By Dan Harkins
DELTONA - The city paid $175,000 in 2011 for 1,884 dogs and cats to be transported to and kept at the Halifax Humane Society off LPGA Boulevard in Daytona Beach for three days each, said Commissioner Heidi Herzberg,
Of those, 1,316 were euthanized, 61 were transferred to another facility, 348 were adopted, 12 died and 147 were returned to a worried owner.
"So those 147 we're returning to their owners are the ones we have to worry about whether they were spayed or neutered because the other 1,500 or 1,600 - no one cared about them. Nobody bothered to claim them."
It's those needless deaths that Commissioner Herzberg says can be reduced if the city were to pass the same mandatory spay and neuter law that's been adopted by every city in the county - as well as county government itself - except DeBary, Deltona and Orange City.
A pet owner claiming their animal at the humane society has one warning before mandatory spaying or neutering occurs. The new ordinance, which is a requirement if the city is to use the county's free or reduced-cost spay/neuter services, would require owners to spay or neuter their animals the first time they're picked up.
"To pass this without offering residents some relief or some low-cost alternative is not fair either," Commissioner Herzberg said.
The ordinance would also allow exceptions, she said, for breeding dogs, show dogs and hunting dogs.
Those aren't the animals this ordinance seeks to alter anyway, said Miguel abi-Hassan, director of Halifax Humane Society,
"Seven homeless animals are born for every one human," he said during a recent phone interview. "That's a number people don't think about at all."
A mandatory spay and neuter law, he said, would mean a lower bill for his services and less animals his organization would have to kill every year.
The average number of animals brought in to the humane society from unincorporated Volusia County was about 3,000 until the county passed the mandatory spay and neuter law three years ago, he said.
Along with a new PetVet Cruiser offering financial aid to those spaying or neutering their pets, the changes led to about 1,552 animals being brought to humane society last year.
He understands why some would consider the ordinance a government obtrusion, much like how mandatory seat belt and air bag laws were greeted years ago.
"I wear my seatbelt now as a habit and I do it because there's something I'm not in control of, and it's the other drivers on the road," he said.
County Councilman Carl Persis was instrumental in pushing his colleagues to adopt the county's mandatory spay and neuter law.
He said, "You would have sworn we were violating the first amendment rights of everybody. But ... we assured everybody that we were not going to be knocking on doors and saying, 'Show us your pets.'"
It was offering the financial assistance as a carrot that helped alleviate most concerns, he said.
Still, a majority of Deltona City Commissioners wouldn't schedule a second reading for passage of the ordinance on Oct. 15 unless a workshop could be held beforehand to soften the stance of the ordinance.
Commissioner Fred Lowry called the ordinance "a little harsh" and "too aggressive."
His family might want to breed one or more of their three poodles down the road, he said, but what if she gets loose instead just once?
"If they get out and we have to go get them and they've been neutralized," he said, "I'm going to be upset."