Better conditions, lower euthanasia after animal shelter split

Better conditions, lower euthanasia after animal shelter split »Play Video

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Six months after the big city-county breakup, animal advocates and the shelters themselves are encouraged at progress in caring for local stray and unwanted pets.

The city of Bakersfield and Kern County now run separate operations, and they've poured a lot of money into setting up new facilities.

"The most significant change I'd say that we've experienced since moving here is the number of animals we handle," Kern County Animal Services Director Shyanne Schull told Eyewitness News.

They set up shop in a renovated warehouse on Fruitvale Avenue last October, after parting ways with the city over cost-sharing disputes.

For years, the county had run the shelter for animals both from its jurisdiction and Bakersfield in an aging facility on South Mt. Vernon Avenue.

After the breakup, the city of Bakersfield took over the Mt. Vernon location for its use only.

SPCA Executive Director Julie Johnson now runs the shelter for the city, and they now have far fewer animals being cared for there.

"You don't have that overcrowding," Johnson said. She thinks the animals are healthier and happier. With city-area animals only, they're housing an average of 300 a day.

Schull said when the county had Mt. Vernon housing all the animals, the average was 700 to 1,000 a day. In its new location, with county-only animals, its average is 200-300 a day.

And, the number of animals euthanized is going down, judging from early statistics after the changes.

For example, in March 2013 the county put down 840 animals. Those were animals just from county jurisdictions.

The report for this March shows 548 animals were euthanized at the county facility. That's a decrease of about 35 percent.

"Which is huge, that's huge," Friends of Kern Animal Shelters Foundation president Judi Daunell said. She's encouraged by the change.

The city just started their stand-alone operation last October, so there are no year-to-year comparisons yet, but director Johnson is also encouraged by their numbers so far.

For this February, the city shelter reports 360 animals, 120 adoptions, 13 returns to owners and 293 animals euthanized, eight of those at the owner's request.

"They need to build a rescue program," animal advocate Liz Keogh commented. She wants to see the city do more. She'd like to see more work with volunteers and a feral cat spay and neuter program.

"I'm currently open to looking at getting that program up and going," the city's Johnson responded. "But, I think we need a little more time, I really do."

At the county, Schull said the feral cat program is having a very positive impact.

"Our trap, spay, neuter program for cats has significantly improved the life outcome for cats that come into our facility," she said. That's only for "wild" or "community" cats.
More numbers from the county give a snapshot of change and impacts.

Take comparing last March to this March, and looking at only animals from county jurisdiction and the City of Arvin. The county monthly report shows adoptions went from 13 percent of its total population up to 18 percent.

Using the same data, rescues went from 14 percent to 18 percent. Owner returns dropped a fraction. Euthanasia went from 62 percent of their total animal population down to 44 percent.

"They've really put their money where their mouth was, and hopefully they'll keep doing that because it's really making a difference," Judi Daunell said.

She added the city's had more of a learning curve, setting up on their own operation. "The city's heading in the right direction," she said.

Both jurisdictions have put a lot of money into the separate facilities. Schull said the county's spent at least $4 million. Assistant to Bakersfield City Manager Steve Tegila said they've put in at least $879,000 on renovations and work still planned at Mt. Vernon.

Now spread out in two facilities, and with fewer animals at each, both shelters say they can house mostly one animal per kennel.

"Which is better for the animals, better for the public, it's better for discouraging disease, and less stress on the animals," Schull said.

The city also has mostly one animal per kennel in their revamped Mt. Vernon site. At both facilities, it's thought that may help boost adoptions because people have a better chance to see pets they might want.

Spreading out in two separate facilities has visible benefits. Both shelters now have isolation areas for sick or recovering animals and for puppies. Both have areas that will be used for on-site surgeries.

At the old Mt. Vernon location, most of the kennels have been stripped down with new sealing and paint. Areas were disinfected and updated. Sun shades now cover outdoor corridors.

At their warehouse facility, the county brought in special kennels, vents and drains.

"They were under-funded, they were under-staffed, they were overcrowded," Friends of Kern Animal Shelter's Daunell said.

And, did spending all the money made a difference?

"I think so," she responded.

Daunell and Keogh both want to see more effort put into spay and neuter projects, and outreach to the community with programs like vouchers. They're encouraged the county has plans to do that. Keogh says the public is ready to take more action on spay and neutering pets.

These advocates, and both shelters give a lot of credit for progress on animal care and cutting euthanasia to new programs that have come into the area providing low-cost spay and neuter. They especially point to Critters Without Litters.

Keogh wants to see the shelters do more work with rescue and foster programs. She thinks the city's done a lot of work at Mt. Vernon on improving the physical appearance, but she thinks information about the shelter should be easier to find on the city's website.

Did the separation of the two operations produce benefits? Keogh said it did.

Daunell said she would have preferred a joint operation serving the metropolitan Bakersfield area, but she also sees progress and notes the county has "come a long way."

Daunell also wants to see stepped up work on adoptions, more work with rescue groups, and more public outreach.

"We're really focused on trying to bring in volunteers," Schull said of the county operation. But, she's also looking ahead.

"We have quite a few things to probably continue to work on here at the facility," Schull said. "And probably a lot of things that maybe haven't come down the pike yet, but that we'll be focusing on in the near future."

At the city, Johnson also sees progress and more opportunities.

"All kinds of things have changed around here that have made for a much better environment for the animals and the community,” Johnson said. “I think every single day we have to do more.”