Honolulu’s Neuter Now program helps pet owners sterilize their cats and dogs at reduced rates and costs taxpayers $500,000 annually. Now some members of the Honolulu City Council want a portion of that money to fund the effort to sterilize Oahu’s feral cat population.
On Wednesday, the council will consider three versions of a bill that would offer vouchers for people bringing feral cats to veterinarians for sterilization.
But the Hawaiian Humane Society, which administersNeuter Now, is worried that, without additional funding, the proposal will take money away from the current subsidy for pet owners looking to sterilize their cats.
“We aren’t excited about any of the three versions that are being heard on Wednesday,” said Stephanie Kendrick, a public policy advocate for HHS. “None of the three measures under consideration Wednesday have any funding attached to them, so anything that gets diverted to a different audience (feral cats) is going to detract from the funding that exists for pet owners.”
Proponents of the bill say it will broaden the reach of the program to sterilize more cats, in turn decreasing euthanasia and animal control costs.
“The Neuter Now program should be about spay and neutering as many animals as possible,” said Alicia Maluafiti, president of Poi Dogs & Popoki, which offers spay and neuter services through a mobile clinic, where veterinarians also sterilize feral cats.
The Neuter Now offers allows pet owners to buy a certificate for $50 to spay a female cat or $40 to neuter a male cat. Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi introduced the bill, which would allow people to buy a $10 voucher to sterilize a feral cat.
Councilman Trevor Ozawa co-signed the bill.
The Neuter Now program offers a $20 voucher to people on food stamps who present their EBT card. Kobayashi’s proposal allows people on Medicaid or who receive low-income housing vouchers access to the same lower rate.
Maluafiti supports this version of the bill.
Council Chair Ron Menor proposed another version. It would create a pilot program beginning in October and ending in March 2018 that offers a $20 voucher to sterilize a feral cat.
Unlike the other versions of the bill, Menor’s proposal does not offer people with a low-income housing voucher a certificate at a reduced rate.
Despite general opposition to the bill, Kendrick of the Humane Society finds Menor’s proposal the most promising. After the pilot, the society can assess how the program impacts pet owners’ access to the subsidy, Kendrick said.
“It at least gives us a chance to get some on-the-ground experience of what this is actually going to mean ahead of next year’s budget process,” she said.
The final version of the bill, proposed by Councilman Ikaika Anderson, would create a program that offers $10 vouchers for sterilizing feral cats. Anderson’s bill retains the subsidies for people with housing vouchers and people on Medicaid.
The program would run from the time the bill passes until June 30, 2018. Two months later, the city administration would submit a report summarizing the project’s results.
Anderson said his bill allows more necessary time for the pilot program.
“I don’t feel that five months is efficient time to weigh the effects of a pilot program,” he said.
A 2012 study by Ward Research found about 300,000 free-roaming cats on Oahu. Free-roaming refers to feral cats, abandoned cats, and cats with homes but which wander outside.
Cats present a danger to certain endangered species in Hawaii because their feces can spread a parasitic disease called toxoplasmosis. In the last 16 years, the disease has killed native birds and nene geese, at least eight critically endangered Hawaiian monk seals and two spinner dolphins.
There are a number of nonprofit organizations on Oahu that sterilize feral cats for free or at a heavily subsidized rates. These programs aren’t funded through the city instead operating on private donations or grant money.
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