The big questions -- how much, how long, what's next -- remain unanswered.
The Central California Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals came to the city's rescue in late September when it decided to provide animal-control services for another six months.
The SPCA had done the job for more than 50 years. Then a combination of City Hall politics and public emotion caused an angry SPCA to give its six-month notice. City officials had no replacement as the Oct. 1 deadline loomed.
The two sides struck a last-minute deal: The SPCA would maintain the status quo through March 31 and talks would begin on terms. Since the SPCA was already doing just about everything possible, that left price to haggle over.
"The City Council asked me: Is it going to cost more?" City Manager Mark Scott said. "I said yes, there's a chance it's going to cost more." Council member Lee Brand has no doubt: "It's going to cost more." Scott said city and SPCA officials are completing final details of the formal extension. He hopes to send a contract to the City Council in December.
The city was paying the SPCA about $2.2 million a year. Six months of work, in theory, would cost $1.1 million.
SPCA officials, though, have said they often spent more than that to provide everything City Hall wanted. Scott declined to discuss the extension's finances. But since the Oct. 1 deadline is long gone and the sides have only a handshake deal, City Hall probably doesn't have a lot of negotiating leverage if the SPCA wants a raise.
Nor is the March 31 deadline the only weakness in City Hall's hand.
SPCA officials have said their aim is to get out of a complex animal control business that led to high euthanasia rates and sharp public criticism. SPCA officials said they'll gladly continue services such as adoption, education and spaying/neutering and let someone else tackle the chronic inability of many Fresnans to care for their pets.
That buck stops with City Hall. Animal control services -- caring for the injured, dying, menacing and abused, of which Fresno produces tens of thousands a year -- are a legal public health mandate that falls on the city. But city officials in mid-November aren't a whole lot closer to solving the facility, money and management challenges that go with this mandate than they were last summer.
There's no telling how many extensions City Hall might need. That's why Scott doesn't hesitate to praise his partner.
"There's a likelihood we'll need the cooperation and patience of the SPCA beyond six months," Scott said. "I applaud them for their willingness to consider these things."
SPCA spokeswoman Beth Caffrey said negotiations are going well, but she declined to speculate on the nonprofit's long-term arrangement with City Hall.
Finding more money for the SPCA won't be easy. The city is looking at a $5 million deficit this year, and the administration of Mayor Ashley Swearengin is in a war with several city unions over a budget-mending deal to outsource residential trash service. Union leaders trying to make a point are turning eye-catching city expenditures into a political weapon, including extra money for Fido.
The SPCA last March also gave its notice to Fresno County for services in unincorporated areas. The county responded by turning part of the old morgue into a shelter run by Liberty Animal Control Services. It's unclear what the county's long-term answer is, but for now, county officials are housing some dogs in outdoor cages and depending on the generosity of donors to provide winter blankets for the animals.
City officials said they realize the county's model won't work for them, in part because an abandoned car port and an empty tool shed couldn't handle Fresno's canine volume.
Not that city officials at one time weren't thinking along these lines. An empty storefront near downtown's Chukchansi Park and the sewer farm west of town were once considered worthy sites for an animal shelter.
Still, city officials have no idea what to do. They're insolvent. They can't borrow a dime. They need a large, modern shelter. And they need to staff and manage it at a time the mayor is rushing to shed city divisions, not add one.
That's why Scott may need another extension or two.
On the outside looking in at all this is council President Clint Olivier. He didn't create the fight that led to the SPCA-City Hall divorce. The SPCA and animal rescue groups had locked horns for years over animal care strategy. SPCA officials also said they had wanted to pursue a refocused mission for years.
But within the past year, Olivier used his position on the council dais to give authority to SPCA critics, particularly those who hated the SPCA's policy of closed-door board meetings.
He was the spark that set in motion a sometimes chaotic chain of events that included tearful public testimony about the SPCA's alleged failings and a promise by local rescue groups that they could team up to produce a well-funded, more humane alternative to the SPCA.
Olivier said he has no regrets. The debate now is "on the animals, and that's a good thing," he said.
As to who will deliver results rather than talk, Olivier said, "that's in the administration's hands."
Fresno Bee reporter George Hostetter can be reached at (559) 441-6272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.