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To spay or to shelter?

Faulkner Co. animal advocates want funds for sterilization.

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While most counties in Arkansas would likely have to go hunting for funds to spend on animal welfare programs, Faulkner County animal advocates say their county has a different problem: It's flush with cash set aside strictly for unwanted pets, but no political will to spend it.

Faulkner County has a voluntary program that allows landowners to earmark a percentage of their property tax for animal welfare. Enacted in 2004, the tax program has already taken in over $530,000, money the Quorum Court wants to spend on building an animal shelter. Some animal advocates in Faulkner County, however, say a portion of the money would be better spent spaying and neutering animals to cut down on the number of strays.

Faulkner County Judge Preston Scroggins said the shelter would cost "anywhere from $800,000 to a million dollars." The voluntary tax program brings in between $70,000 and $80,000 a year, he said. The hope is that the tax will provide the shelter's yearly operating budget. "There's none of this going to be cheap," he said.

If the Quorum Court goes ahead with its plan, Scroggins said, Faulkner will be the only county in the state to own and operate a shelter.

Scroggins said there have been several groups that have come before the Quorum Court and pitched proposals for spay and neuter programs, "but the court just didn't seem to bite on it."

Judi Standridge, a volunteer with the Humane Society of Faulkner County and the HSFC's Companions Spay/Neuter Clinic, said the clinic has performed over 10,000 free sterilizations in four years, paid for by grants. She and others proposed a spay/neuter voucher system, paid for out of the animal welfare fund, to the Quorum Court last summer.

Standridge said the Quorum Court members aren't schooled on animal welfare issues and what it takes to counter the problem of strays. She adds that the proposal to build a shelter is simply a way to get animal welfare advocates "off their back." 

Standridge said many animal advocates in Faulkner County believe that even if a shelter is built, it will fill up quickly. "Then it'll be a mass killing," she said. "That's why our organization decided to use all of our money and effort in the operation of a spay/neuter clinic because we really feel like statistics tell us you can't adopt your way out — or even euthanize your way out — of the overpopulation problem. You really have to start with spaying and neutering."  She contends a three-pronged approach — using the fund to pay for spaying/neutering, a shelter, and adoptions — is a better idea.

Justice of the Peace Barbara Mathes, who represents District 4 on the Quorum Court, said the proposals for using the fund to spay and neuter have been vague. "I didn't think it was laid out well enough of how we're going to do it, where the procedures are going to be done, and that sort of thing," she said.

"What are we going to do?" Mathes said. "Are we going to pick the stray dog up and spay or neuter it and then turn it back loose? What are we going to do with it? ... Who is going to pick up that animal? Where are we going to take it to? There's a lot of unanswered questions."

Judge Scroggins said that going to the fund for a spay/neuter program would mean an even longer amount of time before a shelter could be built, and could even deplete the fund. "If they did dip into the fund right now," he said, "say you spent $50,000 to $60,000 a year on spay and neuter, it'd be gone pretty quick."

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