BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Drastic change is needed to blunt the flow of animals -- totaling 32,565 this past year -- into the county's shelters, animal control officials, activists and elected officials say.
But the kind of sweeping mobilization of community and government resources needed to create that change, they say, must start with small successes.
And, with a historic level of change on the Kern County Board of Supervisors, that just might be possible.
Animal Control officers can't accommodate that massive volume of unwanted pets. In 2012, 62 percent were euthanized because they were too aggressive, two young, got sick or were otherwise unadoptable.
But the underlying reason they died was that there simply were too many of them.
The solution has always been known. It's just always been both difficult and controversial.
Kern County animal owners must spay or neuter their pets on a massive scale, preventing the birth of litter after litter.
Kern County bought a mobile veterinary clinic in 2006. It has been driven out to only one county-hosted spay and neuter clinic in the past seven years, and instead just used at the shelter, said Animal Control Marketing and Promotions Assistant Maggie Kalar.
Kern County supervisors have rejected mandatory spay-neuter laws and only occasionally put money into a voucher program that helps pay for altering a pet.
And critics say the voucher program is too complicated and doesn't address the fact that many communities don't have access to a veterinarian.
"People in some of these outlying areas are poor. They can't afford to drive to Bakersfield and pay what is, to them, a fortune," said activist Liz Keogh. "Lamont doesn't have a veterinarian. Neither does Arvin."
The county's effort to do door-to-door enforcement of license laws -- which could push people to alter their animals for a cheaper license -- has also been thin and poorly supported by elected officials, Keogh said.
"If they had started that, done a real program six or 10 years ago, we wouldn't be in the situation we're in now," Keogh said. "All (county efforts) have been reactive. All of them have been after the fact."
Kern County Animal Control Director Jen Woodard said spay-neuter is the solution to the massive challenge Kern County faces.
But even with help from nonprofit groups and the opening of a private, low-cost spay and neuter clinic called Critters Without Litters in Bakersfield, she said we don't have enough resources to solve the problem anytime soon.
But that doesn't mean, Woodard said, the county or community should despair.
The Kern County mobile veterinary clinic will roll out this month to Lamont to host a low-cost spay and neuter day sponsored by new Supervisor Leticia Perez. Five more clinics will follow in the next five months.
Woodard and Perez have no illusions that they will reverse the overpopulation challenges in that community. But they say the work has value and could lead to something bigger.
Already other supervisors are beginning to show interest in the idea.
"We have to start somewhere," Woodard said. "It may not be enough, but it would be a really good start."
"Doing something is the first step," Kalar said.
Perez said that when she assumed office, she had $25,000 in her discretionary fund -- money each supervisor receives to address concerns in his or her district.
"I told my staff I wanted to spend every dime of it" on spay and neuter clinics in the Arvin and Lamont areas, she said.
She called the overpopulation problem massive and acknowledged that mobile clinics must be held much more often and in a far larger number of Kern County neighborhoods.
"I'm not promising I'm going to change the world. I'm not promising to solve this problem in a year," she said.
But sitting back and waiting because she can't enact a complete solution isn't her style, Perez said.
"This problem is so massive. It's so overwhelming that people have often shied away from it," she said. "We have to demonstrate that it can be done."
Perez believes the community genuinely loves its pets and people will get behind the effort if they see someone making it.
She believes veterinarians and activists will volunteer to help and the public will scramble to take advantage of the opportunity.
That is because, she said, even a one-day clinic is a solution.
"It's going to be a solution for the people who come to the clinic and, for $10, get their dog spayed, neutered and vaccinated," she said. "It's a solution on the small scale that has to be made massive."