Fresno city, county animal control solution unclear
In less than six months, the Central California SPCA will wash its hands of animal-control services for Fresno and Fresno County.
The nonprofit’s recent decision to cancel its contracts — worth a combined $3.3 million this year — means the city and the county will be on the hook to handle dog catching, license and rabies enforcement, and pound services for tens of thousands of stray or vicious dogs and feral cats each year.
The big question: How are they going to pull it off?
The answer: They don’t know — yet.
The Fresno City Council is establishing a task force, inviting Fresno County leaders and animal-rescue representatives to join the search for alternatives.
For now, nobody knows who will take on the responsibilities, how much they will cost, how they will pay for them or where a new shelter might be established.
Tension between the city and the CCSPCA has been brewing for months. Since September, city leaders — spurred on by members of pet-rescue organizations and other animal lovers — have expressed concern over the CCSPCA’s operations, its high euthanasia rate and its refusal to consider opening board meetings to the public.
In a response that took the City Council and the county Board of Supervisors by surprise, the CCSPCA announced March 28 that it is canceling its contracts.
Now, the pressure is on the city and county to see whether they — or another provider — can do any better.
On Oct. 1, the city and county will be essentially starting from scratch. Neither agency has a ready-made pound or shelter facilities, or a corps of animal-control officers. Each faces severe budget constraints just to provide current services.
“There are a lot of moving pieces, and we need to get them lined up quickly,” said Fresno County Supervisor Henry R. Perea, whose district includes central and southern parts of the city of Fresno.
Beth Caffrey, a CCSPCA spokeswoman, said the organization will still operate as a humane society, promoting pet spaying and neutering, accepting owner-surrendered pets, operating its animal hospital and running its shelter on South Hughes Avenue for animal rescue and adoption.
As part of its mission, and under authority from the state, its humane officers also will continue to investigate animal-cruelty cases throughout the county. But it won’t handle animal-control functions and pound services that cities and counties are required to provide for public safety.
The next step?
City and county leaders say it’s too soon to know what form of service will replace the functions provided by CCSPCA for more than 50 years, and they have yet to uncover what options may be available to them.
Among the early ideas that have been floated: Could the city of Clovis, which is building a new pet adoption center, fill a stop-gap need for enforcement services?
Not likely, said Janet Stoll-Lee, a Clovis Police Department spokeswoman.
“We pretty much have our hands full as it is,” Stoll-Lee said. “We are struggling to meet our current demands for animal control and doing our best to get them adopted out. We’d be happy to talk with people about how we deliver services. … But we really are struggling.”
The new adoption center, she added, won’t be completed until early 2013, and even then it won’t have any extra space to take animals from Fresno or Fresno County.
Could the city or county lease back some of the facilities on the CCSPCA’s 111/2-acre shelter property on at least a temporary basis?
“That’s going to be up to our board of directors to make a decision if they are contacted about doing that,” Caffrey said Friday. “Everything there belongs to the CCSPCA.”
The more likely scenario may be finding a vacant county- or city-owned building and converting it into a shelter or pound and finding someone to operate it, said Perea, the county supervisor.
“Between the city and the county, we have a lot of property with facilities on them,” Perea said Friday. “We want to explore all of our options before we eliminate anything.”
Tami Crawford, executive director of Visalia’s Valley Oak SPCA, said the answers will be more complicated than Fresno officials expect.
“Field services is one thing. I can hire someone tomorrow and have field services,” Crawford said. “But what I can’t do overnight is have a place to put 45,000 or 50,000 animals.”
Getting the necessary permits and building a brand-new shelter is not something that can be accomplished quickly, she said. And converting a building takes more than just installing kennels and cages.
The Association of Shelter Veterinarians has established shelter standards issues such as kennel dimensions, sanitation, cleaning, drainage, heating, ventilation, air quality, light, sound control and veterinary care.
“It’s a huge, thick book of guidelines that shelters are expected to follow,” Crawford said. “There’s an awful lot to it.”
Too many animals
Stark numbers speak to the scale of the pet-population problem. Nearly 50,000 dogs and cats enter the CCSPCA shelter each year in Fresno County.
That was the fourth-most among California’s counties in 2010, according to the state Department of Public Health.
More than 35,000 of those animals were killed — also the fourth most in the state. But as a percentage of animals coming in, Fresno County’s euthanasia rate was just over 71% — the second highest in California, behind only Tulare County’s 75%.
Experts say the Valley’s rural culture contributes to the number of stray and abandoned pets: resistance to spaying and neutering pets, backyard breeders who produce litter after litter to sell puppies for cash, and vast areas of countryside where people are accustomed to letting their pets roam without leashes.
Add to that a flagging San Joaquin Valley economy in which pets are abandoned because families cannot afford to keep them, and the numbers just keep adding up.
While they deal with similar pet-overpopulation issues, nearby cities and counties deal with animal-control services in different ways.
In Clovis, the Police Department handles animal control and the city has its own shelter where people can adopt animals.
In Kings County, the Sheriff’s Department oversees animal control and its own shelter, while the city of Hanford is establishing its own animal-control service and will keep animals at the county’s shelter.
In Madera County, the cities of Madera and Chowchilla have their own animal-control officers; the animals they catch are housed at the county’s shelter.
The city of Visalia contracts with the Valley Oak SPCA, and some other Tulare County cities that have their own animal-control officers also shelter their critters at Valley Oak’s Visalia facility.
Tulare County also has its own agency serving unincorporated towns and the countryside. Between the cities and the county, Tulare County had the highest euthanasia rate in the state, at 75%.
“As a government agency, we try to do the best we can to find homes for the animals,” said Dan Bailey, the senior animal control officer for Tulare County Animal Services. “But we just cannot save every animal out there. … We see a significant number of animals coming in every day.
“Unfortunately, whether you’re a government agency or a nonprofit shelter, people aren’t spaying and neutering, and that’s something that needs to be dealt with.”
By Tim Sheehan