Dependable Erection

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

An open letter

To our County Commissioners.

Dear Durham Board of County Commissioners:

I know you've all got a lot on your plates this week, what with the Jordan Lake fiasco and probably having to justify not overturning an illegal vote and all that. Or maybe you feel you don't need to even talk about it with your constituents. That's OK. I don't want to talk to you about Jordan Lake anyway.

No, I want to talk to you about what i think is a pretty big hole in Durham County's animal ordinances. You see, if i go to the County animal shelter to adopt a dog, i have to be vetted personally, my home has to be approved as a place that's safe for a dog, and i have to agree to pay for spaying or neutering the dog. Those are all good things.

We don't want the county in the business of giving animals to people who are going to abuse them, or conduct experiments on them, or allow them to run all over town making litters of unwanted puppies that we're not going to be able to deal with in the future.

So why is it that, if i already own a dog that's running around loose in town, i can go to the county animal shelter and pick him up without having to be approved as a dog owner? Why am i allowed to recover that dog without demonstrating that i have a safe, secure location to keep the dog in? Why don't i have to get that dog spayed or neutered? I mean, the owner of an intact dog that's been picked up by the Animal Control department has already demonstrated that they're not concerned with the potential of unwanted litters. Wouldn't it make sense, both morally and financially, to require owners of dogs that have been picked up loose in town to have them spayed or neutered as a condition of their release?

Or do you believe that putting down 400 animals per month at our dog shelter is a good use of resources? Maybe it's that none of you live in places where animals are mistreated or allowed to wander streets on their own. Or maybe it's simply that you've got other things on your minds. I understand that. The Jordan Lake debacle has showcased so many flaws in our development process that trying to fix them must be nearly a 24/7 endeavor.

But if you get a few minutes, perhaps you could consider making this minor change in our animal ordinances. Thousands of puppies, as well as the technicians whose job it is to kill them, will thank you.

As will I.

: City of Los Angeles spay/neuter law:
All dogs and cats must be spayed or neutered after the age of four months. Exemptions are provided for animals used in show and performance competitions, service animals, animals whose health would be endangered by the procedure, and animals with breeding permits.

Note that this applies to all dogs and cats, not just those being retrieved from the custody of the city or county. I assume that third rate legal challenges to this ordinance have been tried and failed.

Note also that i am not advocating for this position at all. I think it's much better that people become educated enough that they realize the benefits of spay/neuter on their own. Perhaps those who make their living breeding dogs can, instead of the discount they currently receive from the county of Durham for owning multiple unspayed/intact dogs, actually pay licensing and business fees that would support the kind of outreach programs necessary to implement near universal voluntary spay/neuter.

What i am suggesting is that, given that the county requires all animals adopted out of the shelter to be spayed/neutered, it similarly requires all animals released from impoundment to their owner to be spayed/neutered.

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  • Is there anyone in Durham with enough power to do something about this (that actually cares)? If so, how can we go about contacting them.

    By Blogger Bri, at 8:44 AM  

  • I'm writing to the commissioners directly. You can too at

    When i've discussed this with both the director of Animal Control and people in the county attorney's office, they seem to think our current ordinances are sufficient.

    They said the same thing 3 years ago about tethering dogs.

    Alas, i have neither the time nor the energy to mount an "Unchain Dogs" type campaign to require spaying or neutering as a condition of release of impounded pets. Other municipalities require it. But too many of our elected officials in Durham think it's still 1959.

    By Blogger Barry, at 8:56 AM  

  • @Barry,

    See, US Const. Amend. 5.

    No person shall be ... be deprived of ... property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

    Pets are property. The County could provide appropriate due process (hearing, evidence, opportunity to be heard, impartial fact finder, etc.) to owners to determine whether surrender on grounds of abuse or neglect is appropriate. Alternatively, the County could pay fair value for these pets after establishing the public purpose of the County's acquisition and the value of the pet in a court of law.

    Damn, you, Bill of Rights!

    By Blogger Tar Heelz, at 10:21 AM  

  • Wonder how Wake County has managed to avoid this?

