San Angelo, Prepare for Spay, Neuter and Microchipping
As of today, pet owners in San Angelo will need to make arrangements with their local veterinarians or with the City of San Angelo to have their animals spayed, neutered and microchipped thanks to a 5 to 1 vote by city council members to amend the “Animal Control” section of the San Angelo Code of Ordinances. This vote came after council members heard more than an hour of public testimony and had their own debate during the second hearing and consideration of adopting the change during the City Council Regular Agenda session Tuesday morning.
Since the introduction to this amendment by Bob Salas and James Flores, director and assistant director of neighborhood services in early August, comments have exploded on social media and around the community by advocates who support the ordinance and those who feel this law will infringe on their rights, and will only punish responsible pet owners rather than irresponsible ones. This ordinance has caused quite the stir in San Angelo, and this morning, people from the community filled the chairs of the McNease Convention Center’s South Meeting Room.
Although the previous sessions created a mass outpouring of community involvement as well, tensions and emotions ran high this time as citizen after citizen went up to the podium, a few in tears, to give their two-minute views on why the ordinance is bad for San Angelo citizens, or how it will protect the lives of innocent animals.
Flores reiterated that the ordinance will help with the intake of animals at the shelter currently. He previously outlined all the benefits during the first hearing, which can be found here.
“What we’re trying to do is come up with a tool that will help us offset the intake of animals at our shelter,” he said. “Just to give you some recent numbers, August was 468 and September’s intake was 586. We usually get up to the 7/800 range.”
Despite these numbers, some citizens, including Jim Turner, feel the ordinance amendment is too loose and lacks a specific focus because it doesn’t focus only on spay and neuter. Turner said he believes many people, including council members, haven’t read the ordinance because people aren’t addressing the other topics.
“This ordinance will make peace officers animal control officers,” he said. Tuner added that it’s not those officers’ job to play that role, and the issue we have has to do with a lack of enforcement in the past 20 years. The laws passed previously, he believes, have failed because of this, and so will this one.
“We need an effective ordinance and animal control, but we can do a lot more and a lot better enforcement without adding regulation,” Turner added.
Bill Ware of San Angelo told council members he agreed with Turner and said another problem he foresees has to do with dumping.
He said, “This is an emotional subject and messing with people's animals is a tough subject. However, if people are forced to spend money, they will simply drive outside of town and drop more animals out in the country.”
As a result, San Angelo will witness a bigger feral animal problem, Ware added. Therefore, like Turner, he doesn't feel “all these regulations” are helpful.
Although there were a few people who spoke against the spay and neuter program, most people at the meeting supported it.
Another citizen by the name of Jennifer, who fought tears at times, addressed Mayor Dwain Morrison specifically because he has vocalized his disapproval of the ordinance, which he stood by. In her address to him, the animal advocate said Flores runs a “concentration camp” of animals. She then went on to compare San Angelo’s current animal euthanasia statistics and explained how an ordinance in Santa Cruz saw a major reduction of intake on animals with a similar program.
“If you look back at the numbers, Mr. Flores said it costs $77 per day to have an animal,” the woman said in a stern tone. “If San Angelo had a reduction of 50 percent, at $77 per day, that’s over $22,000 per month assuming that animal stays one day. That’s a reduction of over $270,000 per year assuming they stay one day, which we all know is not likely. I encourage you rethink your view on this ordinance, and support them, or you, Mr. Mayor, go out there and you select the 406 animals that need to be euthanized.”
Bill Lockett of San Angelo also addressed the naysayers and said, “We heard about this about 20 years ago, and nothing was done. Obviously, we still have a problem. Catch and kill does not work. I’ve mentioned this before. For all the people who have come up here today, I haven’t heard them give one solution to this problem, or offer another solution other than this.”
Lockett noted that this program may have worked for some cities, and it may have not have worked in others, but San Angelo has to do something regardless.
“We have to give this a try,” he implored.
Not only did emotions run high with the citizens of San Angelo over this topic, but tensions did as well with city council members. After an hour of public testimony and a break for a closed executive session, members got down to the business of debating the topic and making the final vote.
