tampabay.com

Unfixed dogs may cost their owners

By BILL VARIAN
Published April 3, 2007


TAMPA - Letting Sparky keep his swagger could soon cost his owners some cash in Hillsborough County.

County Animal Services is mulling whether to impose an annual fee of as much as $150 on dog owners who refuse to get their animals fixed, an idea that's getting pooh-poohed by pet breeders. The proposal also calls for a litter fee for each brood produced.

The proposal is not so much aimed at reducing the number of unwanted dogs who end up at the animal shelter, though that would be a side benefit. Rather, it seeks to cut down on dog bites.

Animal Services records show that these so-called "intact" dogs are responsible for nearly 75 percent of dog bite incidents reported in Hillsborough County since 2000. Most of the offender dogs are male, though the new fee would apply to intact females as well.

"We're looking at this as an opportunity to take public safety, with respect to dog bites, to another level," said Bill Armstrong, the county's Animal Services director.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White last month asked Animal Services to explore additional ways of addressing dangerous dogs. His request came after a highly publicized mauling of a Plant City toddler by a family pit bullterrier tethered to a tree.

"It's very unfortunate that law-abiding citizens have to compensate for the people not abiding by the rules," White said.

Animal Services has pitched a number of ideas to an advisory panel, from increasing educational efforts to adding staff to more proactively comb neighborhoods to bumping up fines for people who fail to register their dogs. So far, the intact dog and litter fees have drawn the most ire.

"I'm not convinced that spay and neutering a dog will change its personality to the degree that it's being proposed," said Mary Manning-Stolz, a former member of the advisory committee who has since spoken in opposition to the proposal, though she now lives in Pasco County. "I think that's simply a Band-Aid to look like you're doing something."

Manning, who breeds long-haired dachshunds and is president of the Tampa Bay Kennel Club, said it's already expensive to show dogs, which cannot be fixed in some competitions. She said the county should more stringently address problem dogs and their owners.

Dawn Williams, of South Tampa, who recently sold a chihuahua-dachshund designer mixed breed known as a chiwheenie by placing a newspaper classified ad, noted that a veterinary visit for shots, registration and neutering can get expensive.

"They should pay us to get them fixed," she said.

Armstrong, with Animal Services, said none of the proposals are firm. He is taking them to commissioners for guidance Wednesday.