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Sunday, Jan 05 2014 07:00 PM

County to grapple with spay neuter plan

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    By Dennis Ho/Special to The Californian

    A vet technician prepares a cat for neutering at First Coast No More Homeless Pets in Jacksonville, Fla.

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

Kern County leaders continue to search for a way to spend $250,000 set aside nearly six months ago to fund a targeted, aggressive spay-neuter effort.

On Tuesday Interim Animal Control Services Director Shyanne Schull will recommend a tight timeline for supervisors and the public to brainstorm a spay-neuter system in a series of committee meetings.

The goal is for the two-supervisor committee to pull together a plan, get community support and bring the issue back to the full board by Jan. 28.

JACKSONVILLE

Schull also gave supervisors her thoughts on whether a successful spay-neuter program in Jacksonville, Fla. could be duplicated in Kern County.

The Jacksonville program targets low income pet owners in areas that produce the most unwanted animals and works to help those owners get their pets altered.

The result has been a dramatic decrease in the number of animals euthanized in Jacksonville over the past 10 years -- from 23,104 in 2003 to 2,150 in mid-2013

Supervisors like the concept and wanted more information about it.

Schull gave supervisors an overview of that program in a report released Thursday.

But also said the SpayJax model "may not be the best option for County of Kern" because Kern is larger, too spread out and veterinarians aren't interested in participating.

Schull said Friday that she based her analysis on a report from the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals website and notes from her predecessor, fired Animal Control Director Jen Woodard.

But the ASPCA report Schull's analysis relies on was written more than six years ago.

Since it was written, the First Coast No More Homeless Pets non-profit that runs the SpayJax program -- and a host of other spay-neuter efforts -- has built a dedicated spay-neuter clinic capable of altering up to 200 animals a day.

That has altered how the program operates.

And First Coast founder Rick DuCharme, interviewed for a September series in The Californian , said the non-profit now runs a transportation system that can pick up a pet from an owner anywhere within 90 miles of that clinic and return the altered animal to their owner the same day.

KERN COUNTY

While Kern County doesn't have a transportation system like DuCharme describes, it does have a dedicated spay-neuter clinic.

Critters Without Litters, a one-year-old non-profit in Bakersfield, altered 5,861 in its first 12 months of operation.

A system for getting pets from problem areas of Kern County to the south Bakersfield clinic would need to be developed.

But Critters is a resource Jacksonville didn't have when it started.

Schull, in a e-mail late Friday, said she was not directed by the board to review all of the programs in Jacksonville -- just the SpayJax model.

"My goal was to provide a very brief outline of how the SpayJax model was introduced, what was successful and if there were any challenges, to outline those," she wrote.

First Coast No More Homeless Pets has implemented a number of other programs and does more than just run the city of Jacksonville's spay-neuter program, she pointed out.

DIRECTION

"I have been asked to come back with a time line to the Board in order to afford the opportunity for a committee to discuss additional options, ideas and direction," Schull wrote. "This is the first step in putting together an effective plan to address the needs of our community."

But Supervisor Leticia Perez said that even the original SpayJax model should not be dismissed out of hand.

She launched mobile spay-neuter clinics in Lamont and Arvin early last year and getting veterinarians was a challenge because county policies didn't cover their insurance needs and made helping logistically difficult for them.

She said Schull has done a good job identifying those problems. Now the board has to fix them.

"This board will solve this problem," she said.

Ultimately a serious look at Jacksonville programs is needed so Kern County can adapt its ideas to local conditions.

"We must identify what local resources are able to hit the ground running," Perez said. "We can create a hybrid model based on what we have seen work -- and not work -- with SpayJax."

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