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Animal Commission votes down spay and neuter proposal

Friday, September 16, 2016 by Cate Malek

Despite public appeals, the Animal Commission has decided not to move forward on a proposed ordinance that would require that all dogs brought to Austin animal shelter be spayed or neutered the first time they are impounded.

The ordinance was meant to reduce the number of animals filling shelters by preventing stray dogs from breeding. But after months of debate, commissioners decided the proposal meant too much cost for too little gain. At the Animal Commission meeting on Sept. 12, the proposal failed with a vote of 5-4. Commissioners Palmer Neuhaus, Mike Kaviani, Kristen Kjellberg and Paul Martin were opposed, and commissioners Larry Tucker and Lisa Mitchell were absent. A majority of the entire commission, not just the commissioners present, was needed for the proposal to pass.

Austin is the biggest no-kill community in the country, according to Austin Animal Services. This means that animals taken to shelters in the city are not euthanized but instead kept alive until they can be adopted. This policy means that Animal Services deliberately keeps its shelters at capacity in order to try to house as many animals as possible. The spay and neuter proposal was suggested as a way to stem the tide of animals entering Austin’s shelters.

But a recent study conducted by Animal Services showed that only a small number of dogs, 2.4 percent, had owners who refused to spay and neuter them. By far the biggest reason that dogs were in Austin shelters was because their owners never came to take them home.

“I want history to know that the problem is that people aren’t coming and getting their pets,” said Chief Animal Services Officer Tawny Hammond. “That’s the irresponsible piece, if we’re going to use that word.”

Still, there was strong support in many circles for the spay and neuter proposal. The 10 members of the public who spoke during the meeting all expressed enthusiasm for the ordinance, saying it was a better solution than trying to build more shelters to house pets.

David Lundstedt, the chair of the Animal Commission, said he was for the proposal and attempted to postpone a vote on the issue in order to write a stronger ordinance that more commissioners would support. He was also concerned that two of the most active members of the commission were absent during the meeting and therefore couldn’t cast their vote.

“It really pains me that two of our most long-serving members are not here tonight,” he said.

But despite these voices, the rest of the commissioners weren’t convinced by the proposal. Kjellberg said that when looking at other communities that had passed similar spay and neuter requirements, she saw that the ordinance would not reduce the number of dogs entering Austin’s shelters. She didn’t think the ordinance tackled the real issues behind why the shelters are filled with stray dogs.

“I feel like we’re splitting hairs,” she said. “We’re dealing with such a small part of (the problem).”

Photo by Dave Parker made available through a Creative Commons license.

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