Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

July 10, 2013

County choice — Spay-neuter legislation logical

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— There appears to be some confusion over the rights of individual counties when it comes to considering local spay-neuter ordinances. That’s why we welcome legislation proposed by Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, which would empower individual counties — if they so choose — to adopt local spay-neuter ordinances.

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

According to commissioner Gene Buckner, legislation would have to be passed on the state level before Mercer County could even consider such a ordinance.

County attorneys say that localities do not have the authority to enact spay-neuter laws while attorneys for the House of Delegates say counties do have that ability, according to Gearheart. The bill Gearheart is crafting aims to clear up any confusion. It would simply allow counties to enact a spay-neuter ordinance if they choose to do so.

“In essence, this would not define any of the details, really,” Gearheart said of the proposed legislation. “We would leave it up to the counties and let them do it in a manner which defines each counties’ needs, but it would very clearly allow them to do so (enact an ordinance) if they wish.”

Such an 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 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. In some instances, animal rescue organizations move dogs and cats to areas where there are effective spay-neuter laws.

Gearheart hopes to introduce the spay-neuter bill in the Legislature’s next session. 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.

The burden then shifts to individual counties to decide if a spay-neuter ordinance is a proper fit for their locality.