When he ran for governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) constantly invoked his most famous, fearsome movie role. He promised to terminate high taxes. Terminate bureaucracy. Terminate politics as usual.
He never said anything about puppies. Or cats. Or hamsters.
But a $15 billion budget deficit can force a politician to go to all kinds of extremes.
To save California money, Schwarzenegger's administration has been advocating a change in state law to allow animal shelters to kill strays sooner.
Under the plan, dogs and cats in shelter custody could be put to death after being held for 72 hours -- not six days as specified under current state law. Birds, potbellied pigs, snakes and other common household pets could be killed upon arrival at shelters.
But the Terminator -- uh, governor -- had a change of heart Friday. He told reporters the proposal was a "mistake." Apparently animal rights groups had not been his only critic. He said that his adolescent daughter had complained, too.
"Everything will stay exactly the same," Schwarzenegger said.
Aides to the governor had said the new shelter rules would have saved as much as $14 million annually and eased overcrowding. About 600,000 dogs and cats a year are put to death in California.
Some local governments have been clamoring for the animal welfare law to be changed, calling it a costly burden.
Hours before the governor's announcement, H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the state Department of Finance, said that the law, which was passed in 1998 and obligates shelters to house all animals that come their way, has had an unintended consequence. At times, he said, animals that are prime candidates for adoption have to be killed at shelters just to make room for others that are unlikely ever to be claimed.
"We just don't think that makes a lot of sense," Palmer said. "I think most animal lovers would agree that that is not the kind of policy outcome we want."
But animal rights groups said they were puzzled by Schwarzenegger's proposal. "It's not the way to address the serious financial concerns of the state," said Kate Pullen, director of animal sheltering issues for the Humane Society of the United States. "We're talking about a very small amount of money."
Pullen said that California's animal shelter law has flaws, but that some of the changes Schwarzenegger had called for would have been cruel. She said the law now spares the life of many strays for six days to give families ample time to recover lost pets.
"If they limit it to just 72 hours," she said, "you could lose your dog on a Friday, and if a shelter is closed on the weekend, what chance would you have to get it back?"
Schwarzenegger's plan made news just as he appeared close to reaching a badly needed budget agreement with the legislature. But some lawmakers own pets. And they had warned the governor to back off, if he wanted their vote.