SACRAMENTO – It’s perhaps the Capitol’s fiercest political battle this year. One side has enlisted an iconic TV game show host to promote legislation, hired a high-powered lobbying firm and conducted extensive opposition research. The other has set up a political action committee and launched a TV ad warning that loved ones could be exterminated if proponents have their way. So what’s causing such a stir? Forcing people to get their pets fixed. “There were 2,800 bills introduced in the Legislature this year,” said state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, “and if you were to ask me which one I’ve received the most reaction to, this is at the top of the list.” The bill, AB 1634, by Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, D-Van Nuys, is pretty straightforward: It would prohibit anyone from owning a cat or dog older than six months that hasn’t been spayed or neutered. Exceptions would be made for licensed breeders, show animals, “working” dogs such as police dogs and a few others. People caught with “intact” pets would first receive a citation, then have 30 days to have their pet fixed. They would face a $500 fine – per animal – if they still fail to comply. While the goal may seem non-controversial – reducing the hundreds of thousands of animals euthanized in California each year – the reaction has been anything but. Proponents see the law as essential in controlling the pet population and preventing deaths in shelters, but opponents argue the bill punishes responsible pet owners and would actually result in more dogs and cats being dropped off at shelters by people wanting to avoid fines. The battle over the legislation, which narrowly passed the Assembly and faces a key vote in a Senate committee today, has many of the trappings of a bare-knuckle political campaign. The proponents have hired Nielsen Merksamer, one of the state’s top lobbying and political law firms, to press their case with legislators. This week they held a news conference with Bob Barker, the longtime host of “The Price is Right” and spay-and-neuter advocate. Their leader, Judie Mancuso of Laguna Beach, labels some of her foes “Petpac monsters” (a reference to the political action committee opponents created) and “liars” who are “all about making a buck.” Opponents, many of them pet breeders, are playing their own political hardball. One leader, a longtime lobbyist and dog breeder named Bill Hemby, accuses adversaries of engaging in “character assassination” and suggests that spay-neuter leaders are serving as proxies for animal rights extremists. “We’re convinced their ultimate goal is the elimination of all animals,” he said in an interview, before clarifying that, on the whole, he believes proponents are well meaning. [email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!