By Mannix Porterfield
A new tack in a long-running effort to reduce the number of stray dogs and feral cats roaming across West Virginia exited the Senate Agriculture and Rural Development Committee without opposition Monday.
Thousands of unwanted animals are on the prowl, and last year’s attempt to hike the existing fee on pet foods to create a spay-neuter fund never reached the governor’s desk.
This time around, lawmakers are looking at legislation that would devise a special fund fed entirely by donations.
“There is no dedicated source of funds,” counsel Noelle Starek explained to the panel. “The purpose is to have more dogs and cats sterilized, thereby reducing shelter populations and costs, euthanasia rates and threats to public health and safety.”
One advocate for a spay-neuter fund has estimated that 65,000 dogs and cats are put down annually in West Virginia.
An older bill would have raised the fee that pet food manufacturers pay to finance a spay-neuter fund. In a recent year, the industry chalked up some $116 million in pet food profits in West Virginia.
Starek said the newer bill targets the Department of Agriculture as the administrator of the proposed fund, limiting it to 10 percent of the account for such purposes.
“The idea is that the grant program will begin with donations,” she said. “There are national organizations that provide grants to programs like this. This allows the groups that are interested in the program to help the state solicit funds on behalf of the state for spay-neuter.”
Deputy Agriculture Commissioner Robert Tabb said his agency would have been compelled to create another computer program to deal with the program, had there been an increase in pet food fees to finance it.
“It’s really very simple,” he said. “I certainly don’t see where this is going to be an economic burden on the department, staff-wise, if the bill passes the way it’s presented.”
Since a grant program would be set up, Tabb said it could be handled once annually by a staff person in the department.
“We’re decreasing the amount of work that the department will have to do internally,” he said. “Before, we were going to have to do a whole new computer program to be able to tag the pet food fees and additional funds, and segregate them into different accounts. It was much more complicated.”
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