COVINGTON -- About 20 residents attended the Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday night in a show of opposition for a proposal to require licensing of dogs and cats.
The proposal under consideration by commissioners would require owners of all dogs and cats that are 6 months or older to apply for a licensing tag and supply proof that the animal has been vaccinated against rabies. Many dogs being picked up by Animal Control have not had a rabies shot, Chairman Kathy Morgan previously said.
Licensing would create a central record of all vaccinated dogs and cats in Newton County and would help facilitate the return of lost dogs and cats, she said. The fee for spayed or neutered animals would be $10, and $25 for animals that aren't.
Several residents spoke out during the citizen comments portion of Tuesday's meeting, saying the proposed fee is tantamount to a tax.
Laurie White of Covington said she works in a hair salon, and her customers tell her, "This is another way to get more money out of us without putting the word 'tax' on it." White said it's not right to discriminate between pets that have been spayed or neutered and those that have not. If the county must impose a fee, White said she'd like to see revenues go directly to the animal shelter.
Donald Watson of Oxford, president of the Conyers Kennel Club serving Newton, Rockdale and part of Henry County, said his organization will help the county on the issue in any way it can, but said members are opposed to a licensing fee.
"It will hurt us because our dogs have to be in packs to be shown," he said. "This is an unfair tax on us."
Helen Howard said she's not denying there is a rabies problem in the county, but she doubts requiring licensing of animals will solve it. Instead, the county should find partners like the Kennel Club to host free rabies clinics, she said.
"This is going to affect those that are responsible. Those not taking care of their pets won't take them to the vet for their shots and they certainly won't pay a tag fee," Howard said.
Morgan said earlier in the meeting that at the request of the board, she has visited the municipalities to explain the proposal, with the exception of Mansfield. The major concern from everyone, whether government officials or everyday residents, is that "during these economic times, it would be a burden on everybody in the county and adding an additional fee on licensing could be the difference in whether people get to keep their pet."
She recommended that the board discuss the issue further at their retreat in early 2011 and that public hearings be held prior to any vote.