Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

February 4, 2014

Spay-neuter bill: Measure merits full support

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — Logical legislation recently reintroduced in the West Virginia Legislature by a Mercer County lawmaker would empower individual counties — if they so choose — to pass local spay-neuter ordinances.

Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, says the new measure is a “permissive” bill that simply allows counties in the state to enact a spay-neuter ordinance if an individual county commission chooses to do so. Gearheart introduced a similar measure last year after confusion reigned in Mercer County over whether individual commissions had the authority to enact their own spay-neuter laws.

Gearheart’s latest proposal is both simple and sensible. And it merits full consideration by his fellow lawmakers in Charleston.

“This makes it clear,” Gearheart said of the bill. “It does not tell the counties what to place in the ordinance, or how to enact it. They can do it by vote of county commission or they can put it in front of the voters. If they think it’s in their interest, they should be able to do it.”

The measure has been assigned to the Political Subdivisions Committee that is chaired by Delegate Tiffany Lawrence, D-Jefferson. Gearheart says he has no commitments at this time that the Political Subdivisions Committee will take up the spay-neuter bill. The measure has to clear committee before it can be considered by the full House.

The confusion we’ve seen in Mercer County as it relates to a proposed spay-neuter ordinance is part of the reason why Gearheart has reintroduced the measure.

Local animal advocates have been correctly calling on the Mercer County Commission for several years now to institute a spay-neuter ordinance to help curb the local homeless animal population. However, the commissioners have argued that state law does not give them the authority to implement a local ordinance.

“If we did it ourselves, it would be on a ballot if we could do it legally, providing the bill passes,” County Commission President Mike Vinciguerra said. “A county cannot trump a state ordinance.”

Gearheart’s measure would give the commissioners the option of putting a spay-neuter ordinance before the voters. It would also give the commissioners the authority to make such a decision on their own — if they chose to do so.

Such a local spay-neuter ordinance is still needed. Too many dogs and cats and too few homes for them have created repeated problems in counties such as Mercer that do not have enough room in their animal shelters to handle the overpopulation.

Shelter personnel and local volunteers have done a lot in recent years to find responsible pet owners to take these animals, but kennels fill up almost as soon as they are emptied. Irresponsible pet owners who do not have their pets spayed or neutered — and then allow them to run loose — keep the problem going.

If dog and cat owners prevented their pets from creating unwanted litters of puppies or kittens, fewer animals would be homeless and there would be less stress on county animal shelters. Euthanasia, an option disliked by many people, also would be less necessary.

An effective spay-neuter law would reduce the homeless animal population, and help with the problem we are seeing in Mercer County.

That is why it is imperative for Gearheart’s bill to make it out of committee, and to receive full consideration in House. This common-sense measure merits full bipartisan support and approval. That way, there will be no confusion over what the individual counties can and can’t do as it relates to spay-neuter laws.