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New county shelter approved

POSTED August 4, 2009 10:48 p.m.
The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved plans for a new $11 million animal shelter on Tuesday morning, including a controversial low-cost spay and neuter clinic in the design — at least for now.
The new 33,000 sq. ft. Animal Services Facility, set to replace the antiquated Finch Road shelter, will be located at the corner of Crows Landing Road and Cornucopia Way near Ceres. The building will be owned and operated though a Joint Powers Authority consisting of Stanislaus County and the Cities of Modesto, Ceres, Hughson, Patterson and Waterford.
Construction could begin as soon as December, with bids due in October. The facility is currently scheduled to open in the fall of 2010, with space for 563 animals at one animal per cage.
Despite the larger facility, all in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting agreed that a building alone would not cure Stanislaus County’s pet overpopulation problem.
“(The Animal Services Facility is) going to help, but unless we do something drastic we’re going to have an $11 million facility that kills 13,000 animals a year,” said District 1 Supervisor Bill O’Brien.
In the 2008-2009 fiscal year, the existing shelter euthanized 14,357 animals, 69 percent of which were cats. The shelter incurred $1.7 million in costs related to vaccinating and caring for each animal for five days before euthanizing, as required by state law.
According to Stanislaus County Animal Services Veterinarian Kwane Stewart, the key to reducing incidences of euthanasia is reducing the number of animals brought in to the shelter. To make that happen, he says, the county must step up its efforts to spay and neuter more animals.
The county currently employs a spay/neuter voucher program known as Stanislaus County Alternative to Euthanasia which county officials term, “only nominally successful.” The county expends approximately $900,000 to spay or neuter about 1,800 animals per year.
An independent study performed by graduate students, cited by county officials, found that 3,234 animals in Stanislaus County must be spayed or neutered each year to prevent an increase in the county’s animal population. In order to achieve a significant decrease, 9,274 operations would need to be performed each year.
In designing the Animal Services Facility, Warren Freedenfeld, principal with Rauhaus Freedenfeld & Associates, included a $209,000 shell for an entirely independent low-cost spay and neuter clinic. Freedenfeld, who has designed more than 350 animal care facilities around the world, extolled the virtues of including on-site spay and neuter services.
“Almost every shelter we’ve done has had a spay/neuter clinic,” Freedenfeld said. “It’s very common. And I think it’s our moral responsibility.”
However, O’Brien and District 5 Supervisor and Chairman of the Board Jim DeMartini expressed concern over government ownership of such a facility, which they feared could potentially compete with local veterinarians or expand into a full-service veterinary clinic.
Freedenfeld said that, architecturally, there is no way for the clinic to expand beyond providing spay and neuter services.
“The argument really isn’t whether we need it or not,” Stewart said. “We know we need it.
“If we’re all in agreement that we have a pet overpopulation problem … then the clinic is a good idea whether it’s a private clinic or county aided and sponsored clinic,” Stewart continued.
Local non-profit Stanislaus Area Veterinarians for the Economically Disadvantaged, Inc., was the only group to apply to run a low-cost spay and neuter clinic in the space. An Animal Services Facility-based spay and neuter clinic operated by them would perform a bare minimum of 3,000 operations per year, according to the county.
“The reason that you won’t get your animal intake numbers down is that the target population of pets that need to be taken care of aren’t being addressed by people who would pay to have that done,” SAVED, Inc., Veterinarian Craig Brooks said. “There are pets out there that have no owners, or have owners who don’t care, or who have owners who can’t pay to have that done.”
Catering only to low income, ultra-low income, and feral cat populations, SAVED Inc. would operate as a non-profit and seek donations to offset costs. According to veterinarian Micheal O’Brien of SAVED Inc., the two partner doctors plan to supply $150,000 of their own money to equip the facility.
The only costs to the county would be the initial $209,000 for construction and ongoing utility expenses.
Evidence of income would be a requirement for service, ensuring only truly low-income persons receive service. Residents of the four county cities not partnering with the county, including Turlock, would be required to pay an additional surcharge.
The SAVED, Inc., clinic would attempt not to compete with other veterinarians by offering only core vaccination, micro chipping, and spaying/neutering, all for one fixed rate to those unable to afford other veterinarians.
However, many private veterinarians in attendance on Tuesday spoke against the low-cost clinic, arguing that SAVED, Inc.’s program would compete with a new countywide effort known as Project X.
Begun in Turlock by veterinarian Rob Santos, the four-year old program offers spay and neutering services ranging in cost from $30 to $224, depending on income and animal size. Twelve county animal hospitals now participate in Project X, which is on track to perform between 2,500 to 3,000 operations this year.
While Supervisors heard the concerns of local veterinarians, the potential county cost savings of a SAVED, Inc., clinic compared to the SCATE program — as well as the additional operations which may be performed — led the board to retain the spay/neuter component of the facility at this time.
“I think that we are possibly on the brink of something that’s better than where we are right now,” said District 3 Supervisor and Vice-Chairman of the Board Jeff Grover. “From my standpoint, if we take the opportunity of including the spay and neuter clinic off the table at this point we would fall short of achieving that breakthrough.”
The Board of Supervisors will take up the topic of the spay/neuter clinic again before construction begins, where their underlying concerns with the government-assisted clinic will likely come to the forefront again.
“We should not be competing with private sector,” De Martini said. “I just have a real concern about this.”
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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