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Tuesday, Jan 07 2014 02:54 PM

Committee to quickly develop spay-neuter program

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    By Dennis Ho/Special to The Californian

    Dr. Kelley Farrell performs a neutering on a cat at First Coast No More Homeless Pets in Jacksonville, Fla.

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

Supervisors Leticia Perez and David Couch will take control, through a high-speed committee process, of designing a spay and neuter program for Kern County.

They have less than a month to do it.

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ALSO TUESDAY...

* Supervisors, at the request of the Kern County Water Agency, voted to declare a water supply emergency in Kern County.

Jim Beck of the KCWA said the move would help ease restrictions on the flow of water to Kern County if Gov. Jerry Brown declares a drought in the future.

Beck also asked for, and got, county support for the Bay Delta Conservation Program, which would route water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to Southern California.

* And Supervisor Leticia Perez, in her first full meeting as chair of the Board of Supervisors, appointed another ad hoc committee to look at public transportation in Bakersfield and its relation to pedestrian deaths.

She and Vice Chairman Mike Maggard will be the committee members. Bakersfield City Councilman Russell Johnson would also be involved, Perez said.

Neither the city nor county run Bakersfield's bus system. But Perez said that supervisors and city council members have a duty to explore whether policy decisions about where bus stops are located affect people's behavior and might contribute to unsafe situations for pedestrians.

The full Kern County Board of Supervisors voted to create a two-member committee Tuesday. It will meet publically, take input and develop a plan for spending $250,000 supervisors set aside in the current year's budget to develop a targeted, aggressive spay-neuter program to reduce animal overpopulation here.

The ultimate goal is to reduce the number of animals -- currently more than 20,000 -- euthanized by the county and city of Bakersfield each year.

Supervisor Mick Gleason said a "small, focused, energized group" that meets once or twice, gets things done and disbands can be more effective at coming up with a plan.

Perez and Couch will host the meetings and take input from members of the public on how the program should work.

Then they will come back to the full board with a spay-neuter design.

Supervisor Zack Scrivner worried that if the process drags on, the money the county set aside won't be spent until the county's fiscal year is complete at the end of June.

He suggested pushing some of the county's money into the county's current voucher program.

But supervisors were reluctant to do any specific program spending until the sub-committee had a chance to work on the problem.

They did discuss one model that has worked in another community.

Interim Kern County Animal Services Director Shyanne Schull argued against using the model of a program used in Jacksonville, Fla., which pays a nonprofit to offer free spay-and-neuter surgeries to the pets of owners who live in neighborhoods where most municipal shelter animals come from.

The Californian highlighted Jacksonville's successes last September.

Schull said Kern County is 10 times as big as Jacksonville and there aren't enough veterinarians -- especially in outlying communities -- to operate the program the same way.

But Supervisor Mike Maggard pointed out that the number of veterinarians available -- per capita -- in the Bakersfield metropolitan area and Jacksonville is very similar.

The goal, he said, is to target the county's efforts in the areas where the largest parts of the problem are.

In 2012, county records show, 84 percent of all the animals that went through the Kern County Animal Services shelter were from metropolitan Bakersfield.

"Maybe we don't offer any vouchers in Rosedale but we really do a lot of vouchers in Lamont," Maggard said.

Animal advocates pushed for a targeted program and highlighted their own independent efforts to promote spay and neuter efforts.

There is no doubt, they said, that people want help fixing their animals.

Participation in voucher programs like those offered by the Friends of the Kern County Animal Shelters and the Bakersfield Humane Society have been in high demand.

If you offer people a low-cost spay-neuter service, they will come to Bakersfield to use the program, argued animal activist Liz Keogh.

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