Story by Adam Friedman. Originally published May 9, 2019, updated with photos May 17:
Every step of the way the City of Jackson has run into controversy with trying to take better care of the city's pets and solve the pet overpopulation problem. "I've been working on [the animal care issue] since 2009," Director of Community Development at West Tennessee Healthcare Dr. Vicki Lake said. "I was part of a neighborhoods task force where part of it was dealing with how to solve Jackson's animal care problem."
The task force Lake was a part of was asked to help solve the funding problem at the Jackson-Madison County Humane Society. The city took over the shelter in 2017 after complaints from residents about the treatment of the animals.
The city then renamed it the City of Jackson Animal Care Center and planned to build a new facility in the future. The city originally set aside $240,000 for the new animal care center. The West Tennessee Healthcare Foundation would also contribute $150,000 per year toward the new center.
Lake along with West Tennessee Healthcare Foundation President McMeen were then tasked with recommending a proposal for the new animal care center. By the time the recommended proposal came up for a vote at city council the cost of the project was $1.3 million, far exceeding the amount the city set aside.
The city council passed the funding for the new animal care center in October of 2018 and accepted a construction bid for it in April.
As part of the animal care center plan Lake also proposed that the city adopt a spay-neuter ordinance.
Why spay-neuter groups are against the ordinance
The ordinance the city passed on at its May city council meeting requires all pet owners with pets over six-months-old to have it spayed or neutered. If it's discovered that that the pet isn't fixed the city would fine the pet owner $50 per animal.
Both West Tennessee Spay Neuter Coalition and Spay Tennessee oppose the animal care ordinance because they feel it doesn't solve the underlying problem that Jackson doesn't have low-cost spay-neuter available.
"Spay-neuter ordinances don't work," Program Manager for Spay Tennessee Julie Jacobson said. "The results are unintended consequences. The goal is to reduce shelter intake. But people then think they can't afford to spay or neuter their pet so they surrender the pet causing shelter populations rise."
The city wants to adopt the ordinance as an encouragement for people to get their pets fixed while hoping it solves the pet overpopulation problem which caused the animal care center financial issues in the first place.
The groups in opposition to the ordinance are also opposed to the animal care center project as a whole.
"A lot times people think when you build a new facility it will solve the problem," Jacobson said. "But intake at these facilities often skyrocket. A lot of people see a new facility and will just drop off all the stray pets they find off."
"A new facility can be part of the solution but you need more low-cost spay-neuter."
In the past American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has cautioned against mandatory spay-neuter laws.
The statement said the main barriers to spaying and neutering pets is accessibility of services, which is not addressed simply by making spaying and neutering mandatory. Cost is one of the primary barriers in many communities.
"We need to be incentivizing people to spay-neuter but not through a mandatory ordinance," West Tennessee Spay Neuter Coalition Founder Karen Byers said. "We need to target people with lots of stray pets and use volunteers to help them spay-neuter them for a low price."
Those in favor of the ordinance
While the ordinance might be opposed to by local spay-neuter groups in both Mayor Jerry Gist and the city council seemed to be in favor it.
During a discussion about the ordinance at May's city council agenda review meeting Councilman Johnny Lee Dodd said that to him it seemed like the city could adopt the ordinance, build the animal care center and still try to fund low-cost spay-neuter.
The city plans to offer affordable spaying and neutering services at the animal care center, according to Gist.
The city council approved the spay-neuter ordinance 7-2 on its first reading at May's city council meeting. The votes in opposition were Ernest Brooks II (District 3) and Charles Rahm (District 8).
The ordinance will come up again at June's city council meeting on June 4 for a second reading before it is adopted as a ordinance.