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Council Action Targets Strays - Option: Permits Or Sterilization

by Carrie Johnson

Richmond, VA pet owners must sterilize their animals or pay $100 a year for a special permit, the Richmond City Council decided last night (March 26, 2001).

The council voted 8-1 to approve a "breeding ordinance" meant to cut down the number of stray animals in the city. Councilwoman Reva M. Trammell cast the lone dissenting vote.

Under the new law, anyone who doesn't spay or neuter a pet by the time the pet is 4 months old must pay $100 a year for a breeder's permit. An owner without the permit would have to buy the permit and pay an additional $50 fine.

The ordinance also restricts the number of litters an animal may have a year to one.

The council's decision was applauded by members of animal-rights organizations, who said they think it will cut down on the number of animals bred for illegal fights.

But local breeders said the ordinance was unnecessary and unfairly targeted responsible pet owners.

"Does it seem reasonable that a person can obtain permits to run an X-rated movie theater or hold a circus for less than it would cost them to own two intact dogs or cats?" asked Traci Jones, the legislative liaison for the Cat Fanciers Association.

Steve Johnson, a dog owner, questioned how the city department of animal control would go about enforcing the law.

"You're asking them to enforce a law that is impossible to enforce unless you're planning to go door to door," Johnson said. "As long as I have the dog in my care, why should I be forced to do something I don't want to do?"

Thomas Chatman, head of the city's department of animal control, said they will use the ordinance as a tool to crack down on illegal breeders, not to harass responsible pet owners. If a pet is picked up by animal control officers, they will check for a permit as a part of their routine.

Chatman said he hasn't estimated how much enforcement will cost the city but predicted the cost would be offset by the permit fees.

"Every day we have to deal with this issue," he said, "animals who come in our door and we have to put them to sleep because we don't have enough homes for them."

Suzy Peeples-Bonham, a volunteer for local animal-rights group Save Our Shelter, said breeders typically make more than enough money from selling pets to offset the cost of a breeding permit.

She also took issue with the assertion the measure wouldn't effectively target illegal breeders. "That's like saying we shouldn't bother with laws because criminals don't abide by them."

But Trammell said she felt the law infringed on the rights of animal owners to breed their pets. Also, she voiced concerns about whether the poor could afford to sterilize their pets or get a permit.

"People in my district don't have the money to take them to a vet," she said.

Henrico, Chesterfield and Hanover counties do not have any similar ordinances.

Hanover Animal Control Chief Kevin M. Kilgore said: "The only thing even remotely close to that was that at one time, when we were revising the ordinances, I wanted to put a clause under licensing, where if they had their animal sterilized they could get a cheaper dog license." The proposal was voted down by the Board of Supervisors.

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