State

Veterinarians balk at Stanislaus County animal neutering clinic

A group of veterinarians, upset at the idea of competing with government, wants to launch Stanislaus Countywide discount spay and neuter services.

The animal doctors say they could sterilize 9,000 pets per year by offering to neuter cats and dogs for as little as $30 and $65, respectively. Spays could run a minimum of $60 and $90 for qualifying owners.

Twenty veterinarians in 12 practices throughout the county are reacting to the county's idea for a low- income spay-neuter clinic within a new shelter replacing the county's outdated pound. A preliminary design will go before county supervisors tonight, along with a recommendation to seek bids for the clinic.

The county will have shelled out nearly $1 million by year's end for discount sterilization vouchers deemed to be ineffective in a university study. Why continue wasting money to subsidize private practice, animal control officials say, if they could provide at no cost a state-of-the-art hospital room to someone serious about pet overpopulation?

The county's kill rate of about 12,000 animals per year "will never stop if 95 percent of resources are allocated to treating symptoms instead of devoting more resources to factors that cause the problem," a staff report reads. Taxpayers contribute nearly $1.5 million per year for euthanasia, the report says.

County leaders should require that the clinic operator be ready to sterilize 50 animals per day, four days a week, the report says. That could produce 10,400 altered animals per year, enough to make a dent in the high number of unwanted pets, according to a study by graduate students at California State University, Stanislaus.

The veterinarians say they could achieve similar results by expanding Project X, a Turlock-based discount service that has sterilized more than 4,000 animals in four years.

"We are opposed to county tax money being used to compete with private enterprise," Susan Enz of Village Oak Veterinary Hospital wrote last week in a letter to county officials. No such clinics are subsidized by government anywhere in California, she said, though nonprofit organizations apparently operate in Fresno and Monterey counties, according to the staff report.

County supervisors tonight will consider the clinic idea as well as a design proposal for an $11 million animal shelter near the Stanislaus County Ag Center on Crows Landing Road. Officials want to use money from their 2006 tobacco endowment fund. Partners include Modesto, Ceres, Patterson, Waterford and Hughson.

In other business, the budget picture isn't as bad as previously thought for county Behavioral Health and Recovery Services. The department thought it was facing a $6.9 million deficit in the 2009-10 fiscal year, but after further analysis, the deficit is closer to $4.5 million, said Denise Hunt, department director.

Officials discovered that fund balances are in better shape because of salary savings and revenue increases in the past year. In addition, the county is merging a behavioral health program with the county health clinics.

To close the budget gap, five employees are expected to lose their jobs, instead of 24.

The county still intends to close mental health services in outlying communities, but it hopes to preserve an Oakdale program offering counseling and medication services for children.

Today's meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. in the basement chamber at Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St., Modesto.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson contributed to this report.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or 578-2390.

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