exterior wall for Campbell’s Morrell Music next door.

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