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By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian
BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
The shirts read "I'm into S&N." They're swag for donors at the annual fundraiser for The Spay & Neuter Foundation, a small Bakersfield nonprofit dedicated to fixing the pets of low-income Kern County residents.
The fundraiser -- a boozy "pub crawl" through bars in downtown Bakersfield -- is a 20-something's answer to the more traditional wine-and-cheese event of the middle-aged set.
The group issued 116 vouchers for surgeries in 18 months and is bringing the crusade for animal welfare to a unique segment of the Kern County community.
But group leader Julie Nunes said its biggest impact may come from joining with other groups like hers -- old and new -- to push spay and neuter to the next level.
ENOUGH PEOPLE PUSHING THE ROCK
Many of those groups shared their stories with Kern County supervisors Leticia Perez and David Couch at a public meeting Tuesday night.
The county is offering up $250,000 in seed money for a spay-neuter program and Couch and Perez are hammering together a framework for spending the cash.
Nunes' group -- and their unique fundraising model -- got some attention.
"I like the pub crawl myself," Perez said.
More established groups like the Kern Humane Society, which funds thousands of $20 spay neuter vouchers a year through its thrift shop, have fought to promote the surgery as a population control for decades.
But Judi Daunell of the Friends of the Kern County Animal Shelters Foundation said it's great to have new groups like the Spay & Neuter Foundation throw their weight behind the work.
"The animal welfare people -- we've been pushing. But we were pushing against a big rock," she said. "Now there are enough people who've come to push. And the board has taken a shovel to the other side of the rock, so hopefully it will get moving."
In Kern County, roughly 20,000 animals are euthanized annually because there aren't enough owners or enough room in city of Bakersfield or Kern County shelters to save them.
Spaying and neutering animals has proved to be the best way to reduce the population of unwanted animals that feeds the grim statistic.
Until recently, the only champions of the solution were pet lovers who stumbled their way into a life of animal advocacy.
"Anybody who gets involved in fostering, within five minutes gets overwhelmed by the sheer volume," said Daunell.
It doesn't take long to learn how many animals need homes -- or what happens to them if they can't find one.
"You start as a foster and rescue and then you get mad. The only clear way to make this stop is massive spay-neuter efforts," Daunell said.
And "massive" is where a new commitment to spay-neuter from local government can make the biggest impact.
Kern County has struggled to develop a spay and neuter plan for years.
The county funded its own vouchers. But it didn't focus on putting those vouchers in the hands of pet owners from neighborhoods that send the most unwanted animals to the shelter.
Now targeting those vouchers has become a priority.
At the Tuesday meeting, interim Kern County Animal Services Director Shyanne Shull shared three years of data on where county animals are coming from.
Most animals are from the Bakersfield metropolitan area. And more than half of those come from just three zip codes -- the 93306 and 93307 areas of east Bakersfield and the 93308 zip code in Oildale.
Couch and Perez called for $100,000 of the county cash to be targeted to those areas -- distributed by Kern County animal control officers.
But they also recommended money be flowed into outlying areas and set aside for partnerships with nonprofit groups.
When Perez called for a show of hands from supporters of the idea, the room filled with raised arms. The push for a partnership between the county and animal welfare groups is a good beginning, those supporters said.
But it is, Daunell said, just a start.
The county's commitment to fund spay and neuter will need to be an annual thing.
"I certainly hope that the board realizes that a one-shot deal isn't going to cut it," she said. "It needs to be a sustained effort."