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Tuesday, Oct 08 2013 10:52 AM

County to only accept animals from unincorporated Kern residents

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Animal care workers for Kern County Animal Control worked over the weekend to place dogs and cats in kennels at the new shelter at 3951 Fruitvale Ave.

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

Kern County's new animal shelter on Fruitvale Avenue will only accept lost and unwanted pets from people who can prove they live in unincorporated Kern County, the Board of Supervisors decided Tuesday.

They said they didn't want to set that policy. Accepting animals found in county territory -- no matter who found them -- is the best way to handle intake, they said.

But the supervisors went with the policy, they said, because Bakersfield city administrators were unwilling to work with the county on an alternative and because the county has to stop subsidizing the city. Assistant to the City Manager Steve Teglia said the county's preferred policy seems more confusing to him.

It's also time, supervisors said, for the seven members of the Bakersfield City Council to stop hiding behind City Manager Alan Tandy, meet in public and vote on the policy themselves.

The board directed Supervisor Mike Maggard to draft a letter to the council asking for a formal public meeting on the issue.

"We are reaching out and trying to foster a better relationship with our colleagues on the city council," Maggard said.

Council members responded that it's time for the politicians and bureaucrats to stop fighting and let animal care professionals get to work.

Proposal rejected

Until last week, all Bakersfield-area animals went to the Kern County Animal Services shelter on South Mount Vernon Avenue and the city of Bakersfield paid the county to care for the city's share of those pets.

After more than a year of debate and public spats over the price of the agreement, the city and county went their separate ways.

The county has moved to a half-built shelter on Fruitvale Avenue and the city is renovating the South Mount Vernon property and launching its own shelter operation under the management of the Bakersfield Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

County officials believe many area residents, when they pick up a stray animal or need to give up a family pet they can't care for, will be unclear about which shelter to go to.

The county has proposed that it and the city take all of the animals brought into their shelters, document where they came from and -- once a day -- swap the animals that belong to the other agency.

The city isn't going for the idea.

Teglia said the county's data tracking has been unreliable and the city would have to rely on county data to accept an exchange.

He said the 24-hour hold would be an operational nightmare, would further confuse animal owners trying to figure out where their animal might be and stress the animals with multiple moves.

Interim Animal Services Director Shyanne Schull said simple record-keeping could be done to allow the city to verify that the animals came from the city's jurisdiction.

City Councilman Terry Maxwell said neither side can be sure animals will be transferred reliably.

"Once it gets into the city system, it's going to stay in the city system. Everybody's fear is that (a 24-hour hold) becomes 48 and 48 becomes 72 (hours)," he said.

Council open to discussion

Supervisors said it is time for the Bakersfield City Council to dictate city policy.

Kern County Supervisor Mike Maggard said his years as a Bakersfield councilman make him certain that the only motivation Tandy has is to limit the city's costs.

The city's contract with the SPCA is capped at 10,000 animals a year. The animals, Maggard said, "are numbers on a page to the city and they're trying to cap their numbers."

Teglia disputed that, saying the city is already going above and beyond with its policy to care for seriously ill and injured animals no matter where they or their owners come from.

The city just doesn't want to continue following the lead of a county that has well-documented problems with keeping data, handling animal intake and operating a shelter, he said.

Teglia said the city is trying to turn a page on animal control and do things differently -- rather than continuing to do things the same way the county has done them and expecting a different result.

Meanwhile, Bakersfield council members indicated Tuesday that they would be willing to debate the city's intake policy in public.

Councilman Willie Rivera said he's asking city staff to make a presentation to the council next week.

"I think it's the perfect time, now that the county has made a statement about not having clear direction on our policies," said Rivera, who thinks the council should discuss the city's policies on animal intake, and spaying and neutering.

But, Councilmembers Russell Johnson and Maxwell said the high-level squabbling between the city and county needs to stop.

Solutions will happen, they said, at the front-line level.

"Our council and the county Board of Supervisors can give all the direction they need, but if the staffs don't learn they need to work together, it won't work," Johnson said. "If we don't put the swords away and start looking at it from each other's perspectives, we're never going to find common ground and implement this new dynamic."

Maxwell said what both city and county leaders need to do now is let animal care workers do their job.

"We've hired the SPCA. I know they know what they're doing. We need to get out of their way," Maxwell said. "If the egos on both sides of the situation get involved, it's never going to be solved."

-- Staff writer Theo Douglas contributed to this story.

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