    I'm not a lawyer, but i believe that if you examine Supreme Court rulings going back to the 1920's, you'll find that the Court has consistently upheld the rights of municipalities to regulate ownership of animals in any way they see fit.

    I mean, Christ on a crutch, i pay property taxes on my car, don't i? Yet, if i park it illegally, it can be impounded without a due process hearing, right?

    Man, talk about a little knowledge . . .

    By Blogger Barry, at 10:29 AM  

  • Should add that Wake County's requirement for spaying/neutering of impounded animals applies to "dangerous or potentially dangerous" animals, the designation of which is a the result of an appealable hearing process.

    When i have more time, i'll compile a list of municipalities that require spay/neuter of impounded animals as a condition of their release in general.

    By Blogger Barry, at 10:58 AM  

  • I assume you'd make a concession for people who are licensed breeders and had an animal escape for whatever reason?

    By Blogger Becca, at 12:53 PM  

  • Is there a licensing procedure for breeders? I know that if you have five or more dogs that you need to register as a kennel.

    By Blogger Steve Graff, at 1:20 PM  

  • The ASPCA supports mandatory spay/neuter of animals that are dangerous or regularly caught "at large". Seems about right to me.

    By Blogger Steve Graff, at 1:30 PM  

  • I assume you'd make a concession for people who are licensed breeders and had an animal escape for whatever reason?

    I assume by that you mean this:
    "(2) Show/breeder kennel license: Any person who owns, maintains, possesses or controls five or more animals of the same species that have not been spayed or neutered may apply for a show/breeder kennel license. The tax for a show/breeder kennel license shall be in lieu of the animal license set forth in section 4-36, above."

    Sec. 4-37 of the County code of Ordinances. From what i can tell, being licensed in this case does not mean that you need to meet any minimum standards of caring for your animals, simply that you're applying for the bulk discount. It's $75 to register a single unneutered or unspayed animal in durham county these days. If you apply for the "license," you can keep up to 10 animals for only $300.

    Why should there be an exemption for folks in that category?

    It's not as though there's a shortage of puppies or anything.

    By Blogger Barry, at 1:55 PM  

  • To respond specifically to Steve about the licensing procedure - if there is a process, i can't find it anywhere. And the way i read the ordinance, you don't have to get a kennel license if you have 5 animals or more. You may apply for one if you want to take advantage of the bulk discount that you get for having 5 or more unspayed/unneutered animals.

    It's almost as though the county wrote its ordinances to encourage the production of unwanted puppies.

    By Blogger Barry, at 1:58 PM  

  • My dog is unspayed and never off his lead outside. He has no behavioral problems, no contact with unspayed female dogs, no health problems at age thirteen. I pay triple the usual annual license fee as a result. This surplus fee must go to help a lot of less cared for dogs get spayed, as perhaps they should. Mine is, by all accounts, a well taken care of dog. Personally, barring any actual reasons for spaying the animal, I prefer him to be intact. It's an unpopular choice among dog owners anxious to control not just their own dog but other people's dogs. I understand that if my dog wandered freely or had behavioral or health problems, my decision would be a bad thing--and frankly under those conditions I would decide differently. Perhaps if I and my dog were merely statistics, universal spaying laws would make sense. If universal spaying laws applied, I would obey them, regretfully, because he's a good and healthy dog and doesn't deserve the discomfort that a surgical procedure that serves no realistic purpose in his individual life would cause him.

    By Blogger Joe, at 5:59 AM  

  • Good for you.

    As i said, i don't see universal spay/neuter laws as necessary.

    But seriously, one overnight escape on the part of your dog at any time during his life could have led to a couple of litters worth of unwanted puppies.

    From what i can tell after 16 years of living in Durham, is that you're the exception rather than the rule when it comes to dog ownership. Ask the Animal Control Department or the County Commissioners sometime for their estimate of the percentage of dogs in the county that are properly registered and vaccinated. I think you'll be surprised.

    By Blogger Barry, at 8:15 AM  

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