A state law taking effect Sept. 30 sets conditions under which shelters may sterilize and implant microchips on impounded dogs and cats before they are released to owners.
Watch out, Fido and Fluffy. If you end up in a shelter and aren't licensed or up to date on your shots, you may return to your owner spayed or neutered.
A state law taking effect Sept. 30 sets conditions under which shelters may sterilize and implant microchips on impounded dogs and cats before they are released to owners. The goal is reducing the number of unwanted animals.
"Every animal that is spayed or neutered is tens of animals less on the street," said Aprille Hollis, spokeswoman for Maricopa County Animal Care and Control, which pushed for the change.
The measure, sponsored by Rep. Steve Court, R-Mesa, gives shelters the right to spay or neuter unlicensed dogs or cats without the owners' permission provided that they first hold the animals for three days and make reasonable efforts to locate owners. Those who retrieve their animals in time will have the option of paying $50 on top of any other fees to have them released without sterilization or microchips.
The law also requires shelters to hold licensed animals for at least five days before they are put up for adoption; current law requires shelters to hold any animal for at least three days.
Hollis said one reason for the law is that stray dogs are likely to return to the streets after owners claim them.
"Dog are escape artists; if they find a way out, they will try again," she said.
To help encourage owners to spay or neuter pets, Hollis' center absorbs the cost of the procedures and charges $25 to implant a microchip. However, the law says owners are responsible for the cost of sterilization and microchips.
Maria Felix, veterinary technician at the Santa Cruz Humane Society in Nogales, said she didn't know how much of an impact the law would have there because owners rarely come to claim dogs or cats.
"It happens twice a year, and if it happens and if we have spayed or neutered the pet, owners are OK with it," Felix said in a phone interview.
The bill also applies to unvaccinated dogs impounded for biting people, adding an exemption for situations in which the bite occurs at the owner's home and involves a resident of that home.
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said he voted against the bill over that provision, saying sterilization and microchips have nothing to do with dog bites or rabies. He called the language of that section poorly written and nonsensical.
"As is the case with many laws, they sound good with the title and general summary, but when you read the text of the law to see what it says, it's fatally flawed in the way it's written," he said.
Kimberly Searles, spokeswoman for the Arizona Humane Society, said the law helps address animal overpopulation and ultimately will help reduce the burden on shelters and the number of euthanized dogs and cats. Her organization saw abandonment calls double from 2007 to 2008.
"There are record amounts of animals being abandoned," she said. "Abandonment is the No. 1 cruelty call."
According to the Humane Society of the United States, about 30 percent of impounded dogs nationally are reclaimed by owners; for cats, the estimate is 2 to 5 percent. A cat can have up to 24 kittens in a year, and a dog can have up to 20 pups in a year, the group said.
Hollis said there are more than 100,000 homeless animals in Maricopa County alone.
"There's a large number of animals we put down each day, and it's very difficult for us because the animals didn't do anything wrong," she said. "Every animal that comes to our shelter deserves a fair chance at getting a home."
After getting a license for her dog, Chia, at the Maricopa County shelter, Joyce Rodriquez said owners should spay or neuter pets regardless of any law.
"There are too many abused and abandoned animals; it breaks my heart," Rodriquez said.