GREENFIELD — Pet owners in Greenfield may be mandated to spay or neuter their cats and dogs starting next year.
Animal welfare officials and Mayor Dick Pasco are advocating for a mandatory spay and neuter law in the city, and the ordinance will likely be brought to the Greenfield City Council for consideration in the first months of 2013.
While proponents say it would curb the problem of unwanted litters and the high cost to take care of them, council members are uncertain where to draw the line between personal rights and government mandates.
Jeff Leffel, director of Greenfield/ Hancock Animal Management, has yet to iron out the details of the proposal. But he said if the city mandates surgery on animals and issues a fine for those who don’t have it done, it could save the agency money.
Earlier this year, Leffel brought a draft ordinance to Hancock County Commissioners. He was hoping for a countywide ordinance that would address the spay/neuter issue as well as nuisance barking and dangerous pets. But Leffel was told that commissioners don’t have jurisdiction over the entire county. Rather, commissioners can pass an ordinance only covering unincorporated parts of the county.
Regardless, the three commissioners were cold to the idea of a mandatory spay and neuter law, and nothing was passed.
But Leffel now plans to pitch the idea to the city council. And while Pasco typically steers clear of increased government regulation, he also sees the high cost of caring for unwanted animals.
“I hate taking any rights away from people, but in the real world, the three or four percent screw it up for all of us,” Pasco said. “The same people keep bringing us litters of puppies or kittens.”
The population at the city-county animal shelter has ebbed and flowed this year. Wednesday, there were 15 cats and 14 dogs at the facility, but Leffel said it can be a costly surprise when one of the animals starts showing signs of pregnancy.
It costs roughly $2,500 for the shelter to take care of a female dog and eight puppies for eight weeks – which is the time the puppies can be weaned and adopted.
“I’m not trying to put myself out of work. I love puppies and kittens. They’re cute,” Leffel said.
But if animal management has the leverage of a mandatory spay and neuter law, Leffel said that could curb the problem of occasional crowding and high expenses at the facility.
The law would be enforced mostly by fining owners of animals that are picked up, much in the same way the rabies vaccine law is enforced.
“Responsible pet owners, I don’t meet them. Their dogs don’t run the streets,” Leffel said.
Three mewing kittens were housed at the shelter Wednesday. Part of a larger litter that had been born to an outdoor cat a local resident had been feeding, Leffel said the kittens were a good example of pet ownership responsibilities. Even outdoor cats that people feed should be spayed, Leffel said.
Nancy Rubino of Partners for Animal Welfare Society said her organization has advocated for a spay and neuter ordinance for the past two years. While ultimately she would want a countywide law, she hopes if Greenfield takes a first step, other communities will follow.
“If everybody were responsible for what happens with their own pet, there probably wouldn’t be a need for it,” Rubino said. “But the reality is, people aren’t always responsible. Sometimes, it’s helpful for government to step in and say, ‘We’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars taking care of accidental puppies, accidental kittens, animals people don’t want to adopt or take care of. And that’s happening at the taxpayers’ expense.’”
P.A.W.S. regularly takes animals to a low-cost spay and neuter clinic in Noblesville. Surgery there costs $20 or so for cats, and $30 to $90 for dogs.
Ultimately, Rubino said P.A.W.S. would like to open a clinic here with similar prices. But until then, the organization would help financially strapped residents by continuing to take pets to other counties for surgery.
Details of Greenfield’s spay and neuter ordinance still have to be ironed out. The draft ordinance submitted to commissioners in June had a $100 fine for those who didn’t spay or neuter their pet.
Leffel said that will be suggested in the city ordinance, but the figure could change. He also wants an exception for show breeders.
He said the ordinance would also be about education. Leffel said the city would likely warn first offenders and use the law as an educational tool.
“To just go out and issue citations is not in the interest of anyone,” he said.
So far, city council members – all Republicans – are unsure where they stand on the issue.
“We have to look and see what the ordinance is going to say,” said Councilman Gary McDaniel. “How are we going to curtail this epidemic more or less in a way we’re not infringing on someone else’s rights?”
Council President Mitch Pendlum said he hasn’t come to any conclusion yet.
“I haven’t heard of anything from the public,” he said. “It’s not been brought before the public, and that’s how I make my mind up.”
Jason Horning said this issue might be one of the few that becomes a hot-button subject in the city. In his nine years on the council, Horning said there were only two issues where he heard extensive feedback: the smoking ban and the McClarnon Drive extension. Horning said he would like to hear public feedback on the proposed spay and neuter law.
“I wonder if it’s going to be one of those laws that keeps the honest people honest and the people who don’t care about having multiple litters of animals that are unwanted – is it really going to stop that from happening?” Horning said.