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Whittier (CA) Daily News
Stray animals? Put leash on owners
By Amy Tenowich

FUR has been flying over the recent termination of the City of Los Angeles' Animal Services General Manager Guerdon Stuckey. Some think Stuckey's firing was politically motivated and unfair, while others feel he wasn't doing enough to curb euthanasia rates at city shelters.

Anyone who loves animals agrees that there are more potential pets than good homes, and that a no-kill policy would be ideal. But with cutbacks on all kinds of social services, it seems the government isn't going to get there on its own anytime soon.

Perhaps there are other options...

Why not start shelters for irresponsible pet owners? They could be rounded up by city workers and kenneled until they fix their animals, or find loving homes for the litters of critters that are no longer convenient for them to keep.

See an unaltered pit bull in someone's yard? Call the pound to come and catch its master. Owners may cower and growl, forcing officers to use nets or other means that appear inhumane, but in the long run, wouldn't the city be better off?

Once at the human shelter, captives would be given five days to sit in a cement enclosure and contemplate their behavior. Of course, the biters immediately could be rendered, since rehabilitation seems unlikely. When time is up, if these folks couldn't promise to take responsibility for their pets, they would have to be moved out of the kennels to make room for new pickups - and we all know how shelters do that now.

There's always the possibility that somebody could adopt these people. But just like with animals at the shelters, they, too, would be sterilized prior to release. I mean, do we really need to breed more irresponsible pet owners?

The idea could work, but I suspect human-rights groups wouldn't let it fly. What else might help our four-legged friends keep their passion on a leash?

Could animals be taught about abstinence - you know, that petting is enough? Could they be shown videos of a fiery afterlife for being single and unchaste? It might work with dogs, but it's a tougher sell to cats with nine lives, who feel they have a cushion. Unfortunately, most groups espousing abstinence don't believe animals have a soul to cross over. Any sharp pooch or tomcat would have a tough time taking this conflicted message to heart.

Seems that moral teaching is out, but how about family-planning options? Animals are trainable. Why not teach promiscuous cats and canines to use condoms, every time, in heat or not?

Unfortunately, this strategy has flaws - claws. Fluffy or Fido is going to find it difficult to keep a prophylactic intact. Time is of the essence, and without opposable thumbs, the magic of the moment would be gone - very embarrassing for the males. Declawing is not an option for many animal lovers, so even for the most dexterous furry couples, the problem remains.

It would be great if dogs and cats could channel their libidinal energies into other areas, like career pursuits. It works for some people. But would you want an employee who sprays the office?

OK, so maybe the most plausible way to reduce animal overpopulation and euthanasia rates is to support the work of grass-roots spay-neuter organizations.

One example is Best Friends Catnippers, an all-volunteer program that has held free, daylong spay-neuter clinics for feral, or wild, cats since 1999. The group gets local veterinarians to donate their time and services. Between these scheduled events, Catnippers offers vouchers for sterilization and vaccination at participating animal hospitals. Catnippers also educates the public about how to humanely trap wild cats as part of their trap-neuter-return policy.

To date, the organization has altered more than 8,000 of Los Angeles' forgotten felines. That equates to having prevented millions of homeless animals, since the Humane Society of the United States estimates that one female cat and her kittens can produce 420,000 cats in seven years.

A sterile feral won't solve everything, but it's a good start. If everyone who cares about animals donated time and/or money, maybe groups like Catnippers could proliferate as fast as cats and dogs do, and help the city solve the problem.

And the next time you are looking for a new best friend, get one from the shelter, instead of from a breeder - you will have saved a life.

I have a cat parked in front of my computer monitor as I write this, chasing the cursor across the screen with his paw. My other adoptee is belly-up on the floor, snoring. I hate to think about their fates had I not been able to give them a home. Sure, they both have their naughty moments, but nothing to warrant the death penalty.

amytenow@aol.com .

Amy Tenowich is a freelance writer and graduate student of journalism at University of Southern California.