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Thursday, Aug 29 2013 05:57 PM

County urges pet adoption, fostering ahead of shelter move

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    By Autumn Parry / The Californian

    In this file photo, a domestic shorthair sits in its cage at what used to be the Kern County Animal Shelter. The city now operates the facility.

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

Kern County Animal Control officers need the public to take hundreds of animals off their hands in the next 32 days.

They are working to make adopting an animal easy and cheap by dropping fees to $5 for cats and $15 for dogs.

The county is asking animal rescue groups to come to its rescue, taking animals by the truckload.

And County Administrative Officer John Nilon said a media campaign will ask the public to foster animals and tell them how to keep strays from ending up in a county cage that must be emptied before Oct. 1.

HELP

Last week, the city of Bakersfield told Kern County to vacate the animal shelter at 201 South Mount Vernon Ave. by the end of the day Sept. 30.

That put the county on a tight timeline to find another place to house the dogs, cats, hogs and horses in its care. Nilon said the county is hunting for a new shelter location aggressively.

"We have a minimum of six to nine sites we are looking at right now," he said.

The county is evaluating each based on how well it would fit the county's needs, how much it would cost to run and what upgrades it would require.

"We expect as early as next week to have a target site," Nilon said. "It will, more than likely, be temporary until we can find a permanent location."

Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez said the animals are the ones damaged in the sheltering split between the city and county.

They will be jostled around, traumatized and put at risk by the move, she said.

EXIT STRATEGY

Avoiding that trauma means getting animals out of the shelter -- permanently, if possible.

So the county is removing hurdles the public and rescue groups must jump through before it can take an animal.

Adoption fees are normally $40 to $50 for cats and $75 to $85 for dogs.The fee defrays some of the cost to care for the animals until they get a new home.

But the county's priority now, Kalar said, is to get more animals to a home, and fast. So it has dropped the fees to $5 for cats and $15 for dogs.

The county also hopes for help from rescue groups that can take multiple animals at a time, said Kern County Animal Control Marketing & Promotions Associate Maggie Kalar.

Starting Sunday, the county will temporarily remove fees rescues pay for vaccinating and microchipping each animal.

The shelter will also be open extra hours for rescue groups -- between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. six days a week and from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays to make trips easier for them.

"Most of the rescues who pull from us come long distances," Kalar said.

Also, where possible, the county will send medications for the animals with the rescue group that takes the animal, a letter to rescue groups states.

Kalar said the public is stepping up to help.

"The response has been overwhelming in the last few days," she said. "We've had large crowds coming to the shelter looking to adopt animals."

Community support has been so great, shelter officials have said, that they are having trouble spaying and neutering animals fast enough to satisfy the adoption demand.

So shelter officials are also appealing to veterinarians to help -- short-term -- by doing the surgeries.

INTAKE

Ultimately, the next month will be a numbers game for Kern County Animal Control.

On Tuesday, Animal Control Director Jen Woodard said the Mount Vernon shelter had just fewer than 700 animals in residence.

Reducing that number will be an uphill battle for the county because it must continue to take in stray and unwanted city and county animals until the end of the day Sept. 30.

In 2012, Kern County's three shelters took in 2,956 animals between Aug. 30 and Sept. 30.

The majority of those animals came into the Mount Vernon shelter, Kalar said.

Shelter officials don't expect this next month to be much different -- unless they get some help.

Kalar said they are preparing a plan to have members of the public become temporary pet parents for an animal or 10.

Animal Control leaders will do, she said, "anything we can to get the animals out of the shelter so they don't have to go through the trauma of the move."

Woodard, at the direction of county supervisors, also has asked the city to take some animals from the city jurisdiction -- despite the fact they legally become county animals as soon as county shelter staff accept them.

The city's seeking more information.

"We have asked the county for specific detail with respect to what they are requesting," said Bakersfield Assistant to the City Manager Steve Teglia. "This detail should help us identify how we can potentially assist them."

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