The Terminator gets tough - with small furry animals

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The Independent US

In the seven months since Arnold Schwarzenegger swept into the California governor's office on a tide of populist fervour, he has earned rave reviews for cajoling and coercing the state's politicians into some semblance of unity. But now he may have met his match.

In the seven months since Arnold Schwarzenegger swept into the California governor's office on a tide of populist fervour, he has earned rave reviews for cajoling and coercing the state's politicians into some semblance of unity. But now he may have met his match.

The state's pet lovers - a constituency of uncertain size but uncontested passion - are furious with his plan to repeal a six-year-old law offering some protection to stray cats, dogs and other pets before they are sentenced to the slaughterhouse.

Under the present law, which the governor's office estimates costs city and county governments about $14m (£7.7m) a year, shelters have to keep strays for six days to give owners a chance to track down lost pets and to allow at least the possibility of adoption.

Mr Schwarzenegger's plan would do away entirely with the six-day grace period for birds, hamsters, potbellied pigs, rabbits, snakes, turtles - anything, not a cat or a dog, allowing shelters to kill them immediately. Cats and dogs would be held for only three days, including holidays when shelters are closed. Shelter workers would no longer be obliged to try to track down owners.

Additionally, people convicted of animal cruelty would no longer be banned from owning pets (currently the ban is three years), and they would no longer be obliged to meet the veterinary costs of the animals they harmed.

"The pet owners of America will find this reprehensible," Barbara O'Connor, of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media of California State University, told the Los Angeles Times. "Don't mess with the pets. Most people prefer them to people."

In strictly financial terms, the Schwarzenegger move makes some sense. Budgets are hard to cut , and stray animals would appear to be an easy target, having neither a vote nor an owner to vent political anger on their behalf.

But Mr Schwarzenegger may have underestimated both the size of California's stray problem and the strong feelings that come in its wake. Even under the 1998 law, an estimated 600,000 stray animals are put to death each year, their bodies processed in gruesome rendering factories where they are turned into animal feed and a variety of other products.

Los Angeles handles 60,000 animals each year. It kills just over half of them. Jerry Greenwalt, the director of animal services, was badgered out of office by animal rights protesters earlier this year. Mr Schwarzenegger might want to take note.

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