New San Angelo Law Will Force Citizens to Spay/Neuter and Microchip Their Pets
Pet Owners in San Angelo who haven’t microchipped, spayed, or neutered their animals will have to prepare to do so because if City Council members take the final step in approving the proposed addition to Chapter 3, or the “Animal Control” section of the City’s Code of Ordinances, which should appear on the next meeting’s Consent agenda, the mandatory spay/neuter program initially proposed in early August, now including microchipping, will become law.
At Tuesday’s regular City Council meeting at the McNease Convention Center, Council members voted 5-1 in favor of the first reading of the Animal Control ordinance proposed by Neighborhood Assistant Director James Flores, who oversees the San Angelo Animal Shelter since March of this year.
In this first public reading of the proposed Ordinance, Flores asked City Council to consider amending the Animal Control section of the San Angelo Code of Ordinances to add new defined terms under Article 3.01 and to add a new article to 3.11, “Requirements to Spay/Neuter Pets,” that establishes requirements for microchipping, licenses and permits, establishing enforcement timelines and setting exceptions to the ordinance.
Originally, in early August, City Council members heard a presentation by Flores that explained the current issues plaguing the San Angelo Animal Shelter and the City as a whole and how a proposed change in the Ordinance would require all San Angelo citizens, in addition to current licensing and vaccinations regulations, to spay and neuter their animals at four months of age. Flores also mentioned at the time that he hoped to eliminate animal tags for microchipping. After discussion, contemplation and public opinion, City Council gave the approval to move forward with providing direction.
The Reasons for the Ordinance
With that approval, Flores said he felt his team put together a good first-read presentation that contained input from Council members. He also reiterated the reasoning behind the changes to the Ordinance which includes the following:
- The Shelter takes in about 10,000 animals per year, and about 7,000 of those animals get euthanized. Although that number is a bit lower now since Flores took over, the problem needs addressing since San Angelo has one of the worst euthanasia rates in the state.
- One unaltered female cat and its offspring equal 420,000 cats in seven years.
- One unaltered dog and its offspring equals 67,000 in six years.
- 85 percent of the animals hit by cars are unaltered.
- It costs $71 per day for the intake of an animal at the Shelter.
- Spay and neuter prevents breast cancer and testicular cancer in dogs.
- Neutered dogs don’t roam from home in search of mates.
- Other cities that have a spay and neuter ordinance have successful shelters and a low euthanasia rate.
These are the primary reasons Flores said the changes to the COSA’s Animal Control Ordinance are necessary even though the euthanasia rates are declining since he took over the Shelter.
“We had a 40 percent kill rate for last month,” Flores said. “The intake is what we have to watch as a shelter. At the end of the day, I have to control the money out there, and as you keep more dogs, it gets more expensive to run, so at what point to we keep coming up with budget numbers? This ordinance will help the intake number I think.”
Jenie Wilson, director of Concho Valley Paws and who attended both meetings, agreed with Flores and restated that the Shelter has a big expense when dealing with the animal population in the City, and something has to change.
“We’ve spent $855,000 dollars at that shelter and the kill rate is over 50 percent right now,” Wilson said. “Now, James has done a phenomenal job, and I’m not slighting that in the least, but too many of the animals are coming in and too many of them are dying, and as he said, we can’t adopt our way out, and we can’t kill our way out. Spayed and Neutered is the answer, and sadly education does reach people, but it’s not reaching everyone.”
Overall the primary changes Flores proposed and documented in the Ordinance, which readers can find beginning on Page 162 of the Sept. 15, 2015 Agenda Packet, includes the following:
- All dogs and cats over four months of age have to be microchipped, spayed and/or neutered.
- Owners must maintain documentation of spay/neuter operations and microchip information.
- Owners can sell their pet by paying for a Non-commercial Sale of Animal Permit.
- People who transfer ownership to another individual for no fee do not need approval (This was changed at the meeting. The original proposal stated owners did need a permit to give away a pet).
- San Angelo citizens have a six-month leeway after approval before enforcement takes place.
The following exceptions to the spay/neuter rule include:
- Breeders with a breeder’s permit and a veterinarian health statement that verifies a microchip with number
- Medical reasons with documented recommendations from a veterinarian in the animal’s medical record
- Competition animals with the proper documentation to demonstrate an animal’s activity
- Service animals for law enforcement, rescue and those used by disabled individuals
- Animals transferred to another animal shelter or rescue group that provide an application to the city agreeing to follow all state and local laws
The Ways to Enforce the Ordinance
As to how Animal Control will address this change, Flores said, “Enforcement would be a secondary type of approach in this ordinance. Animal Control officers will check for [microchip and spay/neuter] when responding to other situations, and that’s key.”
