LEGISLATIVE NEWS - Opponents fail to stop ordinance aimed at abandoned pets in Riverside County
North County Times News Article
By JEFF ROWE - Staff Writer, January 13, 2009
County supervisors approve spay-neuter and microchip policy for dogs and cats
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Dog and cat owners in Riverside County could face fines and mandatory neutering and microchipping of their pets under an ordinance passed Tuesday by county supervisors.
However, enforcement typically only would come if dogs or cats were found in violation existing codes, such as running wild, said John Welsh, spokesman for the county Department of Animal Services. "If you are responsible pet owner, you're never going to hear from us."
But many dog and cat breeders said they feared the additional government intrusion.
And for seven hours, supervisors listened to spirited, emotional and often repetitive arguments by about 120 pet owners, breeders, dog-club leaders, members of rescue groups, and advocates of the ordinance.
Opponents argued that the proposed ordinance would infringe upon their rights as pet owners, increase pet-care costs, and penalize legitimate breeders in an attempt to shut down puppy mills and irresponsible pet owners that the opponents said are the real sources of the problem.
Others predicted dire consequences ---- the demise of purebred breeds, smuggling of dogs and cats from Mexico and China to meet demand for pets, and more abandoned animals by owners lacking money to spay and insert a microchip. The chips contain a scannable number that animal services can match in their database with the owner's contact information.
But in his report to supervisors, animal services director Robert Miller said the county's four animal shelters are overwhelmed with a growing number unwanted and abandoned dogs and cats, straining the department's $26 million annual budget.
Some 60 percent of the animals that came to county shelters last year ultimately were killed. Last year, 12,528 dogs and 14,113 cats were euthanized, Miller said. Moreover, only 14 percent of the dogs and 1 percent of the cats taken to shelters are reclaimed by their owners, Miller's report said, underscoring the importance of microchipping.
"It's a very severe problem," said Supervisor Bob Buster.
Dozens of speakers said that mandatory spay/neuter programs elsewhere are failures because fewer people register their dogs and cats to avoid having them spayed or neutered.
"The real problem is irresponsible dog owners," said Diana McCambridge of Perris.
Some opponents offered economic arguments ---- Riverside County would be viewed as pet hostile and therefore at risk of losing what one speaker estimated was $7 million in annual revenue from dog shows and related activities.
Terry Toussaint of Yucaipa estimated that he spends $40,000 a year going to about 100 dog shows with his Alaskan Malamutes.
Toussaint opposed the ordinance but said after the vote he has "mixed emotions" about the passage. He said opponents knew that their task was to change supervisors' minds and, while they failed to do that, he noted supervisors agreed to form a review panel to evaluate how the ordinance is working. Each of the five supervisors will appoint two members to the committee, one an advocate of the measure, the other an opponent.
"Our best hope is that gets everyone working toward addressing the problem (of unwanted breeding) in ways we all can support." Toussaint said.