Elizabeth Grindstaff, councilwoman for SMD5, said she became interested in this issue after the people in her neighborhood brought it to her attention. She also learned the financial aspect of this issue and not just the heartbreaking aspect of euthanasia
“I find it fiscally irresponsible and it’s not something the fiscally responsible should bear. To see this cause grow and grow proves that whatever we’re doing is not working. We can talk about what the community did 20 years ago, or what the community tried to do five years ago, but quite frankly I don’t care. I wasn’t on the council then, and I didn’t have the same voice that I have now; so my job here, I believe, is to listen to new ideas, to look for best practices and to try to move this community forward.”
Grindstaff said, however, she does recognize that people in the community have different philosophies of how that should happen, and she respects that. It would also be great if everyone could take care of the animals in the neighborhood, but that’s not the world we live in, so she’s happy to support the idea of changing our status quo.
“I realize that the ordinance may not be perceived to be perfect, but it is a good start in the right direction,” she said.
Morrison stood his ground, however, even though he “knows when he’s whipped” and he can hear what people are saying about him because of his stance on this, but he said this ordinance has to be looked at from a logical perspective rather than an emotional one, even though he understands this emotion.
“If an animal is picked up that is running loose, I have zero problem with us mandating an ordinance that they be microchipped, that they be vaccinated, and that they be spayed or neutered,” Morrison explained. “I have not one problem with that.”
Morrison said he’s also for a low cost spay/neuter program. He said about 4 to 6 years ago, however, animal control went to the council and asked to raise the price on adoption to $85, and the problem wasn’t fixed. He continued by saying ordinances are meant for the future and a lifetime, and ordinances take a life of their own.
Like the naysayers, Morrison asked the people to read sections of the ordinance, which he read out loud, and specifically pointed out how any officer who works for the city can go to a person’s home and remove the animal and/or dispose of the it if the animal falls under the “prohibited” status, which it will if it’s not spayed, neutered, or microchipped.
“That’s giving the animal control people the right by ordinance to walk in your yard, take and seize your animal, dispose of your animal, impose your animal, and you have no choice but to pay a $500 fine per animal,” he added.
Morrison also called the section that states people cannot sell their dogs a terrible law that causes people to go underground.
“It deprives the right of the people to sell their property,” Morrison stated. “It does absolutely nothing to protect the animal.”
Morrison also read aloud all of the animal groups against the ordinance, and explained how a similar ordinance in Fort Worth failed.
In response, Self asked if Morrison checked with Arlington because that city has an ordinance that does work.
“I think that because the ordinance didn’t work in Fort Worth, I don’t think it won’t work everywhere. I think we’ll find for one city it will, but it won’t work for another city,” Self continued.
Flores also contested Morrison’s claims and said although animal control will respond to a complaint and go to a person’s home, that person will receive a warning and have a certain amount of time to get up to code before receiving a fine as a part of due diligence. This process will be no different than that associated with weeds and high grass.
Also, Rodney Fleming, councilman for SMD1, wanted the public to know that animal control will not simply go to a person’s house and take any animal as Morrison stated.
Theresa James, city attorney, clarified the only prohibited animals, as defined in the ordinance, that will be immediately taken are wild animals, snakes, tigers or cougars.
Despite this clarification, however, Morrison said that staff changes and city council member changes can play a role in how the ordinance is perceived, and although the current officials in place know this, misinterpretation can be a problem in the future.
Regardless of his explanation, all council members, minus Charlotte Farmer, SMD6, who was not present, stood their ground and approved the ordinance. The item will be presented on the next meeting’s consent agenda for final approval, and after that, the citizens of San Angelo, as stated previously, will have three to six months to get up to code with their pets, including obtaining breeder licenses if they plan on selling or breeding their animals.
After the meeting, Flores said his staff will begin working out an income qualification threshold for low-income pet owners to ensure those people who might struggle with the fees associated with this new ordinance have a cheap solution. Those who do not meet the income threshold have to go about spay, neutering, and microchipping as they normally would, which is through their local veterinarian.
“I don’t want to interfere with the private veterinarian sector,” Flores explained. “The people without a vet, however, that’s who I want to assist.”