In response to shelters packed with animals waiting to be adopted, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors adopted an ordinance last week making it mandatory for all pet owners to spay or neuter their cats and dogs, save only those who seek a certificate from their veterinarians.

After hours of public comment on the issue from animal-control workers, shelter volunteers and pet-loving members of the public, the board voted 3-1 to approved the ordinance, with Supervisor Joe Centeno dissenting and Supervisor Joni Gray absent.

The ordinance applies only to the unincorporated areas of the county. Dog or cat owners could leave their pets intact with a veterinary certificate to allow purchase of an unaltered animal license, and all other owners would be required to have their dog or cat spayed or neutered.

The ordinance will take effect at the first of the year, and a $10 fee for each unaltered animal license will be charged to the owner. Owners will have a six-month grace period to license animals, then could face a $250 fine.

The county also implemented the Responsible Pet Owner Pilot Program, which would use one-time monies to expand temporary staffing in Animal Services for outreach and education about licensing. No costs would be passed on to the cities that contract with the county for services.

Last May, the Public Health Department came to the board with a report on the status of a local ordinance and asked for guidance.

The board voted to create a task force to look into the issue, and it returned to the board with draft language for an ordinance. The task force began last September and held meetings in Santa Barbara, Santa Maria and Buellton, and met 15 times.

After public comment, all three south county supervisors were supportive of the ordinance.

“I don’t think any of us wants to impose rules and regulations on our citizens unless there’s a health and safety issue,” Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf said. “I am absolutely convinced that this ordinance is a good thing.”

The comments became impassioned when Centeno talked about his dog that he hadn’t had altered, but that he’s never been an irresponsible pet owner.

“When somebody tells me I have to do something with my pet, philosophically, I don’t agree that I should have to do that,” he said.

He called the ordinance “punitive” on responsible pet owners. “My pet has never been to the shelter or run loose and never, ever been a burden to the county,” he said. “It’s not that I don’t empathize with people working in the shelters. … I don’t think we’re going to get the result we want with this ordinance.”

First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal took issue with Centeno’s comments.

“I had hoped that what was before us was a compromise,” he said. “I do feel that the exemption certificate doesn’t make this as mandatory and some individuals think.”

He said he understood Centeno’s consternation with the $10 surcharge, but that the ordinance did allow for people to keep their pets intact.

Click here for more information on spaying and neutering as well as animal adoptions.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at

Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @laraanncooper

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