Just days after the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services said it had halted subsidies for spay and neuter surgeries, two city councilmen are calling for the program to be restored.
The plan offering free and discounted procedures for cats and dogs was specifically adopted to support the city's recently enacted spay and neuter law - one of the nation's toughest pet sterilization ordinances.
Councilman Dennis Zine and council President Eric Garcetti, surprised to hear that Animal Services had halted the program, want to know what is needed to resume offering the $30 and $70 certificates.
Zine will call for its immediate restoration.
"In the long run, the cost of pet overpopulation will significantly outweigh that of the spay-neuter coupons," Chris Olsen, an aide to Zine, wrote in a letter to the city's Spay and Neuter Advisory Committee.
"(Zine) will introduce a motion that directs Animal Services to reinstate the program immediately," Olsen wrote.
The advisory committee also claims to have known nothing about the suspension - even after meeting with Animal Services officials just a day before the program was stopped.
Officials said they cut the program as part of a plan to save about $150,000.
"All we were told is the department was having some budget difficulties and needed to make cuts," said Laura Beth Heisen, chair of the Spay and Neuter Advisory Committee. "We were told all city departments were making cuts and there might be a slight impact.
"This is more than a slight impact. This affects the entire program we have going."
Garcetti spokeswoman Julie Wong said council members were never informed of the decision.
"We were told there would be cuts in every department, but never told they were ending this program," Wong said. "If we had been told they were going to suspend this program, we would have objected."
The department announced last week that it had suspended the program as of last Tuesday. It said the city was facing a $17 million shortfall this year and upward of $450 million next year and it had to do its share.
"We are working very, very hard here to process the certificates we have as quickly as possible to see where we stand," said Linda Barth, assistant general manager of the department.
"Obviously, we are pinching any penny we can. The city is looking at a big shortfall and we are looking to save where we can. We believe very strongly in the spay-neuter ordinance and the importance of spay and neuter to reduce the unwanted pet population."
The city last year adopted a law requiring dog and cat owners to have pets spayed or neutered when they reach four months of age. As a way to promote the program, the city included the certificates to cover most of the costs of the procedure.
During the 2007-08 fiscal year, the department issued 22,000 of the $30 discount coupons and 12,000 of the $70 certificates. Only 35 percent of those were used within the 90-day time period, Barth said.
Heisen said not only should money be found to restore the program, but someone should be hired to exclusively oversee it. A similar recommendation was made in an audit by city Controller Laura Chick released last August.
"What we have been saying is they need someone assigned full-time to the spay-neuter program," Heisen said. "All they have is a clerk processing the certificates. They need someone overseeing the program and looking to see how we can make it more effective."
It costs the city $200 per animal to process and place them in a shelter, Heisen said, far more than the cost of a spay-neuter certificate.
"When we give out a certificate we are trying to get to people who need to spay or neuter their pet," Heisen said. "If they don't and their pet has a litter, they give away a few animals, turn them in to the city or just let them loose. That just adds to our problems."
Phyllis Dougherty of the Animal Issues Movement said halting the program could end up costing the city more. She said a licensing study showed 479,269 cost-
assisted sterilizations resulted in a savings of $77 million from 1972 to 2008.