Springfield may require owners to pay for a litter permit if their pets give birth

Monday, August 25, 2008

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- The city council is considering fines and permits for people who try to sell or give away unwanted puppies and kittens born to their animals.

The proposals would require anyone who wants to give away or sell litters to pay the city $100 for a "litter permit."

The Springfield City Council will consider the permit, and a related "breeder permit" in an effort to encourage owners to have their dogs and cats spayed or neutered in order to reduce the number of unwanted animals in the city.

The two ordinances are similar to those already used in St. Joseph, which has had the permits since 1995.

In St. Joseph, the litter permit costs $100. A $20 breeder permit allows a pet owner to breed a dog or cat once a year. Pet owners who ignore the rules face fines up to $500.

Brandi Crawshaw of Springfield, whose dog Comet delivered nine puppies after briefly running away from home, said the permits aren't a bad idea but the cost should be reduced.

"I think $100 is too high," she said. "Maybe they could charge a $50 fee and you'd get it all back if you do get your pet spayed."

'Carrot-and-stick approach'

The St. Joseph ordinance returns half of the $100 litter permit fee if the animal is spayed within 30 days.

Springfield councilman Dan Chiles said the St. Joseph ordinances are a "strong carrot-and-stick approach" to encouraging responsible pet ownership but the city would still have to gauge community support.

"It appears St. Joe has worked through this and has garnered a lot of community support," Chiles said. "It's not like we're going to Canada to find some pet laws. These are Missouri folks who've found a way to deal with it."

Councilwoman Cindy Rushefsky favors the proposed ordinances. She said people who let their animals breed cost taxpayers money to support the animal control department. Pet owners who know they would have to pay a fee if a pet gets pregnant may be more responsible, she said.

"I'm hoping that's what will happen," Rushefsky said. "Apparently, that's what's happening in St. Joe."

Rick Smith, director of the St. Joseph Animal Control Department, said he doesn't track the number of dog and cat litters in the city-county pound. But he said those numbers appear to have declined since the two ordinances took affect in 1995, he said.

"It is my observation that it has worked," Smith said. "We do know that at least 500 animals have been spayed because of the litter ordinance. It's an incentive for people to do the right thing and get their pets spayed or neutered."

Checking pet ads

Smith said his animal control officers enforce the litter ordinance by watching pet ads in various area newspapers. The ordinance requires people to list their permit number in the ads. If they don't, they may get a visit from one of his officers.

"If they don't have a litter permit, they're given 10 days to get one," Smith said. "If they don't, they get a citation to appear in court."

Springfield City Councilman Doug Burlison said he's concerned that the two ordinances are too intrusive.

"Anything that paints with too wide a brush, that's inappropriate," he said. "Realistically, how enforceable would that really be? If we keep a law like that on the books just to catch somebody who rises up on the radar, I've got a problem with that."

And Kevin Gipson, director of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, questioned whether his animal control staff would have time to enforce the ordinances.

"When our people come to work, there's 40 or 50 calls waiting for them to do," Gipson said.

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