Thursday, August 03, 2006

Athens Ohio repeals spay/neuter law

City Council repeals spay/neuter law; plans to replace it with 'better' one
Athens News - August 3, 2006
By Nick Claussen
Athens NEWS Associate Editor

Athens City Council is repealing its controversial spay/neuter ordinance and hopes to come back with a newer and possibly stronger ordinance later in the year.

Nancy Bain, who represents the city's Third Ward on council, said during a special meeting on Monday that if the ordinance isn't repealed, the current legal battle over it could cause problems for animal-rights laws around the country. Bain also took a few shots at the Petland store in Athens during the meeting, and spoke out about the pet overpopulation problem in Athens.

Petland, Inc., which is based in Chillicothe and has a store on East State Street, sued the city in March 2005 after City Council passed an ordinance requiring any dog or cat over 6 months old to be fixed before being sold or given away. The law required owners of younger animals to show proof that they have purchased spay or neuter service from a vet.

Petland, which does not spay or neuter all of the animals it sells but offers coupons for the new owners to have their animals fixed, has argued in court that the law is unenforceable and discriminatory.

Attorneys for the city and Petland tried to reach a compromise on the ordinance but were unable to and the trial was scheduled for Oct. 3 and 4 in Athens County Common Pleas Court. It looks like that trial won't be necessary now, though, because council is moving toward repealing the ordinance.

Bain said that after the current ordinance is repealed, a new ordinance will be voted on.

She said that in addition to wanting to see the ordinance improved, she's concerned about the legal ramifications if the city lost the court case with Petland. Bain said she has talked to animal-rights group leaders who are concerned that the case could impact animal-rights laws around the country.

While the current law is being repealed and was not enforced, Bain said she believes it did some good just by making people more aware of the pet overpopulation problem in Athens. Bain said she sees more people in her neighborhood working to address the overpopulation problem by having dogs and cats spayed and neutered, and taking other steps to help the animals. She added that she does not like the idea of Petland bringing more animals into Athens when there are already so many dogs and cats without homes.

"I have not been to Petland and I have no intention of going into Petland," Bain said.

She said she is upset that the store brings in animals from out of the area, including from a shelter in Jackson County, and adds them to the number of pets in the city.

While the store offers spay/neuter coupons, she added, it does not require its customers to have their new pets fixed, and the coupons are for veterinarians who work outside of Athens.

Kate McGuckin, a member of the Athens Coalition of Companion Animals (ACCA), said she supports council's move to repeal the ordinance and draft a new one. Other cities have spay/neuter laws, and Athens should be able to have one as well, she said.

Pet overpopulation is a big problem in Athens, and the city needs things like a spay/neuter law to help curb the problem, McGuckin said. Animal overpopulation leads to animal cruelty and many other problems for the dogs and cats, and for the people of the city, she said.

Petland also supports the move to repeal the ordinance, and company officials are waiting to see the new ordinance dealing with spay/neuter issues, according to Julie Washburn, public relations coordinator for Petland, Inc. "We see this as a positive move on the council's part and a step in the right direction," Washburn said Tuesday.

As for Bain's criticism of the Petland chain, Washburn said that the store does a lot to help animals and the community. "We don't' feel that we are adding to the pet overpopulation problem," Washburn said.

The company has good relationships with county dog shelters in the region, such as the Jackson County and Athens County shelters, she said. The Athens store has adopted out some dogs from the Jackson shelter and plans on adopting out dogs from the Athens shelter as well, she said.

"It's a positive relationship," Washburn said. "That relationship is moving forward."

She added that Lana Planisek, the acting Athens County dog warden/ humane officer/Athens city dog warden, stated in an Athens NEWS article in March that the number of dogs that the dog shelter takes in has not changed since Petland opened, and neither has the number of dogs that it adopts out.

Planisek said Tuesday that the dog shelter has not sold any animals to Petland yet, as the two sides agreed to do in April with the approval of the county commissioners. Planisek said the two sides are working out details of the arrangement, and added that she has been busy with other duties and has not been able to spend much time working on the contract.

"We need an actual agreement, and that hasn't happened yet," Planisek said. The dog shelter has seen an increase in animals this year, but that is due largely because of the closing of the local cat shelter, she explained.

Planisek said people have been improperly dropping off cats at the dog shelter on the weekends in the pens set up for people to drop off dogs when no one is at the shelter.

"I think we've had 20 so far," she said. Other people have been calling about bringing cats to the dog shelter, but Planisek said that the facility can't handle cats. She added that when people drop off feral cats, the cats are wild and nearly impossible for the shelter staff to catch.

The shelter has euthanized some cats, and has held a few tame cats for three days to see if anyone claimed them. "The county needs a cat shelter, but it's not the county dog shelter," she said.