City Council majority moves forward spay/neuter ordinance

January 29, 2016
Opinion

By Jenny Crosswhite 

Mayor Pro Tem

and

Ginger Gherardi, 

Councilmember

On Tuesday, January 19, 2016, the City Council majority voted 3-2 to move forward with an ordinance that would potentially require every cat and dog in Santa Paula to be spayed or neutered, microchipped and licensed.  This decision is not yet final. The item must come back to the Council again, so you have time to let the Council know how you feel about it.  It should also be noted that the authors of this letter fully support the spaying and neutering of the animals in our city.  There are, however, some important questions that remain unanswered.  Should we require the licensing of cats?  What will be the cost to the city to enforce this ordinance?  What will be the added cost to the residents of Santa Paula if this ordinance is enacted?  Is this what we want to ask the residence of Santa Paula to spend their money on?

The City Attorney was asked by the Council to draft a Spay and Neuter Ordinance with the laudable goal of attempting to control the over population of cats and dogs in our city.  Discussion at the two meetings when this issue came up was primarily focused on two issues – “mandating” the spaying and neutering of cats and dogs, and the appropriate age for dogs to be spayed or neutered.  Both of these issues remain unresolved.

The ordinance will go into effect 30 days after it is adopted, but the Council will give the public a one-year grace period to comply with the mandatory spaying, neutering and microchipping requirements – and, to get a license – before any penalties are imposed.  The amount of the penalties, the fees to get a breeder’s license, and the fees for unaltered cats and dogs have not yet been decided or even discussed.  Under this ordinance, a person cannot sell or give away a cat or dog, unless they meet all the mandated requirements.  In order to get a license for an unaltered animal, the owner will need to meet certain conditions and get written confirmation from their vet, another new cost to the public.

Most responsible pet owners spay or neuter their pets, and, stray pets who wind up in shelters are spayed or neutered before they are adopted.  This is a good thing.  Unfortunately, the City Council did not discuss the animal control program in Santa Paula, our fiscal limitations or even decide whether we want to license cats, something that is not done currently.  Instead, the Council moved forward, with unknown costs to the City (in terms of the staff time needed to implement a new database and animal program), no idea what new annual fee would be imposed on our residents, and whether it makes sense to license cats or if this program can even be implemented.  This lack of information gives the appearance that the Council was rushing forward to copy the County’s Spay and Neuter Ordinance and create a “new” program without having all of the pertinent information or carefully considering all the implications and consequences of such an action.

Let’s start with some basic information – cats and dogs are not the same and shouldn’t be treated as such.  There are public health reasons to require the licensing of dogs.  The City of Santa Paula currently requires all dogs to be licensed annually with a valid vaccination certificate to prevent the spread of rabies.  The fees for an unaltered dog are $75 per year but, as an incentive, the fees are only $20 per year for a spayed or neutered dog.  The current City dog permit asks the vet to provide a “tattoo” number (which may no longer be relevant) and the City does not seem to be collecting microchip information for dogs at this time.  Most dogs wear a collar, usually with their license and other pertinent information attached.  This being said, we have spoken to dog owners in the city that have animals with a microchip, but have no idea what the number of the chip is or even if the information on the chip is correct.

In contrast, there are currently no such vaccination requirements for cats in California.  Further, many cats do not wear collars, as their owners seldom walk them through the neighborhood and many cats do not like collars.  Some cats are housebound, but many cats come and go outside on their own. Where will you attach the license?  If you are a cat owner, do you have records of having your animal spayed or neutered or microchipped in the past?  Even feral cats have a place in our semi-rural environment because they help keep the rodent population under control.

Lastly, there is great debate over the appropriate age to spay or neuter a cat or dog. Based on the information received by the Council there is some controversy on this issue in the veterinary community. There is a contention that spaying and neutering too early can cause physical injuries and disease to the animal later in life. If the City arbitrarily requires all animals to be spayed or neutered by 4 months of age, could the City be liable for damages if that animal becomes ill or disabled later on?  Wouldn’t it be best for the pet owner and their vet to make the decision on when to spay and neuter and thereby assume all the responsibility for doing so?

Right now, the City of Santa Paula has no information about animal control or obtaining licenses on the website. Animal Control is staffed by one person who answers calls and is very busy.  Figuring out which residents have cats and how many cats, creating a new database for them, creating and sending out license applications and licenses, modifying the database for dogs, creating breeding permits, administering breeding tests, and enforcing these new programs is well beyond the capacity of one person.  

The City of Santa Paula has many callenges, and while reducing the animal population is a laudable goal, it may not be the most pressing issue that warrants additional fees from the public. Is this more important than fixing our streets, dealing with police and fire department issues or working to restore the services that have been cut? Before the City moves forward, we ought to know the total annual extra cost to the City for the program and total costs to be imposed on our residents by such an ordinance. There is still time to let your opinion be known – in particular to those voting to proceed with the ordinance—Mayor Hernandez, and Councilmen Tovias and Procter.





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