Lawmakers mull neuter surcharge on pet purchases

The price of that doggy in the window — or at the kennel — may be going up this year.

On Jan. 1, the annual licensing fee for retail pet shops went from $50 to $200. The same fee also applies to dog breeders.

Breeders previously were not required to be licensed in New Hampshire, but passage last year of Senate Bill 399 brought “commercial kennels” under the same requirements as pet shops and animal shelters.

And this year, the Legislature will consider a bill that will add a $15 surcharge to the purchase of any dog or cat that has not been spayed or neutered.

“You’ve got to be kidding me” was the reaction of pet store owner Tony Canzano when told of the latest proposal.

Canzano, who owns the Little Critter Pet Center stores in Raymond, Exeter and Littleton, said the increase in the licensing fee will add $450 to his overhead. The surcharge, if the Legislature approves it, will not be well received by his customers, he said.

“Dogs are pretty expensive now,” said Canzano. “As it is, we have people complaining about the price of dogs.”

Occasionally, he will get an animal that has been spayed, he said, but pet store owners generally do not have animals spayed or neutered before they sell them. “Some people buy because they want to breed,” he said. “For us to take it upon ourselves to spay or neuter animals takes away from people the right to get a dog to do some breeding on their own.”

But state Rep. Fran Wendelboe, R-New Hampton, chair of the governor’s Pet Overpopulation Committee, said the committee is behind the bill as a means of reducing the number of stray animals in the state.

“The focus of the Pet Overpopulation Committee is to prevent the euthanasia of unwanted animals,” said Wendelboe. “We’ve made great inroads. New Hampshire has the lowest rate in the nation of putting dogs and cats to death because there is no home for them. In fact, you could double the number and we’d still be the lowest in the nation.”

Skeptical breeders

“They import dogs and cats into the state, and New Hampshire taxpayers end up paying the freight, when many of these animals cause problems,” said Concord attorney Peter Marsh, a public member of the committee. A “sexually intact” animal, said Marsh, is more likely to be aggressive and “much more likely to bite.”

If pet store owners don’t like the added cost to their customers, the alternative, Marsh said, is a greater cost to the public in dealing with stray animals and other problems resulting from unspayed pets.

The committee also supported last year’s legislation to increase the licensing fees for pet shops and extend the licensing requirement to commercial kennels, which are defined in the new law as any person, business or “other entity” that “sells or transfers 10 or more litters or 50 or more puppies in any 12-month period.”

The $200-per-year licenses will be issued by the state Department of Agriculture upon inspection and determination that the facilities “meet the proper standards for health and sanitation and that their use will not result in inhumane treatment” of the animals.

State Veterinarian Dr. Clifford McGinnis estimates there are probably only five or six kennels in the state that sell enough dogs annually to qualify as a “commercial kennel” under the statute.

Some dog breeders are skeptical, however, that the licensing requirement will achieve its purpose.

Arlene Mills of the Crabapple Downs Kennel in Colebrook said some dog dealers are breeding and selling puppies without getting a veterinarian’s certificate of health for each of the pups, as required by law. They will likely “fall through the cracks” of the licensing and inspection requirements, she said, since the state won’t know of their existence.

Russell Pope, lobbyist for Dog Owners of New Hampshire, said the organization opposed the bill when it was before the Legislature last year because, as originally presented, it applied only to New Hampshire breeders and not dealers who imported dogs from out of state. The bill was later amended to apply to the transfer and sale of the animals, but Pope said there are still problems with the law as passed.

“It will degrade over the years,” he said, predicting the Legislature will steadily reduce the number of annual sales that define a “commercial kennel.”

“We’ve created a law where there really is not a problem,” said State Rep. James Phinizy of Acworth, who also takes a dim view of the surcharge being proposed on pet shop sales.

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