A new animal shelter law that takes effect Wednesday, Sept. 30, has local shelters worried that owners won’t be able to afford to bail their pets out of jail.
The new bill signed by Gov. Jan Brewer on July 10 sets new stipulations for shelters when it comes to returning pets to owners.
“I’m just scared of what is going to happen to them,” Cyndi Sessoms, CEO of the Verde Valley Humane Society, said. With the economy in the state it is, Sessoms worries people will be discouraged from picking up their animals if they’re brought to the shelter.
The new law requires shelters to charge a $50 fee on top of an impound fee, or the cost of spaying or neutering the animal and implanting it with a microchip unless the animal is already vaccinated for rabies, sterilized and registered. The new law applies to both dogs and cats.
In Sedona, Humane Society of Sedona Executive Director Brigitte Skielvig said most people could afford the impound fees prior to the new law which included a stipulation to spay or neuter the animal as soon as possible with a follow-up scheduled with an animal control office to ensure the pet owner complies.
Now, Skielvig fears the law could have an impact on the number of pets retrieved by owners because sterilization and vaccination services aren’t as readily available in rural Arizona. Before the law took effect, she said the majority of Sedona pet owners showed up for their pet.
“We do half a dozen RTOs [return to owner] in a week,” Skielvig said.
Rodrigo Silva, director of Maricopa County Animal Care and Control, was active in pushing the bill through the Legislature, according to April Hollis, the agency’s public information officer.
According to Hollis, Maricopa County sees 57,000 dogs and cats at its two shelters each year.
“There are way too many homeless animals on the street,” Hollis said, and her agency wants to lower its pet population. The county’s shelter is the second largest municipal shelter in the country.
Hollis said, however, she couldn’t speak for Silva on what inspired him to push for this legislation. Silva did not return a phone call.
Both Sessoms and Skielvig agree that if pet owners comply with the law, which says dogs must be registered anywhere in the county, and if owners sterilize their pets, they won’t have to worry about ramifications of the law.
Sedona cat owners may have a problem, according to Skielvig. The city of Sedona doesn’t require cats to be licensed and there is no mechanism within the city to do so. However, the law says the owner has to be charged $50 or the cat has to be chipped if it ends up in the shelter before its owner can take it home.
Skielvig said the shelter will be forced to chip or charge because it has to comply with the law.
The Sedona shelter contacted Yavapai County to ask if it can become a licensing center for animals that live outside municipalities to help streamline the system, Skielvig said. The shelter wants to offer licensing at the time of adoption to avoid penalties in the future and make it convenient for pet owners.
Sessoms said Verde Valley Humane Society can license pets living in Clarkdale, Cottonwood or any of the unincorporated towns.
The law also requires shelters to hold animals for five days before they are put up for adoption.
Sessoms said her shelter already has a five-day policy.
Skielvig said the Sedona shelter previously complied with the city’s law which said animals had to be held for four days. Now, they will be held for five.