Mandate on pets passed by NLV


Canine Casanovas and frisky felines beware: North Las Vegas is plotting to curb your wanton carousing.

The city on Wednesday mandated the spaying or neutering of nearly all dogs and cats, a step officials there say will help alleviate pet overcrowding and promote responsible pet ownership.

North Las Vegas is the first of the local governments to enact such a law.

"We're hoping others in the valley will follow suit," said Al Noyola, North Las Vegas's Assistant Director of Police Services.

Clark County is considering an ordinance that would require the sterilization of dogs or cats who have been repeatedly picked up by animal control officials, a county spokesperson said.

The ordinance adopted by the North Las Vegas City Council requires dogs and cats to be sterilized before they reach four months of age. Exceptions will be made for animals owned by people who have special fancier, or breeding permits, and for animals that are deemed by a veterinarian to be medically unfit for sterilization.

Local veterinarians, activists for animals and others concerned with animal welfare applauded the step.

"The most heroic surgery we do is spaying and neutering," said Clarissa Engstrom, a local veterinarian who spoke in favor of the ordinance at Wednesday's meeting. "Animals who aren't spayed or neutered end up having problems."

Cats and dogs that have not been sterilized are more likely to suffer various illnesses, and they are also more likely to get hit by cars and suffer other injuries when "they're out looking for a boyfriend or girlfriend," she said.

North Las Vegas animal control officers will begin enforcing the new ordinance in 120 days.

Violators can be given a misdemeanor citation, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail.

But Noyola believes it will rarely come to that because the ordinance won't be enforced as a "primary citation." Instead, the city's eight animal control officers will ask about sterilization only if they're talking to pet owners about other problems.

"If we are called to a citizen's residence for a barking dog or something along those lines, we'll inquire as to whether the pet is spayed or neutered," Noyola said.

If the owner says no, the city will give the person 30 days to secure a fancier's permit or have the animal sterilized.

Enforcement of the ordinance will largely depend on the honor system.

"If the answer is yes (the pet has been sterilized), then great," Noyola said. "Once we start educating the public about the new ordinance and enforcement, I think we're going to have pretty substantial compliance."

Engstrom said she doesn't understand why some pet owners neglect to have their animals sterilized. The expense of the procedure, which can cost up to several hundred dollars, isn't an excuse, she said.

"If you can't afford to spay or neuter, you can't afford the animal."

Chris Robinson, director of the Lied Animal Shelter, hopes the law will decrease the need for animal euthanizations.

"It's a move in the right direction to deal with the problem of pet overpopulation," she said. "Spaying and neutering is clearly the key to bringing our intake numbers down."

Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Clark County all contract with Lied, the valley's largest pound.

Overcrowding at the shelter last February contributed to illnesses that led to the destruction of 1,000 animals.

Robinson said preliminary accounts show that the shelter took in about 49,200 animals in 2007. Of those, about 26,500 animals ended up being euthanized, most for medical or "mercy" reasons, such as being seriously injured by a car or in a dog or cat fight.

About 1,500 animals were euthanized last year because of space concerns at the shelter, Robinson said.

In 2006, the shelter took in about 52,000 animals and euthanized about 24,000.

Gina Greisen, director of Nevada Voters for Animals, said North Las Vegas "has set the standard for spay and neuter across the valley."

"You can't build enough shelters for the animals who are out there," she said. "Only through spay and neuter programs are we going to be able to get the pet population under control in this valley."

Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at lcurtis@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0285.