Lois Henry

Friday, Aug 23 2013 08:22 PM

LOIS HENRY: City-county animal split is OK --now just solve the problem

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    Californian columnist Lois Henry

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By Lois Henry

There are ways -- proven ways -- to fix Kern County's abominable animal overpopulation problem.

Five years ago, I looked for success stories across the country, found them and wrote about them.

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The war of the animnals heated up last week when Jen Woodard posted comments on Facebook and others responded. Excerpts:

Jen Woodard, Kern County Animal Control Director

Yes it's true. Yesterday we learned from the media that the city of Bakersfield is evicting Kern County Animal control from our Bakersfield facility, where 700 animals are housed at any given time. We have just 40 days to take all of our supplies, our buildings and entire operation, and of course every single animal in the facility to who knows where.

We will need any help we can get leading up to this time with any rescues or low/nokill shelters to help take animals from us. As part of the separation we have to continue operations as is which means every animal we take in up to the day we have to vacate has to come with us so that the facility is empty the day the City takes over, even though 50% of the animals in our care are from the City residents. We are sure City AC will "sweep" days before to ensure that we are slam-packed with stray animals that become our issue and not theirs on October 1st. Nasty!

And with the SPCA in their pocket the only other shelter organization in the area has turned their backs on us.

Please spread the word for people to share their outrage with City Council Members and City Manager in hopes the City will be willing to do what's best for the animals. Please help us find rescues, shelters, and people to help us during this difficult time.We will do everything we can to ensure the animals are taken care of.

Response from Steven Teglia, Assistant City Manager

Ms. Woodard's statements are inaccurate, irresponsible, unprofessional and slanderous of both the City and the SPCA. It is clear Ms. Woodard's comments were designed to elicit an emotional reaction through false accusations. The City will continue to provide Animal Control Services in a normal manner and has no plans to conduct a "sweep" or otherwise purposely increase the number of animals that are taken to the shelter.

Response from Julie Johnson, SPCA executive director

I was "shocked and appalled" this morning, when someone provided me this excerpt from Jen Woodard's Facebook Page.

"And with the SPCA in their pocket the only other shelter organization in the area has turned their backs on us."

We have not been contacted by the County or Ms. Woodard in any way during recent weeks.

To jog everyone's memory, the County sent a formal [request] across several states, asking other organizations to provide sheltering services at the Mt. Vernon location in 2011. It is our understanding that The Bakersfield SPCA was the only organization that responded with interest in exploring contracting for shelter options. (Copy attached) We were told at the time it could take a couple of months to proceed with next steps. However, we developed draft budgets and held positive discussions with both Mr. Teglia and Mr. Constantine through March of 2012. How is that turning our backs?

The County then decided they were going to move their operations to a warehouse, which the Board of Supervisors ultimately did not approve. A new Director was then hired to make Animal Control a standalone department, so the SPCA services were not needed after all. The City has continued to explore contract for shelter options, since that time.

When Supervisor Perez reached out to us for help with the first Lamont Spay/Neuter clinic at the 11th hour...we showed up. How is that turning our backs?

Anytime we have been contacted for help with proper notice, we have always contributed. (i.e. The Rosamond Hoarding Case) How is that turning our backs?

I feel that I truly need to remind everyone of something here: The Bakersfield SPCA takes animals in from Kern County every single day that would otherwise increase the numbers at the Mt. Vernon location. We have taken them from all locations within Kern County. We don't care where they come from; provided we have space and can provide them a temporary home. That equates to almost 2000 animals per year, strictly funded through donations and not the taxpayers! How is that turning our backs?

Lastly, there is no "pocket"; The Bakersfield SPCA has always wanted to do more for our community animals and address the real problems in any way we can. So before Ms. Woodard maliciously maligns ANY organization in a Social Media Forum (personal or otherwise), I would strongly encourage her to reach out first and get her facts straight; OR maybe just thank US and every other rescue out there for reducing her numbers on a daily basis.

Lois Henry appears on "First Look with Scott Cox" every Wednesday on KERN 1180 AM from 9 to 10 a.m. The show is also broadcast live on www.bakersfield.com. You can get your two cents in by calling 842-KERN.

