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Pet Project

It's high time Council ponied up for spay-neutering

This past winter was a hard one, and it ruined her paws. She was a half-grown puppy when they chained her to the tree and left her there with no shelter, occasionally remembering to feed her. She stayed there all winter, freezing in the rain, snow and sleet. The frostbite finished off her feet, and by the time the man asked me if I could help her, the dog who had barely known the feeling of a good, hard run would never walk again.

She was beautiful. It was her face I saw first, peering at me over the side of the rusty bed of a pickup truck. I don't think she'd heard many kind voices before, and when I spoke to her she moved toward me, crawling as best she could on what was left of her paws.

She stared me straight in the eye. She couldn't have said "Please help me" any clearer if she'd been able to speak, and the horror of it was that she didn't know it was all over for her.

She was beyond repair and there was nothing I could do for her. A few days later at Animal Control, what was left of her was finally set free from the chain, the cold and the misery of her brief life. On the other hand, I -- like others who've done rescue work -- will never be free of her. For some reason, the faces of the ones you manage to save fade quickly, while the ones you lose are seared in your memory, clear as day.

She was but one of the 15,000 dogs and cats Animal Control put down that year. Thousands more died in area shelters. Like her, many suffered because over-breeding has made animals as common as candy -- and as disposable.

This column was largely written before the Charlotte Observer began its admirable series on animal control issues. The paper's effort and initiative are laudable, but one small but important omission in their stories needs attention. The Observer wrote about the Community Animal Management Program (CAMP) and how the main part of the proposal -- aggressively targeting spay and neuter programs at low income areas -- has yet to be put into place. What people need to know is that the main reason the program is languishing is because of City Council budget games.

When CAMP was proposed, the only part of the 30-page proposal that seemed to register with City Council and city bureaucrats was the plan to hike animal license fees by $5 for unaltered animals and $2.50 for fixed animals. Framers of the proposal assumed that Council would see that money from those hiked license fees -- more than $70,000 a year -- should be used to promote spaying and neutering in low income areas where 80 percent of the animals entering local shelters come from. That was their mistake. Instead, Council hiked the fees and authorized a microchipping program, which will pay for itself and even eventually produce income for the city. However, the money from the increased fees will not go to address the very crisis CAMP was proposed to fix, but rather to the city's general fund, along with the revenue from animal-related fines and the more than $200,000 a year the license fees already generate.

Since then, certain city leaders -- I won't name names here -- have gotten in the habit of telling folks that they're implementing the CAMP program, when what they're really doing is slapping the faces of those who cared enough about the carcasses stacking up at Animal Control to propose a way the city could stop the slaughter and save money at the same time.

These same city leaders are also telling people they implemented a no-tax-increase budget when what they really did, among other things, was use the increase in license fees to help balance the budget on the backs of helpless animals.

While Animal Control has done a handful of targeted spay neuter clinics and recently won a $25,000 one-time grant to do more, this hardly addresses the problem.

Worse yet, the budget game the city is playing with the CAMP program is only serving to alienate animal rescue groups who have the volunteer resources to tackle this problem.

But Ron Simons, a former Animal Control employee who was the driving force behind CAMP, isn't giving up. Last week, he appeared once again before a skeptical Council to plead for the money generated by the licenses on behalf of the Mecklenburg County Humane Society, which runs the city's only targeted spay-neuter clinics in low-income areas and is modeled after similar programs that have had marked results across the country.

Since Simons and others began easing CAMP through the city's bureaucratic maze, over 30,000 animals have been put to death at Animal Control alone. There's no time to wait for another budget cycle. Almost every day at 7am, they fire up the incinerator and turn another 60 euthanized animals to ash. Call your City Council member and tell them it's got to stop.

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