ST. LOUIS • Pet owners in the city would be required to spay, neuter and microchip their animals, and pet stores would be banned from selling dogs and cats under a new bill initially approved by a committee of aldermen Thursday.
The bill, introduced by Central West End Alderman Lyda Krewson, comes as part of a citywide effort to reform animal control laws and crack down on the owners of thousands of city strays overwhelming the region's animal shelters.
Yet, in the same meeting of the Health and Human Services Committee, aldermen narrowly rejected sending $250,000 in taxpayer donations to the city's nonprofit dog shelter, Stray Rescue — a move that threatens the already rocky relationship between the city and the nonprofit's founder, Randy Grim.
"I feel like I've been abandoned by the city," said Grim, who nearly pulled his organization from city service two months ago, after an earlier hearing on the funds. "It's not about the money. It's being dragged through the mud when we've done an amazing job this year."
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Grim said the move means the shelter may not be able to finish construction as quickly. He also said he may decide to stop responding to residents' complaints.
Stray Rescue is the city's only official dog shelter, a partnership struck after Mayor Francis Slay ordered the city's run-down pound on Gasconade Street closed to the public last summer. Animal control officers still respond to some calls, such as those involving dog bites or dangerous situations. Grim's staff and volunteers take the rest.
Several aldermen were skeptical that residents would follow a mandatory spay-neuter program.
While commercial and hobby breeders would be exempted, anyone without city or state breeder licenses would have to comply, or face fines of up to $500 per incident and even jail time.
Faced with that, a few aldermen said, some residents would give up their dogs and buy replacements.
"You know, there's people across the country saying spay and neuter doesn't work," said Greg Carter, alderman in the 27th Ward.
"We don't have enough police to catch all the speeders, either. But we still have speed limits," bill sponsor Krewson replied. "It's another tool to help us with problem owners — owners who fight dogs, or breed dogs illegally."
Besides, Krewson said, the new bill allows the city to dismiss charges if pet owners prove within 60 days that they have gotten their animals spayed or neutered and microchipped.
Low-income families could apply for city assistance, paid for out of the fees and penalties collected as a result of the new rules.
Pam Walker, the city's health director, has long called for more teeth in city laws. The city must toughen animal cruelty and ownership laws, she said, and enforce them better.
"We haven't taken someone to court since I've been director," Walker told aldermen.
Walker estimated there are about 4,000 to 5,000 stray animals in the city. The city and its partners picked up about 4,000 last year, she said.
Stray Rescue is doing a much better job picking up and adopting out stray dogs than the city did, she said. She told aldermen that she can't run a shelter with six animal control officers, or one-third the number she had five years ago.
Staffers in President Lewis Reed's office said the president may be able to negotiate a compromise. Tom Shepard, Reed's chief of staff, said his boss plans to file a new resolution when aldermen come back in session in September.
Krewson's bill will need at least two votes by the full Board of Aldermen before becoming law.