By Mannix Porterfield
While its role may be merely that of maintaining the books, the Department of Agriculture says it is gearing up to handle the newly-authorized spay-and-neuter fund, intended to deal with over-population of domestic animals.
The idea is to accept donations to feed an account that will finance a spay/neuter fund as a means of reducing feral cats and stray dogs, considered a major problem in some parts of West Virginia.
Lawmakers enacted the legislation in the 2013 session, and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin recently approved SB202.
Senate President Jeffrey Kessler, D-Marshall, the chief sponsor, said the intent is to provide money to assist residents unable to pay to have their pets spayed or neutered.
“I have worked for several years to see this bill passed, and I am pleased that lawmakers worked together in order to get this bill to Gov. Tomblin’s desk for his signature,” Kessler said Wednesday.
“As a pet owner, I understand the joys dogs and cats bring to a family. This program will help families and their pets, as well as lessen burdens on state animal programs.”
Creation of a spay/ neuter fund has been kicked around the Capitol for a number of years and often was the subject of an interims committee meeting. Originally, the bill would have raised the tax paid by pet food manufacturers.
In one such meeting, Theresa Bruner, representing a legislative liaison group for the Federation of Humane Organizations of West Virginia, or FOHO, told lawmakers that a spay/neuter fund ultimately would prove to be a major savings for state taxpayers.
Bruner pointed out that it costs some $8.5 million annually to collect, house and euthanize more than 80,000 unwanted animals.
Thirty-four other states manage successful spay/neuter funds to help individual pet owners, she noted.
Under the new law, effective July 12, the Department of Agriculture must set up an assistance program that provides grants to non-profit spay/neuter organizations to have more dogs and cats sterilized.
As the law stipulates, the fund may take in appropriations, gifts, grants, donations or other money from any source designated for it. A year later, the department must file a detailed report on the program with the Legislature.
“We’re ready to handle those funds,” said Buddy Davidson, the agriculture department’s communications director.
“Our role is not going to be major. Essentially, it’s a bookkeeping function. We’re not responsible for pet welfare. A lot of people have had a misconception about the Department of Agriculture in that regard. Our legal responsibility is communicable diseases of animals, not welfare of pets.”
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