Spay-neuter program approved by Merced County

Five veterinary clinics in area to offer service

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comJune 9, 2013 

— The Merced County Board of Supervisors approved a new low-cost spay and neuter program Tuesday, a first for an area that euthanizes thousands of unwanted animals each year.

Chairwoman and District 4 Supervisor Deidre Kelsey said the program is something she's been talking about for nearly 11 years.

"We just can't keep having litters of dogs and cats that we can't afford to keep," she said. "This program is our foot in the door, because you can't get a handle on the problem unless you get some of these animals altered."

Working with five local veterinary clinics, the program will offer 50 and 75 percent discount vouchers for spay and neuter services for dogs and cats, said Rick Blackwell, Merced County animal services manager.

"We're trying to make it as affordable as possible," said Blackwell. "We have worked an agreement with local vets, who've agreed to reduce spay and neuter costs."

The participating clinics include the Valley Animal Hospital, Santa Fe Pet Hospital, Atwater-Merced Veterinary Group, Animal Medical Center and Hilmar Veterinary Clinic, he said.

The program will cost about $40,000 this fiscal year, which will be evenly distributed among the participating veterinarians. The money comes from an unclaimed spay-and-neuter fund, Blackwell said.

When residents adopt a shelter pet that's unable to be spayed or neutered for medical reasons — for example, it's too young or underweight — the customer pays a deposit for the surgery. The customer agrees to bring the animal back to be re-evaluated in 30 days.

If a customer fails to return, the deposit is kept by the county's animal control and will be used to fund the new program. The fees are $75 for dogs and $50 for cats.

There's about $68,000 in the account so far, said Blackwell.

"We've now accumulated enough dollars to roll out this spay and neuter program," he said. "We'll go until the funding is expired, and I'm hoping people take advantage of it."

Blackwell said the county may use funding from donations, grants and a civil penalty fund to help keep the program going.

The penalty fund is money accumulated from a $35 fee customers pay to reclaim their unaltered pet after it's picked up and held by animal control.

Sharon Lohman, president of New Beginnings for Merced County Animals, said her group relies solely on grants to offer low-cost spaying and neutering.

She said the county's low-cost spay and neuter program will take some weight off her organization, which has used $200,000 in grants over the last four years.

"I think it will relieve us of the pressure of getting another grant, especially now that our funds are so low," said Lohman, who hands out 35 to 40 low-cost surgery vouchers a week.

The low-cost program would reduce the cost of neutering a cat from $40 to $20 or $10, depending on the voucher. Spaying a cat would go from $80 to $40 or $20.

Neutering a dog would be reduced from $80 to $40 or $20. Spaying a dog under 30 pounds would be reduced from $100 to $50 or $25. Spaying a dog over 30 pounds would go from $150 to $75 or $37.50.

The county is working on an education program about spaying and neutering for local schools, Blackwell said.

Merced County Animal Control has received about 3,000 calls regarding stray animals in the last 11 months, Blackwell said. About 189 stray animals are dropped off each week, and 87 percent are not spayed or neutered.

A total of 4,162 animals, roughly 42 percent, were euthanized at the county's animal control in the fiscal year 2011-12.

For more information, contact the county's animal control at (209) 385-7436.

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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