While the issue of animal control continues to dog Kenai Peninsula residents, Juneau taxpayers are reaping the benefits of a 4-year-old, subsidized spay and neuter program.
Each year, the City and Borough of Juneau gives an $11,000 spay and neuter grant to the Gastineau Humane Society, the private nonprofit humane organization that contracts with the city for animal control. The money helps offset the cost of the pet sterilization procedure for anyone seeking it for their dog or cat.
According to executive director Jan Gordon, in the short time the program has been in existence, its success has been noticeable.
"There's definitely a reduced rate in euthanasia," she said. "There's probably a few hundred animals less each year that have to be euthanized. And it continues to be less each year."
The decrease, she said, translates to savings to the city, since the Gastineau Humane Society has to provide fewer "traditional" animal control services.
Patricia Stringer, Nikiski resident and vice president of the Peninsula Animal League, said subsidized spaying and neutering is an idea whose time has come.
"People hear the words (animal control) and immediately think that some sort of official person wants to control what they do with their animal," she said. "Lots of people in Alaska think it's the land of the free and it's OK to let their dogs run around free. Well it's not right."
The result, she said, is hundreds of unwanted dogs and cats that end up in animal shelters around the peninsula each year.
"The cities, I think, should be giving more money to animal control shelters so they can spay and neuter the animals before they left," Stringer said.
Pat O'Brien, who argued unsuccessfully for animal control last fall as Seward's representative on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, says the issue is about more than just money.
He calls it a public safety issue and says it is only a matter of time before a child is mauled by a vicious dog.
"A lot of people are concerned about the cost involved," he said. "But we take care of children, schools, roads. This is just another thing. It's a safety issue."
O'Brien agreed that a program similar to the one instituted in Juneau would be a step toward decreasing the number of stray and neglected dogs that pose a safety threat in communities.
"If we had an inexpensive neuter-spay program, that would help," he said. "I'm all for (spaying and neutering). I strongly encourage it. There's nothing worse than taking a load of puppies down to the pound because you're too stupid to have your dog spayed."
Stupidity aside, that load of puppies also can be costly -- often to taxpayers. At the shelter in Juneau, Gordon said, for each dog taken in, it costs an average of $150 for daily care, any medication needed and the cost of placing it in a home or euthanizing it.
She said multiplied out over the hundreds of dogs that used to go through the shelter each year, the spay-neuter grant more than pays for itself.
"There's hundreds of less dogs out there, so we provide less services to the city," she said. "The city gets a lot less animals out there for us to patrol. Reproducing -- it's just a revolving door."
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