Flores said he envisions a 90/10 process involved through this secondary enforcement approach, especially after people get acclimated to the City Ordinance. Therefore, citizens won’t have to fear that Animal Control will come knocking on their doors to check to see if people are following the laws. Checks will occur only if an animal gets loose, or Animal Control is called out for any other reason. Flores, as he did previously, compared the scenario to the City Ordinance that deals with trash and yards. People with high grass, messy yards or too many cars parked in a yard get noticed by the City.
“If we are dealing with a property, it would be no different than Code enforcement, and your weeds are tall and you have trash and the complaint is just weeds; I think the officer needs to deal with the trash and weeds as well,” Flores noted. “That’s what we’re trying to do in Animal Services. If my officer responds to your property for any array of violations that exist in the Services Ordinance, I think we need to focus on any violation related to Ordinance while we’re dealing with that property.”
Flores added that this approach may look like it’s priority enforcement, but if an ACO is involved with a particular citizen from the animal capacity, at that point, the City can be proactive in spay and neuter. As for what citizens will face if they fail to adhere to the Ordinance, Flores said that amount will come at a later time.
“We would need to allow citizens time to prepare, at least three to six months.”
The Benefits of Microchipping
Flores also said the secondary approach the Shelter will rely upon, and where microchipping will come in handy, is the animal at large where ACOs find and Shelter employees enter a dog into the system because they don’t know who the dog belongs to. With microchipping, that will change the Shelter’s “whole world.”
“We’ll scan that dog and take it back to your house,” Flores stated. Additionally, whatever issues arise with that pet in regards to spayed/neutered and licensing will be dealt with at that time.
Elizabeth Grindstaff, Councilwoman for SMD5, said she didn’t remember the chip being part of the original discussion, so she asked for further clarification on behalf of the public.
In response, Flores explained how, with city tags, people do pay a fee, but the tracking system is not reliable; plus, the metal tag imposes a big problem for the veterinarians. The City sends area veterinarians a roll of tags that the city pays for. These tags are numbered and the animal doctors get a paper log they have to fill out.
“It’s redundant and time consuming,” Flores claimed. Although veterinarians and the City split the profit for the tags, 90 percent of animals are not wearing a collar when taken into the Shelter. If these animals were microchipped, the ACOs can scan animals out in the field.
“That tag is not a good type of system to ID this dog,” Flores noted. “Very seldom does a dog have its collar when it's loose.”
The Issue of Involved Costs
He continued and said that with the microchip, no tag or veterinarian is involved. Also, some doctors don’t offer tags, so many customers go to the Shelter. Microchip saves all of that and the Shelter only charges $13 for the service. The only issue is citizens have to keep their information up to date with the agency that services the microchip because it logs this information into a national database. Additionally, some microchip registries charge an annual maintenance fee of $9.99, $19.99, or $49.95; however, there are some registries like 911 Pet Chip that doesn’t charge fees. For more information, click here.
Additionally, for those families who may be wondering how they will be able to afford microchipping, or spay and neutering their animals for that matter, Flores said he will be looking into low-cost options for low income families, which both the Shelter and Concho Valley Paws offer currently for spay and neuter services. Also, anyone, regardless of income, can get a voucher from PAWS once a month. Dogs can be spayed/neutered for $50 or $25 for cats.
Also, to assist with vaccinations, particularly rabies shots, Flores said the Shelter is in the process of hiring a full-time veterinarian.
“We are at this time interviewing for a veterinarian to be on staff full time other than a contractual relationship,” Flores said.
The Opponents of the Ordinance
Although Flores had a response for all the Council members’ questions and for the public’s, as in the first hearing, many people came to the podium to address their own concerns with the Ordinance.
Deborah Bailey of San Angelo declared herself an animal lover and a pet owner. She has had pets for many years and has always had them spayed and neutered. She’s also the first person who is going to pick up a dog if it’s wandering around and will get its shots, and will even pay to get it spayed or neutered and try to find it a home. However, she cares for her personal liberties, and those of the citizens of San Angelo.
“This ordinance is an infringement on personal liberties of responsible people and will not make any difference to people who are not responsible,” she said. “It’s not going to change their behavior.”
