A New Jersey Assembly committee has approved a bill to make low-cost spay/neuter assistance available for more pet owners.

To qualify for the subsidized operations, owners would have to show proof of benefits from state or federal public-assistance programs. Animals eligible for the spay or neuter surgery would have to come from a shelter or nonprofit rescue group.

Under the bill, which must be approved by both chambers and signed by the governor, pet owners would pay $20 toward the surgeries and a special state fund would subsidize the difference.  The program would be funded through proceeds from the sale of animal welfare license plates and a check off box on tax return forms.

Ninety-six New Jersey shelters housed 100,734 dogs and cats in 2007, according to statistics from the Department of Health and Senior Services. Of those, 38,742 were put to death, and nearly as many were adopted. The rest were claimed by their owners, according to the Newark Star-Ledger newspaper.