Imagine finding out that your pet has escaped your home or yard and racing to your local animal shelter, only to find that it’s too late. Such a scenario is a nightmare for many pet owners, yet it may soon be all too possible in California due to state budget cuts. 

Humane Society officials say the recent budget compromise between Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders includes a provision that would cut the mandatory holding period for stray animals from six days down to three. The amount of money saved by this provision will only equal about 0.1 percent of the state’s $26 billion budget deficit.

The six-day holding period, established by the 1997 passage of the Hayden Bill, gives pet owners more time to locate their lost animals and to give unclaimed animals more time to either be adopted or transferred to a rescue organization.

Though many California shelters don’t euthanize stray animals unless they have serious health or behavioral problems, smaller shelters in rural areas and in the northern part of the state simply don’t have the space to keep animals any longer than the period required by law. If that period ends up being three days shorter, many more animals will die.

"The places that are overrun with animals don't have many resources, and now the law will essentially allow them to euthanize animals more quickly," Scott Delucchi, vice president of the Peninsula Humane Society, told SF Gate.

At Bay Area shelters, at least, animals will have a better chance of getting out alive. According to Kat Brown, deputy director of San Francisco Animal Care and Control, animals brought to these shelters have an 86 percent chance of getting adopted. But, that doesn’t mean there won’t be some casualties from major budget cuts. Brown says small pets like hamsters, birds and guinea pigs will probably be the ones that bear the brunt.

Erica Gaudet Hughes, executive director of the State Humane Association of California, urges lawmakers to reconsider.

"This is a critical juncture for California's animals. If the 'animal adoption mandate' is suspended, shelters will need a safety net to help them continue with their hard work of promoting the adoption of homeless pets."

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