RALEIGH, N.C. — More than 200,000 unwanted dogs and cats are put to sleep in North Carolina each year.
Some state lawmakers consider that a huge problem, and they believe a new bill can help alleviate it. The bill provides $8 million for low-cost spaying and neutering programs and to upgrade local shelters.
The bill raises money through a tax on pet food -- 10 cents on a 20-pound bag, or 2 cents on a can. The tax would be the only one of its kind in the nation.
Lawmakers believe the tax will help control the population of unwanted pets burdening animal shelters. They said it also will help in reducing the number of animals that must be euthanized.
"It isn't a tax," said Rep. Julia Howard, who chairs the committee considering the bill. "It's an assessment."
Opponents of the proposed legislation say it targets the wrong people.
"They use the word assessment, levy and tariff -- anything to not call a tax a tax," said Stephen Payne, a lobbyist for the Pet Food Institute. And it's exactly a tax. A tax on pet ownership."
Payne said consumers ultimately will pay for the increase.
Another part of the bill getting opposition is a requirement that cities and counties enact higher license fees for pets that are not spayed or neutered.
A crowd gathered at the Legislature Tuesday morning to protest the proposed tax and fees, which make up what is called the Companion Animal Act.
Breeders, hunters and people who show dogs and cats said higher license fees are not fair.
"It's the dogs that are free-roaming and intact that aren't taken care of that are really contributing to the pet population problem," hunter Paul Weidman said, "and the differential licensing doesn't address that."
Said hunter David Gardin" "They're going to put a fee on us to keep a dog we use for breeding purposes, and take that money for an irresponsible person."
Tara Bryan, who favors the legislation, said: "I do think that responsible breeder is an oxymoron.
"If you look at all the dogs and cats in shelters, purebreds as well as mixed breed, you really can't say that any sort of breeding of domestic animals is responsible," Bryan said.
Committee members decided not to include a provision that would require breeder permits for anyone who does not sterilize their pet. The committee will vote on the bill later this month.