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Spay, neuter requirement questioned
county spay,neuter.jpg
A proposed spay and neuter ordinance is under consideration by Warren County’s Health and Welfare Committee. While it requires pet owners to have their animals spayed or neutered in an attempt to stem the number of unwanted pets, enforcement could be an issue. - photo by Lisa Hobbs

A spay and neuter mandate may be easier said than done.

The county’s Health and Welfare Committee met for its first look at a resolution aimed at reducing the number of unwanted animals roaming the streets. It was written by Commissioner Blaine Wilcher, who is chair of the committee. 

Warren County attorney Robert Bratcher, who said he reviewed the resolution and gave consideration to what other states have done, calls spay and neuter requirements “constitutionally suspect.”

“We are talking about a private right,” said Bratcher. “It sounds a little callous, but pets, cats and dogs, are actually private property of their owners. For that reason, it’s a little bit constitutionally suspect to enact these policies. I’ve looked into it and there are some states where it has been brought to judicial scrutiny and it has been overturned. There are some states where it has been sustained. I can’t find anywhere in Tennessee where anyone has challenged it as a problematic law, but it doesn’t mean it won’t happen soon.”

If adopted by the county, pet owners would be required to spay or neuter their cats and dogs, or file for an unaltered animal permit and pay a one-time fee of $200. Persons found in violation could be subject to a $50 fine plus court costs. Each day that any violation continues may constitute a separate offense punishable by $50. 

County Executive Jimmy Haley asked how the county would fund enforcement. 

Wilcher replied, “I think the fees would pay, in theory. People have questioned enforcement. I’m not expecting Kim (Pettrey) to get out and patrol.”

County Animal Control officers will not knock door-to-door asking to see pet paperwork to prove pets have been medically altered. Enforcement would be tied to other violations. 

For example, animals picked up roaming at large and retrieved by their owners from Animal Control would be asked to provide proof of spay or neuter.

Warren County Animal Control officer Kim Pettrey says it could take years to see a noticeable difference in the animal population, “Even if this is mandatory, it would still take forever to make a dent in the population in this county,” she said.

McMinnville Animal Control officer David Denton agreed.

“In the long run, I do feel that it will have an impact,” said Denton. “You have to start somewhere. In the next month or two, Kim and I both will experience what we refer to as the Christmas puppies. People get them for their kids for Christmas. The puppy gets older and they no longer want it.”

By the ordinance, permitted breeders would be allowed no more than one litter per female dog in any 12-month period and no more than one litter per domestic household in any 12-month period. 

Wilcher said he’s heard concerns from breeders about that stipulation.

“I’ve heard from some breeders,” said Wilcher. “What if their dog only has one puppy? I guess we need to come up with something that’s fair,” he said. “There needs to be some consideration given for that. If they have a litter and all of them die, what then? We need to have some provision in here for that.”

No specific changes were made to the ordinance at this meeting. Wilcher requested a joint meeting with the county Policy and Personnel Committee on Jan. 31 at 6 p.m. to continue discussion.