Bailey added that infringement of personal liberties is nothing new to the citizens of San Angelo. Local government dictates how tall a person’s grass can be, where a person can locate a business, where people can park their car on their property, and how many garage sales people can have a year. She said the list goes on and on, and she doesn’t feel this Ordinance will help make irresponsible people responsible. If anything, she wouldn’t be surprised to witness a mass dumping of animals with the change.
“City Council’s objective should be to provide police, fire protection, remove trash, provide water services, sewer, and keep the streets repaired,” Bailey continued. “That should be the entirety of your function. You exceeded those bounds long ago. The truth is that San Angelo is fast becoming a new state and private property rights and personal liberty are becoming distant memories.”
After Bailey’s statement, other San Angelo citizens echoed similar concerns. Jim Turner of San Angelo had issue with having to obtain a permit to sell an animal or give one away, which the original proposal stated. However, after additional comments of this nature to the Council, members clarified individuals giving an animal away do not need a permit; however, those who wish to sell an animal must obtain the permit listed in the Ordinance outline, which costs approximately $100.
Despite the concern over this aspect, Flores maintained his position about the sale of animals. “Backyard breeders are 90 percent of the problem, so I think this is fine,” he pointed out.
Another concern that came up previously by San Angelo LIVE! readers was the age limit for the spayed and neutered Ordinance of four months. Some readers claimed they had their animals neutered at an early age, and those animals never matured.
When asked after the meeting if certain exceptions could be made for certain breeds that have specific personality traits, which may cause problems with early surgery, Flores said that would be possible only with documentation from a veterinarian; however, the age limit will remain in effect.
The Proponents of the Ordinance
Despite the number of concerns brought to the discussion, proponents of the Ordinance also reiterated their stance.
Rebecca Garrett of San Angelo said she’s an owner of five dogs and four cats, all spayed and neutered, and someone dumped one of her cats in her back yard shot and injured. Garrett said she couldn’t understand who could do something like this, but animals in the City face this type of abuse all the time. She also said she’s been to the shelter before and has looked into the hopeless eyes of the animals there and felt their pain. However, since Flores has taken control, it’s “nothing short of miracle of what has been done at the Shelter.” She strongly supports the ordinance.
“I ask that you pass this as a tool,” Garrett said. “It’s not meant to solve the problem, but a tool Animal Services can use to bring down those populations.”
Wilson from Concho Valley Paws agreed with Garrett.
“I understand and I value personal liberty as much as my neighbor does, but I also understand this is a community problem. This is a result of the community’s neglect of these animals,” Wilson said. “A lot of these other communities have taken these ordinances into their policies and into their laws, and they’ve had tremendous success. And I think the timing is right. We have a proactive management running the shelter right now. We have programs in place that are low cost programs for spay and neuter, with more potential for more of those programs becoming available. I think we have a moral obligation here. I think we need this. I implore you to please move forward with this.”
The Council’s Response and Decision
After hearing public comment, Council members had their own responses as to why they too were in favor (or against) the Ordinance.
Councilwoman Grindstaff said, “I think James did a good job in red lining the Ordinance. I think this is probably one of the most difficult positions we might make because people feel it’s intrusive in their lives. But some of them are not responsible and they are becoming a problem for tax payers.”
Councilwoman Farmer added, “I don’t want any more personal rights infringed upon; however, the number of animals euthanized a month is out of control. You can’t fix stupid. If this doesn’t work, next year we can change it. It has not gotten better. It has gotten worse. You can’t fix irresponsible people. This tool will help and slow down reproduction of spayed and neutered, so I’m going to support this. We need to try.”
Mayor Dwain Morrison disagreed with his colleagues.
He said, “I understand the ordinance. I understand the emotion of it. However, the citizens that we have who are responsible will continue to be responsible. Those who are not responsible will continue to be irresponsible. You cannot legislate responsibility. It’s great to incentivize and it’s great to educate, but this isn’t a law that will change anything. All we’re going to do is make a big problem even bigger. The City has tripled the price of adoption. I think if we’re spending so much to euthanize, let’s microchip and give [animals] away at cost.”
Finally, Morrison stated that if the City creates unreasonable laws, people will ignore those laws as they do now.
Despite Morrison’s objection, Fleming motioned to approve the first reading of the Ordinance, and Grindstaff seconded the motion. The only person not available for the vote was Councilman Johnny Silvas, SMD3, which is where the 5-1 vote came into play.