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NEUTERING LEADS TO FEWER CATS IN POUND.

Byline: Dominic Berbeo Staff Writer

Cat impounds in Los Angeles have plummeted since 1997, a decline animal control officials say supports a controversial proposal to make pet sterilization mandatory.

Felines held at county facilities are down 10 percent compared to last year, and the city reports cat impounds off by 12 percent, down to 24,000 in 1998.

Animal regulation officials credit the decline to incentives for people to spay and neuter pets, such as vouchers for free or low-cost sterilizations at shelters.

``There's definitely a connection between the sterilization programs and the decline in the number of animals brought into our shelters,'' said city Department of Animal Regulation director Dan Knapp.

``Without the coupons, it would be worse than a nightmare.''

By contrast, dog impounds continue to rise.

In county shelter, 57,000 dogs were impounded in 1997, as compared to 61,000 in 1998 - an increase of 7 percent. City shelters reported the number of dogs picked up rose 9 percent from 44,800 in 1997 to 48,700 in 1998.

Animal control officials don't know why the same sterilization efforts are not curbing the canine population but speculate that a ``machismo'' culture among some dog owners works against spaying and neutering.

Also, Knapp said, the relatively higher cost of fixing dogs, between $30 and $100, could be a deterrent.

Animal control officials say the decline in cat impounds alone argues in favor of enacting an even stiffer sterilization law.

The City Council bill would charge pet owners $100 a year if they choose not to spay or neuter animals before five months of age. Breeders would be charged $300 a year.

Opponents say the law would unfairly charge legal breeders, while benefiting the thousands of illegal breeders that peddle animals on the streets. But supporters, including rescue organizations, contend the law would help stem the flow of stray pets.

``I don't think people realize the importance of sterilizing their pets,'' Knapp said. ``Even letting a dog or cat into the back yard from time to time is enough to spark reproduction.''

Cats can reproduce up to three times per year, bearing about six kittens in each litter. Dogs, Knapp explained, are capable of scaling even a seven-foot wall when in heat.

Rapid breeders

Cats are such rapid breeders that one animal and its offspring are capable of creating 420,000 felines in seven years, compared to 67,000 in six years for dogs, officials said.

Unfortunately, city and county facilities are forced to euthanize 75 percent of the stray cats they pick up.

The $237,000 the city will spend on 18,000 sterilization discount coupons this year could end up saving the city the approximately $2.3 million it would have to spend to deal with an additional 12,000 stray animals.

On average, the city spends $190 to handle each stray animal, and there are about 2.5 million homeless cats out there, he said.

County veterinarians last year spayed or neutered more than 34,000 cats and handed out thousands of $10 discount coupons to others, said Frank Andrews, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control.

The nonprofit Animal Care Foundation, working closely with the county, issued 25,000 low-cost spay and neuter vouchers on its own.

Sterilization costs run from about $20 to $40, with the neutering of male cats usually being less expensive than the spaying of females.

Pushing for grant

Andrews said the county is pushing for a $100,000 state grant that would allow them to offer free sterilization for shelter pets put up for adoption through the end of the year.

``We need to make it more attractive for people to come to us to adopt pets instead of going to ads in the paper.''

Animal adoption costs only $10, but that price can easily go up to $75 after additional charges for shots, licenses and neutering, he said.

City officials have recently stepped up efforts to get more animals fixed.

This year's Animal Services budget got a $2 million boost to help fund additional staffing.

Bill Dyer, who works with In Defense of Animals, which helps distribute sterilization vouchers, said the proposed law for spaying and neutering is proven to work in other communities.

There has been a similar law in place in Denver since 1993 that cut dog and cat euthanasia cases 28 percent between 1993 and 1997.

Pet owners blamed

He also put some of the blame on pet owners for the killing of 14,718 cats at city shelters last year.

``The resources are out there for most people to fix their animals for free,'' Dyer said, ``but people just don't make it a priority and that's a shirking of their responsibility as a pet owner.''

HEARINGS SET

A series of public hearings on the proposed law for spaying and neutering will come to the San Fernando Valley in coming weeks, with one set for 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 26 at the Granada Hills Public Library and another Sept. 6 at a site to be named in the East Valley.

For information on vouchers and shelters, call the Los Angeles Animal Services at (213) 893-8400.

CAPTION(S):

2 Photos, Box

Photo: (1--Color) Cats in the L.A. County Animal Shelter in Agoura's playroom roam free. This year there has been a 10 percent drop in cats held at county facilities. Officials attribute the feline decline to spay and neuter programs.

(2) A calico kitten at the Agoura animal shelter waits to be adopted.

John Lazar/Staff Photographer

Box: HEARINGS SET (See text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Aug 16, 1999
Words:934
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