Los Angeles residents now required to have pets fixed

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Local Malibu animal hospital pledges support of the law.

By Nora Fleming / Special to The Malibu Times

Beginning this week, the City of Los Angeles will require residents, with a few exceptions, to have their pets spayed and neutered after the age of four months in an effort to decrease the number of animals in Los Angeles shelters and dramatically lower the use of euthanasia as a tool for animal regulation.

Greater Los Angeles County passed a similar ordinance last year and roughly 10 cities have adopted it. Malibu is not one of them. “I am very hopeful that there will be a dramatic decline of animals in our shelters,” said Ed Boks, general manager of Los Angeles Animal Services, who hopes the city will eventually become completely “no kill.”

Boks said 15,000 animals were euthanized last year in Los Angeles. While the number had been on the decline, it has increased so far this year, which, Boks said, was due to the housing crisis and failing economy, as more people have felt pressured to give up pets they cannot care for. Los Angeles City Councilmember Richard Alarcon authored the legislation that was passed February this year. Alarcon estimated the city spends $2 million tax dollars per year to euthanize animals.

The law will be enforced on a complaint-driven basis. Warnings will be followed by citations and fines, which can eventually result in a misdemeanor charge. Exceptions to the law include: if the animal is too old, or if health complications would make the surgery too risky; if the animal serves a special purpose, such as herding, or a guide or service dog; military, rescue or law animals; if the owner has obtained a breeding license and permit.

Dr. Victor Erenberg, a veterinarian with the Malibu Coast Animal Hospital, strongly supports the spay and neuter law. He has pledged involvement in Spay Day Los Angeles, Oct. 26, one of three days when people can book appointments for discounted spays and neuters at a number Los Angeles area clinics, including Malibu, to comply with the law.

“It’s not only a shame to put these healthy animals to sleep, it also costs taxpayers a lot of money, money that could be spent in constructive ways to make the city a better place rather than on killing animals,” Erenberg said.

Erenberg and the animal hospital staff will perform spays and neuters throughout the day Oct. 26 at a dramatically reduced rate, even though Malibu has not adopted a local ordinance requiring the procedures. Typically, the hospital charges $100 to $300, depending on the procedure, but on Spay Day L.A. it will only charge $75 to $125, Erenberg said.

“We’re not catering to Malibu clientele,” Erenberg explained as to why the hospital is offering the procedure in a city where many people can afford the full cost. It is more of a pledge to support the spay and neuter law, and the City of Los Angeles overall, he said.

Erenberg estimates that more than 90 percent of Malibu residents get their animals spayed or neutered. He credits some of this to the emphasis the clinic places on having the procedure done, but said if the law takes effect in Malibu, their staff can only recommend the procedure, not enforce it.

“For our clients, it’s not a cost issue, it’s an emotional one,” said Erenberg, who added that clients who typically don’t have the procedure done to their pets worry about health complications or the stress from the surgery, though it is minimal.

Megan Blake, Malibu resident and host of the television show “Animal Attractions,” said she has heard reasons for not neutering/spaying pets that range from people who want their animals to have one litter and owners who want to make a profit off the animal to people fearing the animal’s emasculation. “All of these sentiments are selfish and cruel because the lives of the animals are not being considered,” she said. “Spaying and neutering dogs and cats are good for the pet and for the owner.”

She added that the procedure often improves the animal’s temperament and increases life expectancy.

A voter poll of 600 Los Angeles residents listed age, breeding purposes and not getting around to it as the top three reasons for not having the procedure done. Cost was the sixth concern.

Judie Mancuso, an animal advocate who lives in Laguna Beach, spearheaded efforts to draft both the Los Angeles city ordinance and a California state bill, in addition to launching a media campaign to raise awareness about the need for passing the ordinance and its compliance.

The California Healthy Pets Act, or AB 1634, which would impose fines on owners who do not have their pets neutered or spayed, was supported by the state Assembly, but did not pass in the Senate. Mancuso credits this to “politics over policy,” but said she hopes to continue to efforts at having a state law passed.

Mancuso said 800,000 dogs and cats are placed in shelters in California each year and 450,000 are euthanized.

The advocate serves as president of Social Compassion, a nonprofit organization she founded to raise money to provide discounted spay/neuter services for people who cannot afford to have the procedure done at full cost for their animals. Flyer distribution, public service announcements and commercials have been a few of the means for increasing public awareness of the law.

According to Alarcon, the ordinance has appeared to have an effect already, though it was not official until Wednesday this week. Since January, the city has given out 43,000 vouchers for discounted spay and neuter services to residents, a 10 percent increase from 2007 and a 63 percent increase from three years prior.

Malibu Coast Animal Hospital offers complimentary exams for any animal rescued from a shelter.