Asheville City Council

At the Asheville City Council’s May 24 formal session, Mary Parker, speaking on behalf of two local animal-rescue groups, explained how FurEver Friends and Merry Paws serve the community. Fighting back tears, Parker recounted how one of the groups had fulfilled a terminally ill cancer patient’s final wish. The woman, Parker said, was afraid that her two cats would be sent to an animal shelter after her death.

The group succeeded in finding a new home for the cats, but it was a trying experience, said Parker. “We are not the enemy; we are not humaniacs,” she declared. “We believe the highest quality of life exists when the needs of animals and humans are met.”

But with animal lovers of every stripe packing the chamber for a public hearing on revisions to the city’s animal-control ordinance, Council’s challenge was to strike the right balance.

The proposed changes were designed to reduce the number of animals killed. More than 1,300 animals are euthanized in the city each year, Animal Control Supervisor Brenda Sears told Council. The amendment would require owners of domestic animals to spay or neuter their pets or pay a one-time fee of $100 per animal.

Showtime

Some in the audience, however, took issue with the requirement. Anne Johnston approached the lectern and introduced herself as a show-dog owner who travels the East Coast entering pet competitions. The American Kennel Club bars spayed or neutered dogs from entering competitions, she explained, and the $100 exemption fee for fertile animals is prohibitive. “It’ll be tough to continue my hobby,” said Johnston. “I don’t want to have to fix my dogs, because [then] I can’t show them.”

Marta Stillman, speaking for the Asheville Kennel Club, echoed that concern. “We’re responsible pet owners, not part of the problem,” she said. “Studies show that most shelter animals are from low-income areas,” said Stillman, adding, “Animals are a commodity to them, not a family member.”

She also maintained that drafting stricter laws to tackle the problem of animal overpopulation is premature, because “the problem hasn’t been quantified, and it hasn’t been qualified.” Her organization supports the goal of the ordinance changes, said Stillman, but “there are better ways [to accomplish it] that won’t negatively impact members of the community.”

Other speakers challenged the Kennel Club’s position. The proposed changes, noted Asheville Humane Society Director Nancy Clarke, included language specifying that animal-control officers would issue a spay/neuter citation only if they were called to a home in response to a violation of other parts of the law, such as excessive barking or dogs roaming off-leash. “This ordinance only targets owners who are a problem,” she said. As for the exemption fee, Clarke pointed out that she, too, once owned show dogs, and that while owning the pure breeds can be expensive, the “fee is only $100.”

Carolina Animal Action President Stewart David asserted that the fee is not “an undue burden or expense” for show-dog owners. He also said the changes could result in “less government, not more,” explaining that if the new ordinance reduced the number of unwanted animals, fewer animal-control officers would be needed.

Another proposed change that drew attention from the public was a ban on adoption of fertile animals in public places. Although registered 501(c)(3) nonprofits would be exempt, Parker noted that her two groups have never filed for nonprofit status with the Internal Revenue Service (they are recognized by the state of North Carolina, however). Parker said she fears that well-intentioned animal-rescue groups would have their efforts blocked because they lacked the requisite paperwork.

Assistant City Attorney Curt Euler, who drafted the proposed changes, told Council that in response to this concern, he’d eliminated the 501(c)(3) requirement. Nonprofits registered with the state would be allowed to offer animals for adoption, he said.

The ordinance changes passed on a 5-0 vote (Mayor Charles Worley and Council member Terry Bellamy were absent). After the vote, Vice Mayor Carl Mumpower thanked those city residents who’d spoken during the meeting, saying there’d been a great deal of positive input on a subject that many felt passionate about. The new law, he concluded, “is not an effort to go after every pet owner — just the folks creating the majority of the problems.”

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