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September 20, 2014

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Pet sterilization. Not mandatory, yet

Las Vegas City Council to consider law aimed at reducing animal overpopulation

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Steve Marcus

A 12mm AVID (American Veterinary Identification Device) microchip is displayed at the Bonanza Cat Hospital Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2009.

Microchip

Volunteer Karin Lemmon injects an AVID (American Veterinary Identification Device) microchip under the skin of a kitten at the Bonanza Cat Hospital Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2009. Launch slideshow »

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Beyond the Sun

Last year more than 55,000 stray animals landed at local shelters. Almost 31,000 ended up being put to death.

Experts say those numbers, if unchecked, will continue to rise in this economy, as home foreclosures prompt some owners to abandon pets and the downturn spurs unlicensed animal breeders to chase quick profits.

In an effort to address pet overpopulation, the Las Vegas City Council will today introduce what would be the toughest spay-and-neuter ordinance in the region. The proposed ordinance, largely modeled on regulations adopted last year by North Las Vegas, would require that all dogs and cats older than 4 months be spayed or neutered, except under special circumstances.

The ordinance would also require that dogs and cats have microchips implanted before being adopted or recovered from an impound facility. The tiny devices include owners’ addresses to aid recovery of lost pets.

The proposal would exempt residents with dog or cat fancier permits, breeder permits or professional animal handler permits.

Also, shelters — including Lied Animal Shelter, which serves Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Clark County — would in large part be exempted from the regulations. But Lied has a policy mandating that pets adopted from the shelter be vaccinated, microchipped and spayed or neutered.

Councilman Steve Ross, the measure’s sponsor, said he was asked several months ago by the city’s detention and enforcement chief, Karen Coyne, to look into crafting an ordinance to rein in “back yard breeders” who are contributing to the overpopulation of cats and dogs.

“It’s such a large underground business,” Ross said. The poor economy has only made it more tempting for some to try to breed pets illegally to make quick money, he said.

A few weeks ago, Ross said, he gathered people on all sides of the issue — including breeders, shelter officials and other spay-and-neuter proponents, veterinarians and others — to gauge support, which he said was near universal.

“I’ve been pushing for this kind of ordinance for a long time,” said Karen Layne, president of the Las Vegas Valley Humane Society.

But there is opposition to the proposal, which will be voted on in a later council meeting.

When Las Vegas officials sent a version of the ordinance to the city’s 126 licensed pet shops, owners expressed concern about a provision that would require them to provide the city with a list of the names and addresses of dog and cat purchasers.

The list would allow city officials to follow up with the buyers to make sure their new pets have been sterilized.

Not all breeders are pleased with the ordinance either.

Ken Sondej, a locally based American Kennel Club legislative liaison, said the AKC “strongly opposes mandatory spay and neuter.”

Sondej said the four-month provision is especially troubling. Most dogs shouldn’t be sterilized before at least 6 months old. For certain breeds, the procedure should be postponed until at least 2 years old. Sterilizing these animals before they’ve fully developed can cause immunological and other medical problems, Sondej said.

Instead of mandating spaying and neutering, local governments ought to do more to educate pet owners so they can make the best decision, Sondej said. “The decision should be left to the veterinarian and the owner, not a politician,” he said.

Many veterinarians say sterilization can have health benefits — and societal ones. Sterilizing male dogs typically reduces their aggressiveness. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, for example, non-neutered male dogs are responsible for about three out of every four dog bites.

The cost of spaying, neutering and microchipping, according to the ordinance, would still fall to pet owners. To make the procedures more affordable for poorer would-be pet owners, the ordinance would authorize creation of a fund to subsidize procedures for owners who qualify for public assistance.

Those who fail to spay or neuter their pets would face $225 fines for the first offense. A second-time violator would be fined $500. Every time thereafter, the offender would face a $1,000 fine.

Jason Smith, director of operations for The Animal Foundation, which oversees Lied’s operations, said although the shelter requires animals to be microchipped and spayed or neutered before adoption, it doesn’t have a similar requirement for pets being reclaimed by owners. If the city law were to require that, the shelter might have to hire a second veterinarian. It also means that Lied would have to charge owners for the service.

The city “can mandate that it’s done, but they can’t mandate that we do this for free,” Smith said.

Las Vegas’ proposed ordinance would be tougher than anything Clark County has on the books.

In late 2008 Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani sponsored a successful measure that, among other things, requires the sterilization of animals impounded more than once within an 18-month period.

According to county officials, adopting a mandatory spay-and-neuter policy is still a possibility down the road.

Layne, the Humane Society president, said such regulations are needed across the valley.

“Very few cities in the U.S. have the levels of animal overpopulation that we do here in Las Vegas,” she said. “It’s really amazing to me how many people refuse to spay and neuter their pets.”

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