Asheville City Council

Proposed changes to Asheville’s animal-control ordinance could force pet owners inside the city limits to spay or neuter their animals or pay a $100 registration fee. The new language, which is similar to a pet ordinance already in place in Buncombe County, is intended to cut down on the number of neglected, stray and feral dogs and cats.

“We need to reduce the number of unwanted animals,” Assistant City Attorney Curt Euler told City Council at its May 17 work session. Euler spoke on behalf of the Asheville Police Department (which is in charge of animal-code enforcement); he was joined by city Animal Control Supervisor Brenda Sears.

Enforcement of the law would be complaint-based; that is, only officers responding to other animal-related complaints — such as noise or bites — would check for either a spay/neuter certificate or paperwork showing that the $100 fertile-animal fee had been paid. Pet owners who couldn’t produce the documentation would be fined $200. But having the animal sterilized within the next 30 days (which typically costs about $55, said Sears) would cancel the fine.

The fertile-animal license would be valid for the pet’s lifetime, and some animals — such as service dogs, police dogs, animals in shelters and those that, for medical reasons, cannot safely undergo spay/neuter surgery — would be exempt from the registration, Euler told Xpress. The new fee would be in addition to the city’s $10 annual fee for all pet owners.

Other language in the ordinance would ban the adoption of fertile animals in public places (such as department-store parking lots) and prohibit businesses or groups from giving away animals for promotional purposes. This, Sears explained, is intended to help regulate the spread of unhealthy and unsterilized animals, and to make sure that pets have received their proper shots.

Buncombe county’s ordinance, passed unanimously by the Board of Commissioners in December 2003, has significantly reduced the number of animals taken in by shelters or euthanized, Animal Services Director David Long reported. In the past year, the number of animals that had to be killed dropped by 17 percent, while overall admissions to shelters dropped 12 percent, he told Council.

“I would certainly recommend you approve [the ordinance changes],” said Long, adding that the county’s ordinance has “had tremendous benefits for the community.”

According to Sears, more than 1,300 animals are euthanized in Asheville every year. Within an 18-month period, a single fertile, female cat could theoretically be responsible for a line of 67 offspring, she said.

“If one slips through the cracks, that’s all it takes,” said Sears.

Vice Mayor Carl Mumpower argued that the ordinance would come down too hard on people trying to find homes for animals in Asheville.

“I have a hard time with us going so far in orchestrating control over people who … are trying to do something,” he said. “I have a strong feeling we are outlawing compassion.”

But Sears maintained that unwanted pets are better off if they’re taken to a shelter, rather than handed off to a stranger in a grocery-store parking lot. Such transactions, she said, increase the risk of introducing still more fertile or even sick animals into the community.

Council member Holly Jones agreed, saying groups like the Humane Society already provide such information to people who adopt pets from shelters.

“It’s also a question of educating the consumer,” said Jones.

And while animal groups support the spay/neuter regulation, some worry that a ban on adoption in public places will limit the groups’ ability to find homes for animals.

“This will have a tremendous negative impact,” local animal-rescue advocate Steve Poplawski told Xpress after the meeting. Poplawski, president of the animal-rescue network FurEver Friends, said his group helped find homes for more than 300 cats and kittens last year. They hold a weekly pet-adoption day in front of the Brevard Road PetSmart store; the proposed changes would make such events illegal.

“This all comes out of pocket and out of our time,” noted Poplawski about his group’s activities.

Euler, however, pointed out that the proposed language refers specifically to the actual transaction. Potential adopters, he said, could view animals in a public place and then go somewhere else to adopt one.

Euler also emphasized that the ban applies only to public places. “You can give away cats on your property all you want,” he said.

Council members last retooled the city’s animal ordinance in September 2002, when they tightened leash laws, limited the number of pets that could be kept at an unlicensed residence, and upgraded the response system for bite complaints.

As this issue went to press, City Council was planning to vote on the ordinance changes, with possible modifications, at its May 24 formal session.

City manager finalists

Want to meet the finalists for the Asheville city manager’s job? The City Council will hold a public forum at 5 p.m. on Thursday, May 26, in the Asheville Civic Center’s banquet hall. An informal reception will kick off the forum, followed by brief statements from the candidates and a Q-and-A session. For more information, contact Lauren Bradley at 259-5484.

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