2006-06-22 / News

Spaying, neutering law evokes mixed reactions

By Michaela Kennedy

On June 9, Gov. Don Carcieri signed a law requiring cat owners to spay or neuter their pets, and Rhode Island is the first state in the union to adopt a law of this kind. Cat owners will now need to spay or neuter pets older than six months unless they pay $100 for a breeder's license.

Violators can be fined $75 per month, according to the new legislation.

"By signing this legislation today, we are taking the necessary steps to reduce the number of impounded cats that are euthanized in cities and towns throughout the state," Carcieri said in a written statement. Local mixed reactions followed in the wake of the new law, and some opinions directly contradict others.

According to an article published by the Legal Animal for the Best Friends Animal Society, a number of animal welfare advocates are against the new law. Liz Skrobisch, a Rhode Island resident, voiced concern that funding for the low-cost spay/neuter programs is inadequate. "Fining them (cat owners) doesn't solve the problem, because if they can't afford the surgery, they can't afford the fine," she said. Other local opponents, who chose to be anonymous, claim that the law is simply unenforceable.

"There is a reason no other state has done this," Skrobisch continued. "Without statewide, accessible spay/neuter, what you do is create a situation where people are either forced to violate the law or abandon their animals."

Advocates of the new law claim that programs are already in place to help finance the spaying and neutering. Dennis Tabella, representative of Defenders of Animals, which has members statewide, said, "We are absolutely supportive of the law. We've worked specifically to get the bill passed." He noted that the law would be enforced the same way rabies shots and licensing is currently enforced. "We don't see this any differently than enforcing licensing," he said.

Tabella added that a number of Defenders members are from Jamestown. "We've worked with the Jamestown Humane Society for a number of years which has provided spaying/neutering clinics on the island," he commented.

Town Councilwoman Barbara Szepatowski also supported the bill. "My take on the subject is the same as Defenders'. I would have pushed for the same bill for Jamestown if it had not been passed statewide. People need to understand that the overpopulation of pets costs all of the shelters tremendous amounts of money which could be better spent on helping Senior Citizens, single-parent families that want a pet for their child but find it hard to afford the yearly medical care, or just making the shelters better," she said. Szepatowski noted that Jamestown has always had a problem with an overabundance of cats, with 16 currently in the local shelter, Paws & Claws.

Dr. John Civic of the Jamestown Animal Clinic said the newly passed bill has good intentions, adding, "The cat issue is huge." Civic noted that the law is directed toward people who have cats. "For those who can afford it, it's their responsibility socially," he said of the surgical procedure. The doctor said the good news is that programs are already in place for people who cannot afford the procedure for their cats. "There are funds available for veterinary assistance. Just ask at the clinic," he added.

Tabella mentioned the increase of people wanting to have their animals spayed or neutered. He said the Salmon River Veterinary Service, a mobile clinic that travels throughout the state, often has clinics in the parking lot at the Elmwood Community Center in Providence, where Defenders of Animals is located. The clinic provides low-cost neuter or spaying for cats. Tabella noted that the $65 cost includes an exam and any extra vaccinations, such as a rabies shot, that the pet may need. Those who would like to participate can call 738-3710.

The Jamestown Animal Clinic, at 423-2288, also provides information on low-cost spaying/neutering services.

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