Charging pet owners $25 to voluntarily surrender their dogs and cats to animal control was a tough sell when the City Council took up the proposed pilot program a year ago.
Some council members and many residents were concerned that the fee — which officials hoped would raise about $80,000 a year to help defray pet care and housing costs — would prompt owners to dump their pets in neighborhoods and lead to increased reports of loose and aggressive animals on the prowl.
Even the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a national advocacy group, weighed in, saying in a letter to the council that establishing the fee would not only increase the number of strays but also cruelty reports “and even disease outbreaks within the community.”
The surrender fee was adopted by a 4-2 vote, with three council members absent.
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A year later, at the council’s work session last week, the mood was upbeat as the staff delivered statistics pointing to a successful pilot program.
Although the number of pets dropped off by their owners did decline sharply, by 39 percent, from 2,802 pets to 1,683 during the year, other counts indicated that the bands of roaming animals that many feared never materialized, Mike Bass, city code compliance administrator, told the council.
In fact, he said, “We actually had a decline in calls for service related to loose and aggressive animals by 3.8 percent,” from 4,119 animals to 3,961.
On top of that, stray animal impoundments declined by 5 percent, from 6,705 to 6,340.
How to explain the drop in surrenders while the other counts held steady?
“What it tells me is that our programs are working,” Bass said. “We provide a lot of options to individuals so they don’t have to surrender their pets.”
The shelter, in tandem with its various friend organizations, identify people who may be giving up their pets because of a temporary problem and offer alternatives such as a pet foster home. They arrange to help with the costs of pet food and medical care.
“They also pay for sterilization and vaccination services,” Bass said. “There are some significant dollars being put into helping keep animals out of the shelter by sponsored adoptions.”
Concluding, he said that based on the pilot’s success, he wanted to “move this program into a permanent operational status.”
There were no objections from the council.