Suffering one of California's highest pet-kill rates is reason enough to become its first government agency to share a shelter with a private sterilization clinic, Stanislaus County supervisors decided Tuesday on a split vote.
With board chairman Jim DeMartini dissenting, the 4-1 majority overruled objections by some private veterinarians and agreed to lease space in the county's future animal shelter to a nonprofit group providing spay and neuter services to low- income pet owners.
"I strongly don't feel we are competing with private industry here," said Supervisor Jeff Grover.
The nonprofit will charge as little as $30 for cats and $50 for dogs, depending on the owner's income and the pet's gender and size, according to a contract approved Tuesday. New offers of help rolling in from area veterinarians could allow the nonprofit to fix animals for free for some people, said Michael O'Brien. He will run the clinic for SAVED, or Stanislaus Area Veterinarians for the Economically Disadvantaged.
Tuesday's action paves the way for a groundbreaking ceremony in a few weeks near the county jail west of Ceres on Crows Landing Road. The 333,000-square-foot shelter, of which 1,635 square feet will be leased at no cost to SAVED, is expected to cost $8.2 million. (Editor's note: An earlier version of the story incorrectly stated the overall square footage of the building.)
"We're replacing an obsolete, disease-ridden shelter with something modern," said DeMartini, who sided with the other supervisors on that vote. He referred to the deteriorating pound on Finch Road, which probably will be offered for sale to other animal groups.
Joining the county to build the new facility are Modesto, Ceres, Patterson, Waterford and Hughson. Riverbank, Oakdale, Turlock and Newman use other shelters.
But DeMartini split from his colleagues on the alteration clinic, saying it "undermines veterinarians" who are making admirable progress on low-cost sterilizations without government help.
A dozen animal hospitals throughout the county are on track to perform 9,000 such surgeries in the first year of a collaboration called Project X, said Susan End of Village Oak Veterinary Hospital. In about four months, they've done nearly 3,000, the threshold set for SAVED's first year, End said.
"I'm not opposed to low-cost vet care being provided," End said. "I'm opposed to it being taxpayer-subsidized."
Paul Wallace, who owns a Newman animal hospital, said better enforcement of pet laws would help bring down numbers of unwanted animals.
O'Brien said he doesn't believe the clinic will take business from private practices, including his own at Maze Animal Hospital. He said Project X's founder, Turlock veterinarian Rob Santos, is interested in helping the SAVED clinic.
"As it plays out in the next few years, vets will not feel this is a bad deal," O'Brien predicted.
Supervisor Dick Monteith said curbing pet overpopulation will require the efforts of the clinic and Project X. The clinic "is just one more tool to put in our satchel," he said.
Leaders eventually will set up a citizen oversight committee to take quarterly reports from SAVED and to monitor progress.
The county euthanized 14,357 animals in the last fiscal year at a cost of nearly $1.7 million, despite spending $1 million on low-cost spay and neuter vouchers.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2390.