Los Angeles County officials will consider requiring cat owners to spay and neuter their pets, in hopes of reducing the population and, by extension, the number of cats killed in county shelters every year.
Supervisors Michael D. Antonovich and Hilda Solis proposed the new requirement for the approximately 1 million people living in county unincorporated areas, citing the disproportionately high number of cats euthanized.
They also asked the county's Department of Animal Care and Control to look for ways to provide subsidized spay-neuter services for cat owners.
If a stray dog or cat is brought to a county shelter, officials are legally required to hold it for a few days to see if an owner turns up to claim it. If no one does and the pet is not adopted, it can be euthanized to make room for other animals.
About 70% of cats brought into county shelters end up being killed, compared with 30% of dogs. Many of those animals are feral cats and unweaned kittens. The supervisors noted that the number of dogs coming into county shelters has declined by 60% over the last 40 years, while cat intake has gone down by only 30%.
"It is in the best interest of all parties -- pet owners, taxpayers, and the animals -- to reduce the numbers of unwanted or stray animals in need of care," Antonovich and Solis wrote. "Fewer animals entering the animal care system reduces animal euthanasia and costs to taxpayers."
Antonovich spokesman Tony Bell said the proposal "will be a proactive first step to address the feral cat issue."
The county already requires residents of unincorporated areas to spay and neuter their dogs, and provides vouchers to help pick up the cost for low-income dog owners.
The city of Los Angeles requires both dogs and cats to be spayed.
Karen Halligan, chief veterinary officer for the Lucy Pet Foundation, which operates mobile spay-neuter clinics, said the proposal would be "a big step" toward improving outcomes for cats.
"It is just a death sentence for a cat if it ends up in the shelter," she said.
The foundation recently added the county's Baldwin Park and Downey shelters to its monthly mobile clinic circuit, but there are no county vouchers to defray the costs for cat owners, something that Halligan hopes would come with the mandate to neuter.
Christi Metropole, executive director of the Stray Cat Alliance, said mandates can backfire if they don't come along with "free, easy-access" spay-neuter programs.
"What I believe the county supervisors need to do is really overhaul the way the county shelters work," she said. Among other things, she said, the county needs a more "aggressive adoption program" for cats.
Halligan and Metropole said they want to see the county join other jurisdictions that have implemented programs to trap, neuter and release feral cats instead of holding and euthanizing them. County animal control officials have been reluctant to implement such programs, citing concerns about cats killing birds or spreading disease.
The supervisors are slated to consider the spay-neuter proposal at Tuesday's meeting.
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