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L.A. council members barking over spay and neuter cuts

March 18, 2009 |  6:41 pm

Controversy is brewing over a decision by the general manager of Los Angeles’ animal shelter system to end city vouchers for free spay and neuter procedures for pets.

First, animal welfare advocates decried the suspension. Then Councilman Dennis Zine said he would introduce a motion to restore the program, which  offers vouchers to low-income pet owners for free procedures and coupons for $30 off the procedures to anyone else. (All sterilizations have to be done by participating veterinarians.)

On Tuesday, Councilman Jack Weiss said he would hold hearings on the suspension of the program next week.

And on Wednesday, Councilman Tony Cardenas — one of the authors of the bill that made sterilization mandatory last year for most dogs and cats in the City of Angels — said he would introduce a measure Friday to reinstate the voucher system.

"Terminating the voucher program is not an option," Cardenas wrote in a letter to Animal Services General Manager Ed Boks.

With shelters taking in more animals than they have in years because of the economic hard times and spring — the start of puppy and kitten season — on the horizon, terminating the voucher program would only mean more strays and more costs to house — and euthanize — unwanted animals,s Cardenas said.

"The bottom line is this is a solution that is going in the wrong direction," Cardenas said in a phone interview.

But Boks said the suspension of the program was nothing short of a desperate last resort — one he staved off for months as he sought to cut other things to make up a $414,000 shortfall in his budget.

"We’ve cut to the bone. We’re down to the marrow. The only option would have been to lay people off," Boks said earlier this week. "And we’re taking in more animals now that we have in over a decade. To care for that many animals with minimal staffing, laying people off is not even an option.... No one regrets cutting these funds more than I do."

Cardenas doesn’t quite see it that way. "I’m going to be real blunt," he said. "He’s the general manager for a reason. He came to the city with a lot of experience.... I would imagine he can continue to comb through his whole budget and find a better solution."

—Carla Hall