Las Vegas ordinance requires owners to spay or neuter dogs and cats

Most Las Vegas pet owners will be required to spay or neuter their cats and dogs by 4 months of age under an ordinance adopted Wednesday to help manage the pet overpopulation problem.

The ordinance garnered the support of local veterinarians and animal rescue groups. They emphasized that not sterilizing animals is irresponsible pet ownership and can lead to rampant reproduction, especially among cats that end up on the streets.

At the Lied Animal Shelter, the number of impounded dogs has increased 10 percent a year for the past three years, and cat intakes have been up 5 percent annually. The shelter now takes in about 50,000 animals a year and ends up euthanizing half of them because owners or new homes can’t be found.

"We can’t adopt our way out of the problem," said Amy Mitchell, a veterinarian at the shelter. "We have to nip the problem in the bud."

The measure had its opponents. Criticism included the idea that 4 months is too young to spay or neuter a pet, and that no studies have shown that a mandatory spay-neuter program is effective in reducing unwanted pet populations.

"I acknowledge that," said Karen Coyne, head of the city’s detention and enforcement department, which includes animal control. "But I don’t need a study to tell me … doing nothing qualifies as the definition of insanity."

The ordinance states that dogs and cats in the city of Las Vegas must be spayed or neutered by 4 months of age.

There are exceptions for people with a breeder’s, animal handler’s or fancier’s permit, and for pets that qualify for a temporary or permanent medical exemption.

The ordinance is scheduled to take effect April 1. It will be reviewed annually.

Council members approved it 5-2 after a lengthy hearing. Lois Tarkanian and Ricki Barlow voted no.

Tarkanian said that after talking to veterinarians, she thought 4 months was too young and that she wouldn’t vote for anything that required sterilization under age 6 months.

Barlow asked a series of questions about owners who wanted to keep a dog whole in order to breed it down the line, and what was required to obtain a breeder’s permit for that purpose. He said the city was walking "a fine line" in requiring people to fix their pets.

Mayor Oscar Goodman asked some of those same questions but voted for the law.

"This is an easy one for me," he said, citing the high number of animals impounded and ultimately euthanized at the shelter. "We’re not going to accept this kind of behavior."

The ordinance was pushed as a way to address Southern Nevada’s pet overpopulation problem. At Lied, which provides shelter services to Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and unincorporated areas of Clark County, 86 percent of the animals taken in are not sterilized, said Director Christine Robinson.

If owners must sterilize pets at the beginning of their lives, the pets won’t reproduce, which is especially important if the animal ends up homeless as a runaway or abandoned pet.

"The way we solve this problem is to reduce these numbers on the front end," Robinson said.

North Las Vegas passed a similar ordinance in January 2008, and Clark County is working on one.

Violating the Las Vegas ordinance would be a misdemeanor.

Coyne said letters will go out to new pet owners informing them of licensing, vaccination and sterilizing requirements, and animal control officers will check compliance when answering calls as part of their regular duties.

Contact reporter Alan Choate at or 702-229-6435.

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