If you've been on the L.A. Animal Services website any time in the last couple of months, you know the department maintains a digital countdown of the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the city's spay/neuter law goes into effect Wednesday.
Now, there's less than a week to comply with the ordinance requiring most pet cats and dogs in Los Angeles to be sterilized.
There are a number of reduced-cost options for sterilizing your animal. The city's shelters and many of their private rescue partners offer vouchers -- to everyone -- worth $30 toward the cost of a sterilization procedure performed by participating veterinarians. Senior citizens, the disabled and low-income residents quality for a certificate for a free procedure at certain veterinary hospitals or a mobile clinic.
Ed Boks, general manager of L.A. Animal Services, also notes that the South L.A. shelter has a spay-neuter clinic and that the Harbor and West L.A. shelters have clinics that will be up and running in two months. Also, as part of a push to get more pets spayed and neutered, a group of organizations is sponsoring the third "Spay Day L.A." event Oct. 24-26. During those days, certain veterinary facilities will offer free spay services.
The ordinance exempts plenty of dogs and cats: those that have special skills, are being trained for special activities, have medical excuses, are show dogs or whose owners aspire for their animals to join the show circuit.
Otherwise, dogs and cats 4 months and older must be sterilized. Owners found not to be in compliance have 60 days to alter their pets or pay a $100 fine. A third offense results in a $500 fine.
When the Los Angeles City Council approved the measure in February, the hope was that pet sterilization would stem the tide of unwanted and stray animals flowing into shelters. According to the Humane Society of the United States, 3 million to 4 million animals are euthanized in shelters nationwide each year.
Since the L.A. measure was approved, City Controller Laura Chick has released a report -- a link to which can be found on her Web list of audits -- stating that L.A. Animal Services was ill-prepared to implement or enforce the new law.
Animal control officers, Chick wrote in her report, "stated they currently have difficulty enforcing other ordinances dealing with privately owned pets, such as the leash law, and no one is sure how spay and neuter canvassing or enforcement should occur. The department plans to rely primarily on voluntary compliance."
Boks issued his response (a link to which can be found on the Animal Services website) saying his department would enforce the measure "to the fullest extent possible. Owners should not conclude that they can avoid compliance without consequence." Boks said it is not possible to go door to door or patrol streets to enforce the law because he has only 64 animal control officers covering the entire city.
Animal welfare advocates believe there are plenty of reasons to comply voluntarily. As Chick wrote in her report to the mayor: "Spaying and neutering our pet population will significantly reduce unwanted puppies and kittens that are too often euthanized. The Department of Animal Services reported that over 15,000 dogs and cats were killed last year in our city shelters."