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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California may become the only U.S. state to require the sterilization of pets under a bill passed by the state Assembly, pitting dog and cat lovers against animal rights activists.
"It's a horrific bill," said Maureen Hill-Hauch, executive director of Castleton, New York-based American Dog Owners Association, adding that enforcement of the bill in theory could wipe out California's dog population.
The bill would require pet owners to spay and neuter their dogs and cats, or face a $500 fine for each animal.
Breeders, as well as owners of guide dogs, could obtain exemptions.
The Democrat-led state Assembly narrowly approved the bill late on Wednesday. It now goes to the state Senate amid a flurry of legislation that must be passed by Friday.
Republicans in the minority in both chambers do not consider the bill a priority and say it is too intrusive. "It's micro-managing," said Republican Assemblyman Doug LaMalfa.
Supporters say the bill requiring pets to be spayed or neutered is necessary to reduce the population of unwanted pets dumped in the state's shelters.
At least 500,000 animals each year are killed in the most populous U.S. state, imposing an unacceptable "humanitarian" cost on California, said Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, the Democrat promoting the bill.
Those dogs and cats also impose a big expense to the state as keeping and killing them costs $300 million a year, Levine said in a telephone interview.
Leslie Nuccio of the San Francisco area group Bad Rap -- Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pit bulls -- said the bill offers a solution to California's "pet overpopulation problem" because too few owners voluntarily spay or neuter their pets.
"Unfortunately, it just hasn't been enough to staunch the flow of unwanted animals," she said.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not taken a position on the bill and will not disclose whether his two dogs have been spayed or neutered, said spokesman Aaron McLear: "He doesn't want to get into the personal lives of Sarge and Spunky."