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Santa Maria City Council OKs Spay-Neuter Ordinance for Cats and Dogs

Santa Barbara County’s largest city will soon have a law that encourages owners to spay and neuter their pets to address overpopulation of cats and dogs.

Near the end of a three-hour meeting, the Santa Maria City Council on Tuesday unanimously took the first steps toward implementing a Responsible Pet Ownership Ordinance.

To have unaltered cats and dogs Santa Maria residents will need to obtain a certificate from a veterinarian before purchasing a special license for having a pet that isn’t fixed. That ensures pet owners learn the benefits of having their animals spayed and neutered, supporters said.

“They can purchase unaltered pet licenses so this is not proposed as a mandatory spay-neuter ordinance,” Assistant City Manager Jason Stilwell said.

“The goal of the proposed ordinance change is to reduce stray animals and the associated costs that those stray animals bring to the neighborhoods, quality life and also to the cost of managing the animals through (Santa Barbara County) Animal Services and the governmental expense,” he added.

While licenses for dogs are mandated by the state after the animals reach 4 months of age, the local law would require licenses for unaltered cats.

“This is an uncomplicated, elegant, innovative, easy-to-understand, easy-to-comply with and easy-to-administer ordinance that aligns with pre-existing state, county and local laws for dogs with a little element new for licensing unaltered cats,” said Lisa Kenyon, who lives in an unincorporated area near Santa Barbara and belonged to the county’s Spay-Neuter Task Force.

“The ordinance was designed here in Santa Barbara County for all of Santa Barbara County,” she added.

The health benefits of the ordinance were noted by Santa Barbara resident Randi Fairbrother from Catalyst for Cats, a feral cat organization that has trapped more than 400 felines annually in the North County to be spayed and neutered before being returned.

“Their lives improve significantly once they are no longer ruled by the hormonal urges that make their lives so difficult,” she said. “Fewer kittens are born to repeat the cycle over and over again, and fewer cats are surrendered to the shelter. The community benefits by the lack of disbursing behaviors, such as caterwauling.”

Yet, the organization still encounters opposition to its Trap-Neuter-Return program, she added.

“We preach spay and neuter, but for some people — lots of people, actually — the message just doesn’t get through,” Fairbrother added. “We found the ordinance enacted throughout the rest of the county has proven helpful in reaching some of these people.

“I urge you to vote for this ordinance, not only for the welfare of the felines but for the welfare of the community overall.”

Spaying and neutering cats and dogs decreases their urge to roam and cuts the number of stray animals on the streets, said Jessica Wiebe, outreach coordinator for Project PetSafe with county Animal Services.

The procedures also reduce the animals’ chance of getting certain types of cancers and infections, she added.

A weekly vaccine clinic hosted by the county has seen 820 animals owned by Santa Maria city residents, with 73 percent of those cats and dogs not spayed or neutered, she added.

Santa Maria has been the lone holdout among the other seven cities, plus Santa Barbara County, in having a spay-neuter ordinance, which is modeled after the county ordinance.

“Why are we last?” Councilman Jack Boysen said. “I mean, it seems like such a no-brainer.”

While preliminarily discussed among staff previously, City Manager Rick Haydon said the topic didn’t gain any traction until a community-led effort, with support of county Animal Services, urged the city to adopt the Responsible Pet Ownership law.

A social media group Voices for the Voiceless led the effort to get the Responsible Pet Ownership law adopted in Santa Maria.

The Santa Maria Valley Humane Society and Santa Barbara County Animal Care Foundation also supported the spay-neuter ordinance, according to representatives. 

In addition to the spay-neuter ordinance, the city also is updating other aspects of the municipal code regarding sanitation, housing of animals and procedures for handling dog bites.

A second reading of the ordinance is planned for the council’s June 21 meeting with the new law set to take effect 30 days later.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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