By Mannix Porterfield
CHARLESTON — Out-of-control dogs and cats are costing West Virginia taxpayers some $8.5 million a year, a legislative panel learned Monday.
Theresa Bruner, a retired teacher who heads the legislative action group for the Federation of Humane Organizations, again appealed for approval of a higher fee to pet food suppliers that pay to do business in the state.
Under her proposal, the fee paid would increase from $50 to $75, and the extra $25 would be dedicated to a spay-neuter program.
“We know this is a multi-faceted approach,” she told the Agriculture and Agri-business Committee at the start of October interims. “We know there is no one way to do this.”
But with the average West Virginia county paying $155,253 to control unwanted dogs and cats, Bruner said the publicly funded spay/neuter plan is one step forward.
In Maine, she said, a similar program resulted in an annual cost to a household of only 57 cents.
“We’re looking at an industry that did $119 million in business last year,” she said of pet food makers. “It’s not a tax. I keep hearing that.”
But one panelist, Delegate Woody Ireland, R-Ritchie, disagreed with the semantics of the surcharge.
“Regardless of what you call it, it’s still additional cost,” he said. “It may be justified, but it’s still additional cost.”
Bruner said veterinarians charge between $90 and $150 to treat an animal to prevent it from reproducing.
Which means if the average fee is considered $100, the $100,000 generated by the higher surcharge on pet food would cover about 1,000 such procedures, it was pointed out.
“Certainly it doesn’t solve all the problems,” Bruner said. “But you have to start somewhere.”
Currently, the retired school teacher in Elkins noted, Greenbrier County pays some $170,000 to deal with feral cats and stray dogs, while Clay pays a relatively small $5,000, and Wyoming County gets a bill of $77,993.
“That is a lot of money taxpayers have to put out because we have not solved the problem,” Bruner said. “I know $100,000 is not going to be our solution, but it’s part of it.”
Wood County Commissioner Wayne Dunn, whose county is paying some $271,000 to control animals, called for a change in the licensure program to embrace cats.
The fee on licensing dogs hasn’t been updated since it was approved in 1952, he said.
“We have too many cats and dogs,” Dr. Dunn said. “We have too many animals that are uncontrolled, and all the problems that they create.”