What Ald. Stephen Conway called a comprehensive animal control strategy for St. Louis is somewhat in limbo tonight after an aldermanic committee passed one bill, rejected a second, and waited to take action on a third.
The Health and Human Services Committee, on a 5-3 vote, approved legislation that would require pet owners to spay or neuter and microchip their pet. The requirements, which won't take effect until September 2012 at the earliest, are designed to reduce the number of unwanted animals in the city.
The specifics are:
- All pets who are in the city for more than 30 days must be spayed or neutered and microchipped.
- An owner who receives a citation for failing to meet those requirements would have 60 days to get the necessary procedures done. A citation would be treated like any other ticket.
- Fines paid would go into a fund that would help low-income residents afford the requirements. The bill increases the amount the fund can hold to $50,000, though sponsor Lyda Krewson says she'd be willing to eliminate the cap entirely.
- Exemptions to the spaying and neutering provisions would be available for state-licensed commercial breeders, and "hobby" breeders, who would need to get a $200 license from the city health department and could have no more than two intact females.
- Pet stores in the city could not sell dogs and cats, but could host adoption events for other organizations. There are currently no pet stores in the city that do this.
"This is not meant to punish responsible owners," Krewson said. "It's another tool to help us with problem owners, with owners who fight dogs, or breed dogs illegally and maybe don't have the right conditions."
Opponents say mandatory spaying and neutering forces people who cannot afford to or don't want to fix their dogs to abandon them, contributing to the stray population in the city.
Since February, Pamela Rice Walker, the city's health director has pushed the Board of Aldermen to give her permission to distribute about $255,000 to Stray Rescue to allow the non-profit to finish its new shelter. For the past year, the organization, for all intents and purposes, has done animal control for the city without a dime of city money.
The funds were raised through a tax check-off on property tax and water bills, and were originally meant for a new city animal shelter. Today's tie vote means the funds will continue to sit.
Conway, who chairs the committee that heard all three bills, let loose just before the vote:
"If you've got stray dogs, getting the dogs spayed and neutered takes the dogs off the street. Having someone who will pick up the dogs gets the dogs off the street. Having someone who will do it humanely makes a difference here. Do we want to demonstrate to people who are helping the city, helping, the animals, helping the residents, that these aldermen have parochial interests and are trying to resolve parochial interests and political interests over $250,000 for something that is saving the city millions of dollars a year. That $250,000 buys us humanity and [explicative], we should give them the money."
Dionne Flowers, one of the no votes, called Conway's outburst ludicrous. She says she actually wants Stray Rescue to get city money on a regular basis for the services they're providing, but she wants some accountability first.
"You can't get people on the phone, you don't get a return call when you make one, so how do we know if the services are being provided?" she said. "I know they're providing some service, but what about the average Joe who doesn't come to meetings?"
Founder Randy Grim calls the decision a punch to the gut. He says people assume the organization has already received the money, which has hurt their fundraising. Grim says he'll have to consider whether to continue to answer animal control calls for the city.
Conway is pushing to change the check-off that's currently targeted for a new facility to instead raise money to help low-to-moderate-income pet owners pay to get their animals spayed or neutered. Committee members seemed receptive to the idea, but they'll wait to debate it until aldermen return from their summer break in September.