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The Gadsden Times

AKC seeks to mobilize opposition to Gadsden's spay/neuter ordinance

By Greg Bailey, Gadsden Times,


The American Kennel Club on its “legislative alerts” webpage has called on pet owners in Gadsden to ask City Council members to repeal the city’s spay/neuter ordinance.

That ordinance, passed unanimously in June and set to take effect on Oct. 1, makes it illegal within the city limits to own a dog or cat aged six months or older that hasn’t been spayed or neutered. The penalty would be a $100 fine for the first offense, $250 for a second offense and $500 for a third offense.

City officials counter that they’re more interested in the issues residents and Animal Control personnel are having with an increasing number of animals roaming loose, and that the AKC’s reasoning for the callout misrepresents the situation.

Mayor Craig Ford said it’s a case of "tackling solutions, not being paralyzed by problems.”

The AKC describes its mission on its website as to “advocate for the purebred dog as a family companion, advance canine health and well-being, work to protect the rights of all dog owners and promote responsible dog ownership.”

In its alert, it says the “overreaching mandatory spay/neuter law” remains in place despite “strong objections by residents and the current lack of subsidized spay/neuter services.” It contends that the ordinance “continues to criminalize many responsible dog owners in the community.”

The AKC alert said an “alternate proposed law that would replace the spay/neuter law” would be brought up, and tabled again, at Tuesday’s council meeting.

The council on Aug. 29 did table, for three weeks, action on a separate ordinance that would require residents to register their dogs and cats, and also set up licensing requirements for commercial breeders. The AKC contends that ordinance “includes problematic provisions for pet and breeder licensing and would direct certain fees and fines to a non-governmental corporation without going through a budgeting or appropriation process.”

The organization called on pet owners to contact City Council members and ask them to “immediately” repeal the spay/neuter law and “ask them to instead work with knowledgeable pet owners to develop fair and effective solutions that do not penalize responsible owners, increase the number of homeless pets and create public safety risks.”

It provided a link to council members’ names, the dates of council meetings and information about how to speak at a meeting, and listed a series of “talking points” reflecting its position that spay/neuter laws are a “’feel-good’ solution” that increase not decrease the homeless animal population.

Among them:

  • Owners who can’t afford to spay or neuter pets may end up relinquishing or abandoning them.
  • Owners who choose not to neuter dogs so they can breed them, take part in dog shows or field trials, or use them in hunting will be penalized.
  • Studies show that dogs spayed or neutered before they are fully mature can suffer health issues.
  • Such laws are difficult to enforce, and those trying to evade them might avoid vaccinating them or even seeking routine veterinary care, causing public health issues.
  • The focus should be on leash laws, low-cost spay/neuter programs and public education programs on responsible pet ownership.

Ford in response provided a copy of a letter from an official of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an animal rights organization, praising the city for passing the ordinance.

Jennifer Brown, animal sheltering adviser for the organization’s Cruelty Investigations Department, wrote that the city’s “compassionate decision will prevent countless animals from being born into a world already bursting at the seams with unwanted ones.”

Brown continued, “Addressing animal overpopulation and homelessness before it starts is humane as well as fiscally responsible, and we applaud you.”

Ford said, "PETA loves us, AKC hates us. One cares about the ethical treatment of animals, and the other makes money when people breed animals.

“I don't care about either of those special interest groups,” he said. “I care about the senior citizens and disabled veterans in (the) Mill Village and (on) Tuscaloosa Avenue who can't open their front door to get their food off the porch or check their mail because of packs of wild dogs. All I know is there are too many damn animals running around Gadsden, Alabama, and I am tired of it.”

Ford noted that in addition to the ordinance, the city has added resources for Animal Control. “I am eager to solve these problems," he added, “and I look forward to discussing solutions with (the) City Council.”

The AKC’s alert said the issue is expected to be discussed at a Public Safety Committee meeting later this month.

That committee meets on Sept. 26, according to its chairman, Jason Wilson, who also took issue with some of the AKC’s contentions.

Wilson said the proposed registration ordinance includes an “out” for people who make less than $35,000 annually or receive Medicaid, Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.

He said the AKC in its alert jumps to the worst-case, multi-offense scenario by stressing the “up to $500 in fines” violators could face. He noted that half the money from the registration fees ($5 annually or $10 lifetime for spayed or neutered dogs or cats; $50 for non-spayed or neutered) and breeders’ permits ($200 annually) would go to a spay/neuter program to be set up through the Humane Society Pet Rescue and Adoption Center.

And Wilson said city officials are working with some organizations to establish a voucher system with a spay/neuter provider that picks up animals and returns them, where pet owners below a certain income level could have the procedures done at a significant discount from the normal cost.

An email to AKC’s Government Relations Department for additional comment hadn’t been returned as of Friday afternoon.

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