Breezy enjoys some extra time at the Santa Maria Valley Humane Society yard on Tuesday afternoon. To help control pet populations, a group is lobbying the Santa Maria City Council to adopt a ‘responsible pet wwnership’ ordinance. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A group of animal advocates urged the leaders of Santa Barbara County’s largest city to consider adopting a “responsible pet ownership” law to encourage people to spay and neuter their cats and dogs.

The grassroots group united several weeks ago to ask the Santa Maria City Council to adopt an ordinance aimed at reducing the number of surprise litters of kittens and puppies leading to a overpopulation of unwanted animals in local shelters.

“It is currently as if a faucet is turned on full blast in our community, and the overflow is the unwanted animals,” said Linda Greco, president of the Santa Barbara County Animal Care Foundation. “Local animal nonprofits such as our own and Animal Services have been trying our best to deal with this and the overflow, but it requires a lot of extensive resources.”

The burden could be lessened if Santa Maria residents would spay and neuter their cats and dogs to reduce indiscriminate breeding, she added.

In the 2013-14 fiscal year, Greco said, the Santa Maria Animal Center shelter took in nearly 1,500 stray dogs, with only 36 percent reclaimed by their owners and 26 percent were transferred to rescue groups and other shelter facilities.

Some 24 percent were adopted.

The remaining animals were euthanized by the county shelter, Greco added. 

By comparison, Santa Barbara took in approximately 650 stray dogs, with 70 percent claimed by their owners, she added. Many others were adopted, leaving single digit for the number transferred to other groups and those euthanized.

Noting that the county’s other cities have already adopted responsible pet ownership ordinances, speakers from the Facebook group Voices for the Voiceless urged Santa Maria to adopt a similar law. More than two dozen supporters wearing similar T-shirts sat in the audience.

The proposed law would not call for mandatory spaying and neutering of pets. An owner who intends to breed a cat or dog would obtain a certificate from a veterinarian. 

The ordinance would help educate those misinformed about spay-neuter programs and help convince those on the fence about whether a pet should be altered, Greco said.

“These are the dogs that are getting out and causing the problem,” Greco said. “People are given a choice. The ordinance acts as a tool for the community to act responsibility by raising awareness, promoting education and dialogue, decreasing pet nuisance issues in our community, encouraging a safer community and welcoming in additional supportive resources.”

Bob Walling, an Orcutt resident and leader of Voices for Voiceless, read a letter from Gretchen Lieff, a founder of Davey’s Voice, a group created in the wake of a puppy abuse case in Santa Barbara.

“We urge Santa Maria to adopt a spay-neuter ordinance, and look forward to working with policies resulting in a more reasonable and responsible environment for the animals that reside here,” the letter said.

Another leader of Voices for the Voiceless, Libby Walling, noted that animals spayed and neutered have less severe health issues, while fixed cats and dogs are less likely to roam, and create safety hazards in the city.

Those animals typically don’t have identification tags, microchips or vaccinations, she added.

Santa Maria cat and dog owners have a number of options for low-cost spay-neuter, medical exams and vaccinations, she added.

Catalyst for Cats founder Randi Fairbrother said the organization that began in Santa Barbara has operated in the Santa Maria Valley for years, working to trap and neuter feral cats before returning them into the community to control the population.

She said Catalyst for Cats encounters many people who don’t understand the importance of spay-neuter programs 

“We need to encourage people to do the right thing, and this ordinance will do that,” Fairbrother said. “Please help us make a better community out of Santa Maria. It’s the only town that doesn’t have this spay-neuter ordinance and where it is in place, it has helped.”

The speakers made their pitch during the public comment section of the meeting, asking that the item be included on a future agenda so the City Council can take action.

“It is on our radar; I think it is something I would like to discuss with the City Council,” City Manager Rick Haydon said. 

Near the end of the meeting, council members directed city staff to bring the item back for further discussion and possible action at a later meeting.

Pet owners would take the veterinary certificates to Santa Barbara County Animal Services — Santa Maria contracts with the county for animal-control services — to obtain a dog license and pay a higher fee for keeping an unaltered canine.

Additionally, unaltered cats would need a veterinary certificate and to obtain a license. 

In 2010, the county adopted its responsible pet owner law that was crafted by a task force. 

Other local cities also adopted the rules but Guadalupe didn’t act until 2014, leaving Santa Maria as the lone jurisdiction without a spay-neuter law.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Janene Scully | Noozhawk North County Editor

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com.