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County holds off on paying for spaying pets - for now

Who should have to pay for dogs and cats to be spayed and neutered?

That's a question Douglas County Board members are grappling with.

At Tuesday's regular board meeting, commissioners heard from Christin Klimek, Lakes Area Humane Society (LAHS) executive director, about an opportunity for the county to work proactively together with other entities to reduce the number of animals impounded annually, thus reducing animal control costs, with a new spay/neuter program.

LAHS asked the commissioners to join in the effort by committing to a plan to sustain funding for a county spay/neuter project.

Klimek asked board members for a commitment of $91,000 per year for the next five years. All of the money, said Klimek, would be used for the spay/neuter program, not operating costs for the facility.

Klimek presented the same information at the January 11 Alexandria City Council meeting. The council voted 5-0 to support LAHS' efforts to obtain funding from the county for the program.

LAHS currently offers low-cost spay assistance through money granted from the Frances Curran Foundation. Since the program's inception in August of 2006, more than 2,100 Douglas County pet owners have been assisted with spaying their female cats and dogs.

The program reduces the huge numbers of unwanted animal births, reduces euthanasia rates, lowers costs of animal control services and ultimately saves taxpayers' money, Klimek said.

She explained to the commissioners that the funding from the Frances Curran Foundation is expected to end this coming fall.

A spay/neuter program is important, said Klimek, not only for animal welfare, but also for public safety. In the United States each year, there are roughly 4.7 million people who have been bitten by a dog.

Spay/neuter programs work, said Klimek. She noted that for every $1 invested in the program, it saves $3.23 in impound costs.

The problem of unwanted cats and dogs can get out of control quickly, Klimek said.

One unspayed female cat, her mate and their offspring can produce 376 animals in three years, she explained. The number explodes to 11,801 after five years and to more than 420,000 in seven years.

Likewise, an unspayed female dog, her mate and their offspring can produce 67,000 animals in six years.

After hearing from Klimek, the commissioners had some questions.

Chair Paul Anderson first explained that the board would not be ready to make a decision about the issue at Tuesday's board meeting.

He asked Klimek to talk with all townships in the county to see if they would help in the efforts as well.

There are the annual township meetings planned for the beginning of March, so Anderson suggested Klimek bring the issue back to the board at its second meeting in March.

Anderson asked about fines for pet owners who don't spay or neuter their pets. There is nothing in place at this time, he was told.

He also suggested that maybe it would be a good idea if the county put a "healthy fine" on pets that are not spayed or neutered.

"There's no reason why an individual can't do this on their own," Anderson said.

Klimek agreed with Anderson, saying, "They should be responsible, but they're not. That's the reality. It would be wonderful if people were responsible, but they're not."

Commissioner Dan Olson also questioned if LAHS had talked with other townships and cities within Douglas County. He asked if it would be outside the county's levy limits.

He was told that it would be.

Klimek explained that currently, 98 percent of funding for LAHS comes from the city of Alexandria, Alexandria Township and LaGrand Township.

Commissioner Bev Bales asked, "If the program was implemented, would it be for all of Douglas County?"

Klimek said, "Yes, it is for any resident in Douglas County."

She also explained that there would be a $30 co-pay that would be directed right back to the program. However, if someone could not afford that co-pay, funding would be available to pay for it.

She also noted, however, that if people are financially able to pay for the spaying or neutering of their animals, it would be great if they picked up the whole cost.

To spay a dog, it can cost anywhere from $160 to $250 depending on the size of the animal. For cats, it can cost from about $100 to $125, said Klimek.

She also stressed the fact that people cannot be forced to spay or neuter their animals, but that it would "really help keep the animal population down."