Los Angeles animal shelters are seeing a record number of furry friends - and euthanasias - as a result of the down economy.

The shelters are so overcrowded that the Department of Animal Services is offering two-for-one cat adoptions to make room for a feline influx.

Rescue groups, taxed to capacity, are desperate to find homes for thousands of unwanted pets.

"We need some recuperation," said Kathy Davis, interim general manager of the department. "We're certainly hoping at some point that the economy will recover and, as a by-product, people will quit turning their animals in.

"There are record high numbers for recent years."

The surge in abandoned pets has continued unabated since May 2008, when soaring job losses and home foreclosures were fueling an increase in surrendered dogs and cats at city shelters.

In the fiscal year ending June 30, the number of dogs and cats turned in to the city's six animal shelters rose 14 percent to 55,742 - the highest in five years, according to city data.

But while pet adoptions increased 24 percent, so have the number of animals killed, with cats bearing the brunt of euthanasias.

"The rescue groups are not only at over-capacity," said Missy Woodward, of Reseda, on the board of Stray Cat Alliance. "Due to the economy, people are opening their doors and letting the animals go because they have nowhere to take them.

"There's a desperate need for people to take in pets and spay and


neuter their own."

Despite a spay/neuter law implemented last fall, the department destroyed nearly 13,000 cats, a 30 percent increase, while unweaned kitten kills rose 41 percent in 12 months.

And while the six city shelters exceed capacity by hundreds of animals, nowhere is the problem more severe than the East Valley shelter in Van Nuys - the epicenter of unwanted pets.

On Tuesday, the shelter harbored 455 animals - about 100 over its capacity.

Last week, it shipped 21 dogs to a shelter in Santa Cruz, with more slated to be transferred next month. In addition, animals are being distributed to other city shelters.

"I'm seeing a lot of people turning in their animals because they've either moved or lost their houses," said Capt. Helen Brakemeier, manager of the shelter. "We've also seen a lot of litters of kittens.

"It's not just that we're full, but the rescue groups are full. Too many animals, not enough homes."

The increase has incited animal welfare activists, who say the shelters are "red listing" up to 40 cats a day - animals in immediate danger of euthanasia.

Adding to the pressure is a decision made Tuesday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to halve the mandated adoption time from six days to three, and decrease funds to shelters as part of the 2010 state budget.

"I think it's a sad time for the animals in California," said Judie Mancuso, founder of Social Compassion in Legislation, an animal welfare advocacy group. "It creates a heavy burden to shelters across the state."

Davis said that the minimum holding period for adoptable pets in Los Angeles shelters will not change, despite the governor's action, with the average adoption period of nine to 12 days.

"Our mission is, we're holding animals as long as we have space," she said.

Critics, however, called for a complete rethinking of animal shelter policies in order to achieve the city's stated no-kill goal.

"Our shelters are failing," said Ed Muzika of LA Animal Watch, a Northridge-based blog. "When you kill 4,000 animals more than last year, it's not success.

He said despite more than 40,000 free spay/neuter vouchers passed out by the city last year, cat impounds have increased dramatically. He questioned whether the city's spay-neuter law, which had required owners to fix their pets since October, may be forcing those who can't afford surgeries to surrender pets to city shelters instead.

"In order for no-kill to be realized," said Muzika, "the (department) needs a top-down analysis by the nation's top no-kill experts."

Davis said it may take three to five years to see results from the city's spay/neuter ordinance. Meanwhile, she said gradual improvements are being made.

A nonprofit program to encourage pet owners in South Los Angeles to keep their pets has saved 800 dogs and cats since January, she said.

And the two-for-one-cat "Summer Buddies" program sponsored by the Found Animal Foundation at the East Valley and Harbor shelters is in effect through August.

On Tuesday, children at the Van Nuys shelter cooed over 1 1/2-week old kittens being raised until they're old enough to adopt.

"He looks like a hamster," said one girl. "How cute."

Said Brakemeier: "We're pulling out all the punches to do anything we can to get people in here so we can save these animals' lives."

Los Angeles animal shelters will host a half-off adoption fair, Aug. 19-23. For information, seewww.laanimalservices.com.