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VALLEY BUSINESS | PETS AND PROFITS

Veterinary Clinics See Increase in Business as New Spaying Law Nears

Cats and dogs: More animals are being sterilized in advance of a hike in license fees when ordinance goes into effect.

August 29, 2000|SUE FOX | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A crackdown on pet parenthood is boosting business at some local veterinary clinics, more than two months before a tough new ordinance takes effect.

Starting Nov. 15, the city of Los Angeles will drastically hike licensing fees and other charges for unsterilized dogs and cats.

At Valley Animal Hospital in Van Nuys, Dr. James Haubert said spaying and neutering is up 10% to 20% since the City Council approved the fee hikes in March. Haubert said he and his partner are now sterilizing between 25 and 50 pets a day.

Even owners of aging dogs whose frisky days are long past are bringing their pooches in for appointments, although the law allows exemptions for elderly or sick animals.

"It seems like we're seeing more people bringing in dogs that are a little older," said Haubert, who is trying to hire another technician, in part to handle the rising demand. "A lot of them come in just for that."

Other pet clinics also are seeing a modest increase in sterilizations.

At the Winnetka Animal Clinic, such surgeries are up 5% to 10%, Dr. Richard Smollin said.

Some other veterinarians said they had not seen an increase in business yet but expect more pet owners to come in once the ordinance takes effect.

The new law maintains the $10 annual license fee for sterilized dogs but boosts the fee for unsterilized dogs from $30 to $100.

It creates a separate $100 charge for owners of dogs and cats that have litters, and requires that unsterilized cats be kept indoors or risk a $500 fine.

Considered the toughest spay-and-neuter ordinance in the nation, the law is an attempt to tame an overpopulation problem so severe that last year 47,000 animals, three-fourths of all strays brought to city shelters, were killed there.

The city Department of Animal Services estimates that more than 1 million cats and 26,000 dogs roam the city streets.

The ordinance was pushed hard by animal rescue activists, who are now leading the pack to carry it out.

One nonprofit group, the Coalition for Pets and Public Safety, raised $150,000 from animal lovers and private foundations to buy a pickup truck and outfit it with operating tables and anesthesia equipment.

The roving spay-and-neuter van--known as the "neuter scooter"--will be staffed by city contractors and be sent into poor neighborhoods, where pet owners may not be able to afford private veterinarians, coalition member Erika Brunson said.

Other nonprofit groups have started pet sterilization programs in low-income areas, including one run by Actors and Others for Animals that paid for surgeries for 1,600 pit bulls.

"People will spay and neuter if you make it easy for them, if it's free and you go into their neighborhoods to do it," Brunson said.

The city too is gearing up for the anti-breeding campaign.

About $500,000 has been earmarked for the effort, animal services spokeswoman Jackie David said. The effort includes an enforcement task force of five animal control officers, five new vehicles and 20 temporary workers, who will go door-to-door to hand out fliers describing the law.

Animal rescue activists are also raising money to help the city reopen several spay-and-neuter clinics at city animal shelters, including one in the east San Fernando Valley.

"It's heartbreaking when you go into the shelters and you see perfectly healthy dogs and cats being killed every day," Brunson said. "There's no need for it."

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