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August 31, 2015

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Las Vegas city officials say feral cats a problem

Councilmen in two wards say strays running loose, breeding throughout neigbhorhoods

Microchip

Volunteer Karin Lemmon injects an AVID (American Veterinary Identification Device) microchip under the skin of a kitten at the Bonanza Cat Hospital Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2009. Launch slideshow »

After being in place for a year, a Las Vegas city spay/neuter ordinance designed to curtail a rampant pet population is starting to work, members of the Las Vegas City council were told today.

However, much still needs to be done to reduce the number of feral cats in the city, say Mayor Pro Tem Gary Reese and Councilman Ricki Y. Barlow.

"In my neighborhood, I've got feral cats running everywhere," said Reese, who represents Ward 3, which covers the city's east side.

"I know it's just going to keep getting worse and worse," Reese said. "We've got to do something about the cats in town."

Barlow said his Ward 5 area, on the west side of the city, is also crawling with feral cats.

"On Monday, my neighbor came over and asked what should he do with the cat that just had babies in the back of his boat, so I asked him to contact the animal control office," Barlow said.

Barlow asked for some guidance — should neighbors capture the animals themselves or should they contact animal control officials to come to get them?

Tim Shattler, deputy director of the city's detention and enforcement department, said he had been discussing the feral cat issue with Karen Lane, president of the Las Vegas Valley Humane Society, and they plan to assemble a group to solve that problem.

Lane told Reese she had been to his neighborhood and tried to work with some of the people who had been putting out food for the cats.

"One of those things that didn't get done as a part of this ordinance that we do want to work on is dealing with the feral cats," she said. "We have colonies now."

She said the Humane Society is working with the city and Clark County government to deal with it.

The feral cat issue arose while the city council was having a yearly review of the pet sterilization ordinance.

That ordinance, which was adopted in November 2009, and went into effect April 1, 2010, requires that most dogs and cats over the age of 4 months be spayed or neutered.

The law has exemptions. Among those exempted are people with a fancier's permit. Other exemptions are for animals being held by a shelter for adoption, for animals incapable of breeding or medically unsuited for the procedure and for service and law enforcement animals.

Councilman Steve Ross was credited for bringing local stakeholder organizations together to come up with the ordinance and the exemptions.

Shattler said the city adopted its ordinance after the North Las Vegas City Council approved its law. In 2010, Clark County and Henderson also adopted ordinances.

It's important that all the valley's government agencies have the same goal in mind — to reduce the number of animals that go into the shelters and the numbers of animals being euthanized, Shattler said.

Since the ordinance was put into place a year ago, only 56 citations have been issued. That's only about 8 percent of the violations that were cited annually in the past, he said.

"That percentage is usually only the most serious in nature — people who we have warned before," he said.

"I think one of the initial concerns of the public is that we were going to be out there knocking on doors and citing people for not having their animals spayed or neutered," Shattler said. "That is not the case."

He said there have been complaints about the ordinance. But as people are given explanations, they understand why the city came about passing the ordinance, he said.

Christine Robinson, executive director of the Animal Foundation, said it's difficult for the short period of time that the ordinance has been in place to do a meaningful analysis on how it is working.

However, "we are certainly not headed in the wrong direction," Robinson said. "We're not making this problem worse through this ordinance. ... Anecdotally, we're starting to make the problem better."

She said 520 impounded animals were returned from the shelter to their owners with a spay/neuter surgery so far since the law went into effect. That compares to only nine animals from August 2008 to November 2009, reflecting a 5,700 percent increase, she said.

Also, 572 animals were returned to their owners with a microchip since the law went into effect, as opposed to 39 for the August 2008 to November 2009 period, she said.

"We're delighted with the way it's going so far," she said.

Dave Henderson, medical director for the Heaven Can Wait low-cost spay and neuter clinic, said the ordinance has allowed the city to hit the segment of the population that creates the problem.

Although he had no statistics, he said anecdotally he gets at least three to five people a day in the clinic, "and these are the people who have been causing the problem for the past 30 years. For 30 years I have not been able to get them to sterilize their animals. And this ordinance has allowed us to target them."

Harold Vosko, president of Heaven Can Wait Animal Society, said the ordinance has helped, "but we have a long way to go."

He said the organization is offering to spay or neuter pit bulls and chihuahuas for free for the first 200 people asking for that service.

Karen Lane, president of the Las Vegas Valley Humane Society, said low-cost and no-cost spay and neuter services are available to those people who can't afford to pay for the surgeries.

"We are making sure that those people who have issues are being assisted," Lane said.

Councilman Stavros Anthony said one of the issues that arose concerned whether dogs and cats should be spayed or neutered at 4 months or 6 months.

Henderson said that medically, there is no difference between getting spayed or neutered at either 4 or 6 months of age.

Anthony also asked about how many exemptions were granted in the last year.

Henderson said he had written a medical deference for about a dozen pets in the last year and tells people to go to their regular veterinarian to get a letter asking for an exemption.

"I probably have seen 30 or 40 cases where it wasn't the best medical decision for the patient at the time," he said.

Shattler said they have allowed about 150 total exceptions to the ordinance, which were mostly for the dog or cat fanciers.

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