Are unaltered dogs being discriminated against?

08/31/2014 8:13 PM

08/31/2014 8:21 PM

A Beaufort resident was surprised to learn of hefty fines to retrieve her two dogs from the Beaufort County animal shelter because of a 4-year-old rule.

Georgia Vido said a trespasser on her property allowed her two Labrador retrievers to escape their fenced yard Aug. 4.

The purebred male chocolate and yellow Labs haven't been neutered because she sometimes breeds them with other purebreds. However, they have collars with ID tags.

When her husband learned the dogs had been caught by Beaufort County Animal Control later that day, he went to the shelter, where he was charged $550 to get both dogs back unaltered.

The shelter offered to return the dogs for $10 each if the owners would get them neutered through a program Animal Control has in partnership with the Hilton Head Humane Association.

"I feel that we have been discriminated against for not wanting to have our dogs implanted with a chip or having them neutered," Vido said. "It's just a shame that some unknown person can trespass onto our posted private property, open a secure gate, let our animals out to run free without our permission, and we the homeowners are charged so much money to regain our family pets."

In 2010, Beaufort County Council approved an ordinance requiring a fee of $200 per animal to return dogs that aren't spayed or neutered. The county also charges $50 for each dog it picks up and another $25 per dog if it doesn't have microchip identification.

Vido paid the fines because she wants to continue to breed the dogs that she says are certified by the American Kennel Association. She hadn't gotten her dogs microchipped because they wear collars and never leave her yard, she said.

Animal Control director Tallulah Trice said the fines and spay and neuter program are part of the county's effort to control the animal population.

"We get over 6,000 animals a year to the shelter because of overpopulation," Trice said. "Having animals spayed or neutered is helping to fix that problem.

"I understand that there are reputable breeders out there, but those are rarely the dogs we have picked up."

County Councilman Rick Caporale, who has advocated improvements in animal control, said registered breeders should be able to escape the spay-and-neuter fine on a first offense.

"That's a pretty stiff fine," Caporale said. "I think breeders should be exempt in some fashion."

Caporale said he did not know enough about Vido's case to determine whether an ordinance change is warranted.

The ordinance was created to reduce the rate of animals being euthanized by curbing reproduction. So far, it has worked, with euthanasia rates down more than 50 percent, Caporale said.

Caporale said that when considering the animal-control ordinance, his main concern is not the fees, but lowering euthanasia rates.

Of the 161 dogs that have been reclaimed from the animal shelter so far this year, owners of 14 dogs chose to pay the additional fee to reclaim their dogs unaltered, while the owners of the other 147 chose to have their dogs neutered or spayed.

County administrator Gary Kubic said ordinance changes should always be considered if merited, but it is difficult to comment on Vido's case, which hasn't been brought before County Council.

"There's good reason why ordinances are passed, but sometimes you find that there are unintended consequences," Kubic said. "That has to be part of a conversation between members of council and affected parties. And what is good about a single event is a single event can trigger a conversation."

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