Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2010 | 9:07 a.m.
In an effort to reduce the number of animals that are euthanized, the Henderson City Council approved an ordinance Tuesday night that will require all cats and dogs older than four months to be spayed or neutered.
The action brings Henderson in line with other municipalities in the Las Vegas Valley that have similar ordinances.
About 20 people spoke on the issue, about half of whom were in favor of the ordinance. The discussion was impassioned for some, as they described having to euthanize adult dogs and cats found in Henderson.
“I think this is a very humane ordinance,” said Councilwoman Gerri Schroder. “If we have this ordinance we are not going to have as many euthanizations of healthy pets.”
Gary D. Weddle, Henderson’s animal control administrator, said the ordinance was meant to lower the population of unwanted animals, thus reducing the number of euthanizations that occur at Henderson’s shelter. Weddle said the ordinance ultimately would reduce the number of stray cats and dogs, which he said pose a safety threat to the animals and residents.
“It also promotes responsible pet ownership,” he said. “We end up euthanizing a lot of adults because of the puppies and kittens coming in.”
David Cappabianca, a Henderson resident who owns an 11-year-old cat, said the ordinance was unconstitutional.
“I believe no one has the right to tell me what to do with my property,” he said.
Casey Whittwer, a veterinarian, said he was against the ordinance because spaying and neutering animals when they are younger than six months increases the risk of surgical complications.
“You’re taking away people’s ability to make educated decisions on their own,” he said.
The ordinance has an “opt out” clause, which allows pet owners to obtain a letter from their veterinarian saying a pet is too young, too old or too sick to be spayed or neutered. If an official letter from a vet is presented, the owner can elect not to have the procedure done.
Councilwoman Debra March said the key idea behind the ordinance was to promote “responsible pet ownership” by involving a veterinarian in decisions about a pet’s health. March said the opt-out clause gave her comfort that pet owners and doctors would have discretion.
Councilwoman Kathleen Boutin was the only council member to vote against the ordinance.
North Las Vegas, Las Vegas, Clark County and Mesquite have similar ordinances requiring cats and dogs to be spayed or neutered.
“We’re the only entity in Southern Nevada that doesn’t have this ordinance,” Henderson spokeswoman Kathy Blaha said. “This brings us in line with other municipalities.”
Blaha said the ordinance, which goes into effect 120 days after Tuesday's approval, would be enforced in conjunction with other violations, such as disturbance calls or stray pets.
“It’s kind of like the seatbelt law,” Blaha said. “Responsible pet owners already have their dogs spayed or neutered.”
Henderson Police Chief Jutta Chambers said the department would enforce violations of the ordinance as misdemeanors. The maximum penalty would be a $1,000 fine or six months in jail, she said. However, the actual amount paid would be left to a judge.
“We do not have the resources or the inclination to go door to door…we are looking at this ordinance as a way to encourage people,” she said.
Chambers said she thought the maximum amount would rarely be applied as punishment.
“Very seldom, on the first offense, on a minor offense that is not violent in nature do we see significant fines,” Chambers said.
Dale Smock, animal control director in North Las Vegas, said his city passed a similar ordinance in January 2008. In the first year, he said, the city saw a decline in euthanizations and strays being brought to animal shelters. However, in the second year, North Las Vegas saw an increase, something Smock said he thinks might be a result of the down economy and abandoned pets in foreclosed homes.
Smock said the ordinance is still beneficial to North Las Vegas because the number should decrease during the next five years.
“We’re not doing this ordinance to, you know, generate revenue for the city,” he said. “The larger picture is to educate the public. We would like to see these animals saved.”