Schwarzenegger Does an About-Face on Killing Strays

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (search), in the doghouse with animal-welfare advocates for proposing that shelters be allowed to kill stray animals more quickly to save money, said Friday that his budget recommendation was a mistake.

As part of his budget proposal first drafted in December, the governor had asked the Legislature to repeal a 1998 law that requires the shelters (search) to hold dogs and cats up to six days before destroying them. The governor wanted to save local goverments that operate the shelters $14 million by cutting the waiting period in half.

But after a nationwide storm of protest, the governor organized a press conference outside his Capitol office and confessed to his error.

"I realized last night that there was a mistake that I made on the budget," he explained, noting he had only a few weeks to put his proposed budget together between his inauguration in November and when the document went to the printers in December.

Statewide, an estimated 600,000 dogs and cats are put to death each year — 34,000 in Los Angeles (search) alone. In addition to cats and dogs, the shelters also care for many other animals including birds, hamsters, potbellied pigs, rabbits, snakes and turtles.

H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the state Department of Finance, had said the six-day waiting period caused overcrowding and forced some shelters to kill off animals.

Political observers noted the issue was potentially volatile.

"Cats and dogs are like mom and apple pie," said Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento. "Don't mess with the pets. Most people prefer them to other people."

The Legislature is working to pass the state's budget before the next fiscal year begins July 1.