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Dog owners in Long Beach will soon be required to spay or neuter their pets after the City Council authorized the city manager and city attorney to draft an ordinance making it illegal to own unaltered dogs. A second aspect of the law would prohibit the sale of dogs, cats or rabbits in Long Beach pet stores unless they were acquired from a shelter or bred by an authorized breeder.

Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal proposed a friendly amendment to the ordinance that would provide an exemption for show dogs. Most professional organizations, including the American Kennel Club, do not allow fixed dogs to compete.

“Long Beach has a real problem with pet overpopulation,” Lowenthal said. “Knowingly or unknowingly, pet owners are contributing to our overpopulation, and we’re not going to adopt ourselves out of this problem. That’s simply just not possible.”

Tuesday night’s meeting dragged on for nearly five hours, with a full hour devoted to public comment for and against the spay/neuter ordinance. Currently, the law only covers cats in Long Beach. A slew of supporters and dissenters showed up in the council chambers to give their opinion, including representatives from Fix Long Beach and the local branch of the Pet Assistance Foundation.

“Spaying and neutering not only prevents pregnancy, which of course leads to unwanted animals … but it also protects the individual lives of those animals and their health,” said Armaiti May, a Los Angeles-based veterinarian. She argued that unfixed animals are more susceptible to deadly uterine infections or testicular cancer and that spaying or neutering eliminates the risks of developing those diseases.

But others pointed out that in spite of the ordinance’s good intentions, lack of personal responsibility would not be curbed by enacting a law.

“I do think that mandatory spay/neuter would not stop irresponsible pet owners,” community member Alison Lavitt said. “I think the issue in question is enforcing the existing laws. If there is a breeding prohibition in the city, the people who ignore that are just as likely to ignore spay/neuter.”

City manager Pat West and city attorney Charles Parkin will return to the council within 90 days with a draft of the new ordinance.