Pick 6 - Editors Picks from Past Week

Saturday, Feb 02 2013 05:00 PM

Animal death toll stubbornly high despite years of effort

  1. 1 of 8

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    This pitbull mix licks the face of the shelter supervisor ( who refused to be identified) who is carrying the male dog to an area at the Kern County Animal Shelter where he will be euthanized.

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  2. 2 of 8

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    This stray male pitbull mix is just one of the many animals that will be euthanized at the Kern County Animal Shelter. The shelter supervisor refused to be identified.

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  3. 3 of 8

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    This pit bull is turned over to a Kern County Animal Shelter worker Friday morning. The owner stood in line for a while then turned the dog in, which will hopefully be adopted.

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  4. 4 of 8

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Bennie Brewster holds Susan, a small dog he found in his neighborhood in east Bakersfield. Brewster fed and took care of her, but couldn't keep her because he already has a dog. He brought her to the Kern County Animal Shelter on South Mt. Vernon on Friday, but had second thoughts about turning her over to the shelter. He eventually left the dog.

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  5. 5 of 8

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    This sharpei was brought to the Kern County Animal Shelter Friday to receive his dog license before the owner took her home.

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  6. 6 of 8

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    While waiting in line for paperwork at the Kern County Animal Shelter, Bennie Brewster holds the small dog he found wandering in his neighborhood who was receiving attention from another person standing in line, Melissa Pettingill, right. Brewster loved the dog, but couldn't keep her because he already cares for another dog.

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  7. 7 of 8

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Lucy Anderson holds another lady's dog at the Kern County Animal Shelter Friday. She brought the dog in and decided not to drop it off and find an owner for it on her own.

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  8. 8 of 8

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Lucy Anderson plays with another dog owner's animal while waiting in line at the Kern County Animal Shelter. The owner decided not to leave the dog at the shelter, but took it home after someone else in line talked her out of it.

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

Once again the numbers tell a bleak tale:

* 32,565 lives at risk in 2012.

* 9,407 saved.

* 22,736 dead, 20,094 of them at the hands of city and county officers tasked with keeping animals off the streets.

The latest numbers show that nearly a decade of intense scrutiny of -- and debate over -- how Kern County deals with its massive population of unwanted animals has failed to make more than a token impact on the number killed in county shelters.

Records from the past seven years reveal only minor fluctuations in the percentage of dogs, cats and other critters making it out of the shelter alive.

The efforts by community leaders, animal advocates and the Kern County Animal Control Department to find solutions have included encouraging owners to spay or neuter their pets, increasing enforcement of licensing laws, prosecuting animal abusers and attracting help from nonprofit groups.

Robust relationships have been built with animal rescue groups that, in 2012, saved 4,468 lives. Shelter workers have begun driving adoptable animals out of Kern County.

Such efforts have paid off in other communities.

But the sheer size of Kern County's problem dwarfs the solutions that have been attempted.

The percentage of animals euthanized by Kern County Animal Control in 2012 is virtually the same as it was in 2006.

But because more animals entered the shelter this year than seven years ago, the number of lives lost has jumped more than 21 percent -- from 16,561 to 20,094.

LIVES

The 4-month-old black labrador retriever puppy with the little goatee of white was found on Planz Road on May 30, 2012, and turned in to Kern County Animal Control by a member of the public, county records show.

The stray was cute and, within days, had three potential owners interested in adopting him.

He was vaccinated and neutered and waiting for a home when he developed a cough and other symptoms of an upper respiratory infection.

On June 13, after a veterinarian determined the pup was at high risk for the disease, Kern County Animal Control officers euthanized him.

That late spring day was the worst for officers and the animals they cared for.

A total of 160 animals were given lethal injections that day.

There was the tiny tortoise-shell kitten, spread-eagled and squalling in its identification photo, that was simply too young to survive in the shelter without a mother.

And the tan-and-white pitbull caught by officers after he chased a person down a street in Lamont. He was too aggressive to other animals to live.

Then there was the Australian Cattle Dog, found injured and terrified near the Kern County Animal Shelter on South Mount Vernon Avenue near Highway 58.

Fear would trigger a bite from him. He, too, was put down.

That's a taste of what Animal Control staff are up against.

HELP

Not all was bleak in the numbers for 2012.

The number of dogs adopted out of the shelter took a sharp leap upward. And the number of animals sent to rescue groups climbed again after a bad year in 2011, though it didn't make it back to where it had been two years ago.

While the help of rescue groups and adoptions haven't been able to offset the rise in the number of animals coming into the shelter, said Animal Control Director Jen Woodard, that help is critical to saving animals' lives.

"We're never going to adopt our way out of this problem," she said. But rescues and adoptions "are what's keeping us alive."

Woodard said the county has pushed in recent months to attract animal lovers to the shelter for adoption campaigns and events. The county has reduced the cost to take an animal and seen participation increase.

In 2012, new owners adopted 3,568 dogs and cats, a 1,075 animal increase over the previous year's tally.

Animal activist Liz Keogh, however, believes that succeeding with those programs -- which react to the flow of animals into the shelter -- cannot stem the tide or eliminate the problem.

Too many animals are being born.

"It is not a solution. It is this reactive stuff," she said. "They could have started the kind of front-end programs seven years ago."

MOVING FORWARD

While Woodard doesn't dispute the size of the problem, she argues that it is critical to celebrate the positive if the community is going to be motivated to change its ways and fight beside Animal Control.

She hopes to build on what positive stories the shelter's numbers tell and create a positive, hopeful relationship between the shelter and the community.

Talking about euthanization, true and tragic as it is, only makes people sad, not motivated, she said.

Woodard believes people need to be inspired.

She hopes to continue efforts in the next year to promote the image of the shelter as a pet resource and adoption center instead of a pound.

Woodard plans to use social media to further the department's efforts, start a comprehensive education program in schools to promote responsible ownership and get people to think of their animals as a part of their families.

"Human behavior can change -- it's hard but it can happen," she said.

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