Hartford — Legislation aimed at reducing the number of stray, sick and euthanized dogs in Connecticut by shifting more of the costs for sterilization and vaccination onto those who adopt from public shelters passed the state House of Representatives Tuesday by a unanimous vote.
The bill, still subject to approval from the Senate, would give municipal shelters the option to charge buyers for the shelter's expenses from spaying, neutering or vaccinating the adopted animal.
State Rep. Patricia Widlitz, D-Branford, said the bill would result in more dogs leaving public shelters spayed or neutered and with all their shots.
"This allows our municipalities to be proactive in controlling animal populations," Widlitz said.
Under current law, state residents who adopt an unsterilized dog from a public shelter must pay a $45 fee in exchange for a 60-day Animal Population Control Program voucher. The voucher is good for a one-time, $100 sterilization credit for a male dog and a $120 credit for a female.
Of the 2,991 dogs adopted from Connecticut municipal shelters in the 2011 fiscal year, nearly 30 percent were not spayed or neutered, according to the legislature's nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis.
But not everyone uses the voucher. At a public hearing last month on the bill, Debora Bresch, a lobbyist for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and president of CT Votes for Animals, testified that nearly one-third of the sterilization vouchers are allowed to expire.
She urged lawmakers to oppose the bill, arguing that its underlying goal is admirable but the "mechanism" is flawed. Bresch's testimony questioned what would happen to the existing voucher system if the legislation becomes law, and warned of "allowing a municipality to charge in excess of what many adopters from the public shelter could afford. ... The consequences could be decreased adoptions."
Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, did not raise Tuesday's bill but joined colleagues in voting for it "to make sure the animals coming out of our pounds are spayed and neutered."
Urban said she hopes the critics' fears about fewer adoptions do not happen. But if they do, the General Assembly could revisit the law in the future to make policy adjustments, she said.