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L.A. animal services unprepared on spay-neuter law, audit finds

August 20, 2008 |  6:30 am

Dog_shelter

The Los Angeles Department of Animal Services is poorly prepared to enforce its new mandatory spay and neuter law, a City Controller's office audit has found.

"Though Animal Services is charged with enforcing the mandatory spay and neuter law, it does not intend to do so," Chick said in releasing the audit Tuesday.

"Instead, the department, as it does with the leash law and dog licensing, will rely on voluntary compliance," and that, Chick added, is not good enough.

Edward A. Boks, Animal Services general manager, said his cash-strapped department was given no money to enforce the measure when the City Council and the mayor approved it earlier this year. He said he has had to rely on "a wonderful group of volunteers" to help get the word out to pet owners.

The law, which takes effect Oct. 1, requires that most dogs and cats be spayed or neutered by the time they are 4 months old. Owners who fail to comply will be given a warning and information about low-cost sterilization clinics. After that, scofflaws are subject to a series of increasingly stiff penalties, the most severe being a $500 fine or 40 hours of community service.

The new ordinance, which provides exceptions for show dogs, guide dogs and some others, is aimed at reducing the number of unwanted animals killed in the city's crowded shelters each year. That number topped 15,000 dogs and cats last year, according to the department.

Chick, whose audit included 24 recommendations for improvements, said she was particularly irked that the department had not used the measure's six-month grace period to inform pet owners of the new requirements.

"First and foremost, the department has no plan to educate the public regarding mandatory sterilization and how they can comply," Chick said. She also questioned the department's plans to focus on voluntary compliance rather than active enforcement.

A similar approach to the licensing law has cost the department "millions of dollars" in dog license fees and fines, Chick found in an earlier audit. But Boks said he was doing the best he could on a tight budget that leaves him unable to open a newly built shelter in the San Fernando Valley and could force the layoffs of 28 animal care technicians.

He said the department's website, laanimalservices.org, features information about the law and how to comply. And he said volunteers have worked hard on a public education program, including public service announcements, the first of which will begin airing Wednesday.

"We are working very diligently and have been for the past six months," Boks said. "It's a worthwhile ordinance, and we support it wholeheartedly -- we just don't have a budget for it."

--Jean Merl

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