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Tuesday, Sep 10 2013 02:02 PM

County to tap outside groups for spay-neuter plan

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Veterinarian Cattrina Lucas works on a cat at Critters Without Litters in this July 2013 photo.

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

The county will seek input from outside groups and companies on how best to design and implement an aggressive, targeted spay/neuter effort, bypassing Animal Control Director Jen Woodard's recommendations.

Beyond that, the Kern Board of Supervisors also agreed Tuesday to look into contracting out as many Animal Control services as possible.

Animal advocates, who urged the board to outsource the $250,000 it proposed spending on the program, hailed the decision.

Standing side-by-side outside the board chambers, leaders from the Friends of the Kern County Animal Shelter Foundation, the Kern Humane Society and Critters Without Litters talked about their experience with spay-neuter programs and how they could coordinate their efforts to build a program.

"This year alone, I am up to 670 dog vouchers and 293 cat vouchers," said Judi Daunell of the Friends group.

Vicky Thrasher of Critters, a Bakersfield low-cost spay-neuter clinic, talked about it providing the surgeries while other nonprofits handle the administration.

The supervisors' decision was a bit of a surprise.

It came after Woodard presented supervisors with her plan for how to turn an ineffective county spay-neuter voucher program into an aggressive, targeted effort to alter the most problematic populations of animals.

Supervisor Zack Scrivner thanked Woodard for delivering a good base-line idea but then proposed seeking outside proposals as a way to bring in community ideas for solutions.

And supervisors were sharply critical of several portions of Woodard's plan.

Woodard said she planned to offer vouchers for low-cost animal surgeries to anyone who can prove they are low-income, and to use private veterinarians to do surgeries.

Supervisors and others said veterinarians are reluctant to take on the kind of paperwork and problems that would entail.

And Supervisor Mike Maggard said he didn't buy the low-income targeting idea because every report he's read says -- and Woodard herself has told him -- that the best way to target spay-neuter surgeries is geographically.

"You"re going to have to convince me that targeting by neighborhood is not the best way to do this," Maggard said.

He asked her how the county could target services geographically and Woodard acknowledged that shelter data was incomplete. But she said she believes the 93307 zip code sends the most dogs and cats to the county shelter -- with the 93305, 93306 and 93308 zip codes coming close behind.

How many animals did those areas produce, Maggard asked.

Woodard couldn't tell him.

He told her to do better next time.

"Be prepared with numbers, numbers, numbers, numbers," Maggard said.

Following Maggard's questioning, Woodard spoke in support of the request for proposals.

"I do agree that nonprofits have a little more leeway to do things more creatively," Woodard said. "We are open to partnering with nonprofits."

The supervisors discussion and action came just days after The Californian published a series of stories outlining how Jacksonville, Fla., successfully tackled its overpopulation problem -- by figuring out where unwanted animals were coming from and focusing spay-neuter efforts there.

The series pointed out that Kern County needed to improve its data collection to make the same kinds of strides.

Supervisors appeared to embrace many of the concepts explored in the stories, especially making it as easy and affordable as possible for low-income people to get their animals fixed.

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