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Saturday, Sep 07 2013 10:00 PM

DECADE OF FAILURE: City-county split threatens spay-neuter effort

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Sylas Satterfield spends time with the family dog, Boston, before the pet is neutered at a Lamont clinic in early 2013. 5th District Supervisor Leticia Perez used some of her office's discretionary funds to sponsor the event as part of pilot spay/neuter efforts.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Rafael Hernandez holds the family dog as his daughter Giselle comforts the dog before it is vaccinated at The Lamont Dog and Cat Clinic Sunday morning.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    An early 2013 clinic brought out Daniel Olguin and his dog Lobito. 5th District Supervisor Leticia Perez and Kern County Animal Control sponsored the event.

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

Just as new momentum was building for a communitywide, focused effort to get more animals spayed and neutered, city and county leaders managed to derail it.

Now the question is, can the effort still succeed?

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LOGISTICAL PROBLEMS AHEAD

The city and county's conflicts have thrown up other practical barriers between them and progress.

When the county moves into its new shelter next month, both jurisdictions will begin turning away animals that don't come from their turf. That's because the city and county plan to decide which animals they take in different ways.

The city will take animals brought in by city residents, even if they were picked up in the county jurisdiction, said Assistant to the City Manager Steve Teglia.

But the county will only take animals that were picked up in the county jurisdiction, no matter who brings them in.

The difference could force good samaritans to ping-pong back and forth between the city and county shelters, said Kern County Animal Control Director Jen Woodard.

It could happen like this:

A county resident who picked up an animal inside the city limits would bring the animal to the Kern County animal shelter. He or she would be turned away and sent to the city shelter.

The city, Woodard said, could refuse to take the animal because the person bringing it in lives in the county.

"I do know that will happen and I do think that it will happen more than the city believes it will happen," she said.

Teglia said he doesn't see how a taxpaying citizen of the county could be refused service at a Kern County facility.

"The county has an obligation to serve county residents," he said.

It has the potential to be a huge conflict.

In the 2012-2013 fiscal year, city and county residents brought in 16,748 stray animals -- 47 percent more than were brought in by city and county animal control officers combined.

The solution could be for the city and county to hold animals for the other jurisdiction and have animal control officers transport them.

But that could require a legal contract or agreement to be approved by both governments.

And they're not really good at agreeing.

Woodard said the county will continue to coordinate with the city on licensing animals and holding vaccination and micro-chipping clinics.

Field officers will continue to coordinate their efforts, she said.

But the city and county will have separate databases, which could complicate the spay-neuter effort -- making it hard to know where the biggest populations of unwanted animals are being born.

Without consistent, reliable data, it is going to be difficult for the larger community in Kern County to find problem animals and alter them.

Bakersfield and Kern County animal control officials insist they can, indeed, develop effective spay-neuter programs despite the acrimonious dissolution of their joint sheltering agreement.

But given what it took to turn around the animal overpopulation problems in Jacksonville, Fla., that looks doubtful.

"For two governmental agencies to be at odds with each other over animal control, the likelihood of community success is at great risk," said Scott Trebatoski, director of Jacksonville Animal Care and Protective Services.

In Jacksonville, Trebatoski meets monthly with the local Humane Society and a nonprofit spay-neuter clinic called First Coast No More Homeless Pets. They map out plans and catch up on what each group is doing, he said.

The meetings have covered such diverse topics as what city ordinances were needed to make the Feral Freedom cat project work to how each group could support a Humane Society adoption event.

They've suppressed egos, embraced communication and shared effort and credit, Trebatoski said.

"We all have relatively strong self-images," he said. "But it works because we don't really care who gets the credit for anything because,...we're here for the community."

 

KERN EFFORT STUMBLES

In June, it looked like a similar collaboration was coming together in Kern.

Local veterinarians, humane organizers, activists, nonprofit leaders, and city and county officials held a weekend summit and drafted a big-picture strategy for slashing Kern County's shelter kill rates:

* Develop a "one-stop" point of contact for the public to access animal welfare resources, vouchers and information.

* Pursue creation of targeted spay-neuter programs, feline trap-neuter-release programs and strategies for connecting remote communities with services.

* Communicate a clear, unified animal welfare message to the public, and give people tools to succeed as pet owners.

"I asked if everybody agreed: Do you all feel it is critical that we move forward with one message?" said Julie Johnson, Executive Director of the Bakersfield SPCA and host of the summit. "Every person at that table said yes. So I had buy in."

The city -- long a silent partner in its sheltering agreement with the county -- was making improvements at the shelter, micro-chipping animals and talking about how to do spay-neuter.

A new field of Kern County supervisors made the issue a priority and put $250,000 in cash behind the effort.

There was talk of success.

"If you don't care who gets credit, you can get a lot accomplished," Supervisor Zack Scriver said. "As long as everybody wants to get to the finish line, I truly believe we need to take advantage of the current collaboration."

Then, on Aug. 14, the Bakersfield City Council voted to boot the county from the shelter that sits on city land on South Mount Vernon Avenue after a series of stilted discussions failed to produce a formal two-year agreement.

The SPCA announced it would likely run the shelter for the city.

And discussions about progress and plans turned into an exchange of criticisms.

 

AFTER THE DIVORCE

Maybe, some day, the city and county will work together.

Steve Teglia, assistant to the Bakersfield city manager, said he sees the separation of city and county operations as a good thing -- a chance to collect better animal data, create better operations and perhaps eliminate the daily friction between the city and county over animal issues.

"I truly believe that, perhaps after time, there is much less reason for us to be in conflict with the county," Teglia said.

Johnson, whose SPCA is now the city's shelter partner, said she refuses to let the conflict and the politics derail her commitment to solutions. The goals of the animal summit are still being pursued, she said.

A small group working on the first goal is nearly ready with a plan for a website that will offer the public a one-stop spot to access information about animal rescue, welfare and control groups active in Kern County.

"We don't want to send people on a phone call goose chase," Johnson said.

It could also help animal groups communicate with each other.

She also predicted that over time, the barriers will erode and people will back successful programs.

That may be true, said Supervisor David Couch. But right now the county has to focus on finding a new shelter for hundreds of unwanted animals.

Supervisor Leticia Perez called the county's scramble to find a new shelter a crisis that will hurt the animals.

Perez spent some $25,000 of her office's discretionary funds into spay-neuter clinics in Arvin and Lamont in early 2013, prompting other supervisors to follow suit and start talking about a county-wide effort.

Now animals are paying for the fact, she said, that the "adults in the room" are choosing to squabble, not cooperate.

On the larger scale, she said, the county must continue to search for an animal overpopulation solution without the city.

"I'm certainly not going to sit back and wait for us to get along," said Perez. "We have a duty to the taxpayers of Kern County to resolve the issues at hand."

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