Arlington considers fee for owners who surrender pets

08/31/2014 3:13 PM

08/31/2014 3:20 PM

Pet owners who voluntarily surrender dogs or cats to the Arlington city animal shelter would be charged a new $25 fee to help pay for an animal cruelty investigator and a part-time veterinarian, under a proposal city officials are considering.

The Arlington City Council is expected to vote on whether to adopt the fee, possibly on a temporary basis, later this month. The additional revenue, estimated at about $70,000 annually, would allow Arlington to hire a full-time investigator to handle an increasing number of animal cruelty cases as well as a contracted veterinarian to fill in as needed for the shelter’s full-time vet, officials said.

But some council members say they’re concerned charging even a nominal fee would prompt people to dump unwanted pets in parks or neighborhoods instead of taking them to the shelter.

“There seems to be some backlash from people who think animals are going to be abandoned if we charge a fee. Animals are abandoned now when people have an opportunity to surrender them without a fee,” said Mike Bass, Code Compliance Services assistant director.

Arlington doesn’t currently charge residents anything to surrender a dog or cat, although some owners do make a donation to the shelter, Bass said.

On average, residents surrender more than 3,100 dogs or cats to the city annually, according to records from the past three years. The average time animals stay in the shelter is 7.1 days, and it costs the city between $28 and $41 to provide care, such as vaccines and parasite treatments, for each animal, Bass said. That doesn’t include the expense of euthanizing animals that are not adopted or rescued, he said.

Arlington surveyed seven other North Texas cities with similar fees, which range from $10 to $30, and found that those municipal shelters did not see a significant drop in owner-surrendered animals, Bass said. Plano, for example, saw a 3 percent decline, and Richardson saw a 1 percent decline over previous years, he said.

Arlington’s Animal Services needs additional revenue to address cruelty investigations, which have increased 38 percent since fiscal year 2009, Bass said. The city has investigated more than 1,000 animal cruelty cases so far this year and 1,354 the year before, Bass said.

“It’s an extreme burden on staff to commit that time to be involved in those investigations because they are very time-intensive,” said Bass, adding that employees have to gather evidence, develop warrants, conduct health assessments of the animals and provide courtroom testimony while handling other responsibilities. “It’s similar to a police investigation.”

$25 fee proposed

The proposed $25 fee, if passed, would not apply to stray animals that are turned in.

During budget discussions in August, District 3 Councilman Robert Rivera said he would not support the owner-surrender fee and said the city should find another way to fund the shelter’s needs.

“We should be looking at ways to reduce fees on our citizens, not looking at adding new ones,” Rivera said.

District 2 Councilwoman Sheri Capehart said she would be willing to implement the fee during a one-year pilot period so the city could evaluate what affect it might have on the shelter.

“Let’s try it for a year and track the data and see if we’ve had unintended consequences,” Capehart said.

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