The argument over Lawton's pet ordinance gets ugly

Lawton_An advertisement taken out in the Lawton Constitution accuses the city of taking too much tax payer money and killing pets. It claims people in Lawton are forced to pay those high pet ownership fees and are required to get their pets spayed and neutered and, if they don't, they'll get fined or worse, face jail time. The advertisement is signed by "The Citizens of Lawton." But Lawton Constitution General Manager Mike Owensby says he cannot release the name of the person or people who bought the ad.

There are two sides to every argument -- but the fight over Lawton's pet ordinance has started to get ugly.

Take the side of local pet store owners: "To me animal rights is animal rights, they have the right to live just like everything else," said Fins & Critters Pet Store Owner Linda McCutcheon.

And that's why she agrees with the writer of this ad. The ad points out that the euthanasia rate at the Lawton Animal Shelter has doubled since the ordinance went into effect. "Yes, that is what I understand," she said, "that they are euthanizing six days a week and twice as many animals as they were before the ordinance went into effect."

The ad claims people are so scared of the ordinance -- they are dumping their pets past city limits in order to avoid the high fees and threat of jail time. "I don't feel like this is going to solve the problem," she said. "It's just pushing it somewhere else."

But now to city council's side: "I think each and every one of us wants citizens to be able to enjoy their animal, but we just want everybody to do it responsibly," said City Council Member Randy Warren (Ward 8).

Warren says the statistics Rose Wilson with Animal Control gave him actually show the animal shelter's euthanasia rates are down. She reports the number of pets euthanized in fiscal year 2007 was 4,119. That's down from 4,193 in 2006. But the ordinance is so new -- Warren agrees next year's rates may be higher. "I think if there was an increase it would just be a shot in the arm so to speak," he said.

And Warren says he doesn't understand why people would want to dump their pets instead of having them spayed or neutered to obey the new city ordinance. "I find it very difficult to understand why an individual that didn't want an animal that lived in Lawton, Oklahoma would load that animal up and take it to Elgin, and let it go," he said.

The ad also claims the city is collecting money from the pet ordinance as well as asking for a sales tax extension -- which the writers of the ad claim is a high collection price for tax payers. The ad calls for people to vote "no" on the sales tax extension. But in a phone interview this afternoon, Mayor John Purcell says the two are not related. Purcell says money collected from the pet ordinance cannot be used to repair residential streets, water and sewer lines like the sales tax extension can.

The city council will finalize the fees associated with the pet ordinance at their next  meeting -- which is in three weeks on August 14.