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York County pet license proposal sparks debate

Animal rights activists want York County to charge pet owners annual licensing fees designed to encourage them to spay and neuter their pets, an idea eliciting mixed reviews.

Under the activists' recommendations, pet owners would pay a $75 fee for fertile animals and $7 for sterile ones with a discount for seniors.

The fees sounded high for Khalid Scollense of McConnells, who was shopping at the Animal Supply House on Anderson Road in Rock Hill on Friday.

Scollense breeds American Pit Bull Terriers for pets and has five dogs of his own, all unaltered.

But he understands what's motivating the proposal. About half of pit bull breeders are doing it for the "wrong purposes," and the $75 fee could discourage the breeding of unwanted pets, he said.

Shopper Brian Kelly of Rock Hill said if he has to pay, he'd like to see that money go toward something like a dog park, or "some reward" for responsible pet owners.

When he lived in Dallas, Texas, licensing "was more of a hassle" than anything else.

He paid about $15 to license his dog Odin, a Labrador-husky mix who has been neutered.

Supporters say the licensing fees will help hold accountable pet owners who contribute to pet overpopulation in York County, then use the county's animal shelter as a "dumping ground" for unwanted pets.

Opponents of the proposal question whether licensing would be enforceable and whether it would curb the number of unwanted animals streaming into the shelter.

The York County Council isn't considering any formal plan at this point, but members of the public works committee met with advocates and opponents of the plan.

Animal Control Supervisor Steve Stuber has been researching how other counties handle licensing.

From the beginning of the year to the end of July, 3,097 animals were euthanized at York County's animal shelter.

In the same period of time last year, 3,475 were euthanized for a year end total of 5,977.

That figure is what's driving the effort, animal rights activists say.

"There really isn't a reason or an excuse to have an unsterilized dog or cat," said Martha Holcombe with the Animal Adoption League.

The proposed fee of $75 is about what it costs a pet owner to spay or neuter a pet, Holcombe said.

Local rescue groups offer programs that cost less and perhaps even be free for some who qualify, she said.

But Joseph Neal, who breeds bit bulls, which he sells, shows in competitions and uses in hunting, said the proposal unfairly targets some pet owners.

Licensing fees won't solve the real problem: pet owners who don't already follow the laws in place to protect pets, he said.

"They need to really step up and enforce those ordinances," he said.

"They could even go as far as increasing the penalties."

Tethering targeted again

Supporters are also asking the County Council to consider banning tethering, which they argue is inhumane and fosters aggressive behavior.

Alicia Schwartz with the Committee for Responsible Pet Ownership gave a presentation before the County Council in July which showed pictures of backyard breeding operations all over York County. In many of the pictures, animals were tethered by rope or chain and didn't always have food, water, or adequate shelter.

Schwartz argued that a tethering ban would serve people living near yards with tethered animals, where barking and the threat of the dogs breaking free are common nuisances, she said.

Neal also opposes a ban on tethering dogs.

There is a way to tether responsibly, he said. He keeps several dogs tethered on his property inside a large fenced-in area. When he gets home from work, he brings them in and spends time with them. Many sleep outside tethered or in pens.

"I agree if someone leaves their dog out on a tether, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the dog's not getting socialization, and any dog that's not getting socialization could be a problem."

The county passed a law in 2009 requiring that tethered dogs have food, water and shelter, as well as chains that aren't too heavy or too short.

Now, activists are hoping to take the law one step further.

It's unclear whether the county will move forward with the proposal.

Councilman Bump Roddey wonders whether licensing fees will actually reduce the number of unwanted pets entering the shelter.

"The issue seems to be more about enforcing the rules and regulations that we already have," he said.

Councilman David Bowman said he's still taking in information.

Animal cruelty and dog fighting are underlying concerns driving the proposals, "whether we want to talk about it or not. There are laws already against that," he said.

Curwood Chappell, the third member of the committee looking at the proposal, gave "no comment" when asked his position on the issue.