Pet population gnaws at adovcate, law enforcement<BR><BR>

Lotti Benker, who helped organize the adoption group Help Animals Live Today, says the county needs a mandatory spay-and-neuter ordinance.

A deputy county attorney says that might be a problem until

officials see whether current animal control ordinances stand constitutional muster.

Miner photo/

CALEB SOPTELEAN

The county's animal control department puts down more than 7,000 dogs and cats each year.

"We are never going to change anything unless we have mandatory spay and neutering.

You have to make people accountable," Benker said.

"Almost every state has counties that have similar (spay-and-neuter) measures," Benker said.

Arizona, however, is not one of them.

Benker wants an ordinance to be mandatory except for medical reasons and those who have a breeder's permit.

Breeders would be limited to one litter per year under Benker's proposal.

"Seventy-five percent of the dogs in the county are not licensed," she said.

"The county's losing money!"

Deputy County Attorney Lynn Ann Wilson doesn't believe a mandatory spay-and-neuter ordinance is the way to address the problem, however.

City and county ordinances have been adopted but are "too new" for anyone to know whether they will stand constitutional scrutiny, Wilson said.

There are no state laws that address the problem.

Pets are personal property, and enacting a mandatory spay-and-neuter ordinance is not the right focus, Wilson said.

"Maybe we need to tighten up our (existing) ordinance," she said.

Currently, people who want to adopt an animal from the county must pay a $30 fee, which the animal control department collects and then gives to a veterinarian who spays or neuters the pet.

However, if a person doesn't have the animal spayed or neutered, there is no penalty, other than the initial adoption fee.

If the fee were increased to $100, this might more strongly encourage someone to have the animal spayed or neutered, Wilson said.

Some pet owners might not believe in spaying or neutering, she added.

Wilson suggests an ordinance whereby someone could not get an animal back from animal control if the pet has been picked up once or twice by county officers.

Sheriff Tom Sheahan said he recently asked the supervisors for two additional animal control officers and two additional animal control technicians, or kennel workers, one full time and the second part time.

This request was denied, he said.

The request – counting salary and benefits – totaled $98,494.

With two additional patrol cars totaling $60,000, the request increased to $158,494 additional per year.

"We've had a tremendous population increase (in the county)," Sheahan said, which has exacerbated the pet overpopulation problem.

More residents mean more pets.

"I've asked for help for several years, and it's been denied," Sheahan said.

"We can't start putting additional laws on the books until we have additional people to enforce the current laws."

Animal control currently has four officers who respond to calls.

In addition, there is one full-time technician and a three-quarter-time technician, an administrator, one office person and one vacant office position.

The sheriff's office took over responsibility for county animal control in 1997 when Humane Society officials said they could no longer do the job with the amount of funds provided by the county.

"We've been dealing with the same issue," Sheahan said.

"We are treading water right now with our animal control officers, trying to keep up with the enormous increase in calls."

County supervisors are scheduled to consider what to do about the problems associated with the Pet Protection animal shelter during their Sept.

20 meeting.

Pet Protection is a no-kill shelter north of Kingman on U.S.

Highway 93.

The county receives numerous complaints each week about the controversial shelter because of poor conditions there, sheriff's spokeswoman Trish Carter told the Miner earlier this year.

Benker, who moved to Kingman from upstate New York, believes something must be done about Pet Protection and animal overpopulation in general.

"I have rescued animals all my life," she said.

"I came here five years ago to retire and write books … until I saw how atrocious the situation was and decided to do something about it."

Along with some others, Benker started Help Animals Lives Today (HALT), a non-profit organization.

"Statistically speaking, only one in 600 animals gets adopted," she said.

HALT rescues an average of two or three dogs a week.

They are treated, spayed/neutered, and transported to San Diego for adoption.