I even put the architect of one of those success stories in touch with Supervisor Mike Maggard.

I had hope.

Because, this isn't rocket science.

It's a basic numbers game.

Figure out where the majority of our unwanted animals are coming from and target those areas with massive, free spay/neuter programs.

From there, it's dominoes: population reduced, shelter intake reduced, euthanasia numbers reduced.

We have more than enough money and resources to do it.

What we have not had is leadership, focus and, frankly, the maturity to get it done.

Sigh.

All of that came to a head last week with Bakersfield cutting ties with Kern and giving the county a month to move out of the Mount Vernon shelter.

Much histrionics and gnashing of teeth have ensued.

I'm not going to rehash who did who wrong.

I will, however, remind all those in the county who are so "shocked" by the city's actions that the county did the exact same thing to the city a year ago.

City folks had no idea the county was considering terminating its shelter agreement until they saw it on a Board of Supervisors agenda. At least in this latest turn of events the county had fair warning that the city was getting anxious to have a new agreement signed or it would make this move.

Neither side can claim martyr status.

Besides, I don't think the city and county separating is a bad thing.

Consider this: There was so much animosity built up over so many years between he city and county, that the two sides couldn't even come to terms on an agreement, which was meant to create an orderly path for them to split up anyway.

How could they ever come together on what we really need, a massive spay/neuter program?

So, fine, I say. Cut the cord and maybe each agency can get to the big picture on its own.

It's worked in Sacramento where there's a county shelter, one operated by the city and a third operated by the SPCA. They do their own thing, have their own funding and provide citizens with strong programs.

My hope is we'll get there too, someday.

But right now we're facing a major transition as the county looks for other digs to house its 700 animals.

That's going to require everyone to play nice.

Which was made that much more difficult after Kern County Animal Control Director Jen Woodard posted a rant against the city and the SPCA on her Facebook page.

Woodard has priors for bad Facebook blurting. This one was a doozy. (See accompanying article.)

At one point, she accuses the city of planning to "sweep" the city for stray animals to dump on the county at the last minute.

I asked why she would think the city would ever consider something like that.

"I have to plan for the worst-case scenario and if the roles were reversed it would make sense to me to do that," she said.

The city has said it has no plans to overload the shelter with animals.

Woodard acknowledged that this transition phase will require all parties to deal with each other professionally and in a collaborative manner.

I wondered how that was going to work since Woodard also called out the SPCA out as being "in the pocket" of the city and said it had turned its back on the shelter.

The SPCA is slated run the shelter for the city, though a contract has yet to be signed.

Woodard defended her Facebook post saying the "SPCA has never reached out to offer us assistance during my tenure.

"They house their dogs singly," Woodard noted. "Is it too much to ask that they pair some of their dogs and open up kennel space to help?"

She said she was also frustrated by previous criticism from SPCA Executive Director Julie Johnson about how the shelter handled disease, testing and treatment of its animals, but that Johnson didn't offer any help in those areas.

Since news broke of the impending break up, Woodard said she was upset that Johnson gave interviews saying the SPCA would provide a higher level of care for the animals.

"No one from the city has ever once mentioned issues of care to us," she said. "Now they say they want to provide better care, but they're knowingly kicking 400 of their animals out of the shelter. How is that providing better care?"

Woodard estimates that about 400 of the shelter's 700 animals are from city territory.

She said her Facebook post wasn't intended to be inflammatory

"Honestly, what the city did (last week) was far worse than what I posted on Facebook. Now we're faced with this daunting task simply because the city, what? Wanted to play hardball?"

Though Johnson was dismayed by Woodard's comments about the SPCA, she told me her organization stands ready to do help in whatever way it can to provide a smooth transition.

"The Facebook post doesn't change that," she said. "However, it certainly gives pause as to what a rant like that actually accomplishes for the animals."

Johnson also felt the city/county separation could be a real win for the community.

"We have to break the cycle of pointing fingers. That's gotta stop and we have to get down to the basics of sheltering animals and making positive changes."

I'm all for that.

I asked Johnson if the city and county could still hash out their differences and she shrugged.

"Anything could happen."

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at http://www.bakersfield.com, call her at 395-7373 or e-mail lhenry@bakersfield.com

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