State

Despite vets' pleas, Stanislaus County to back spay-neuter clinic

Pet owners should have more low-cost options for sterilizing dogs and cats by late next year, Stanislaus County leaders decided Wednesday.

At the end of a lengthy public hearing, county supervisors turned aside pleas from several veterinarians worried about competition and voted 4-1 to ask for bids from would-be operators of a discount spay and neuter clinic.

Space for the clinic will be included in drawings for a new animal shelter near the Stanislaus County Ag Building on Crows Landing Road, supervisors decided. The private service would be the first in California to be have quarters in a government building, speakers said.

Expanding access to fixing pets should help reduce the county's stunning euthanasia average of more than 13,000 dogs and cats each year, officials said. That kill rate is among the worst in the United States, said county Chief Executive Rick Robinson.

"It's barbaric to use euthanasia as a form of animal control," said Brenda Sutherland, director of HOPE Rescue, Helping Others Prevent Euthanasia.

What about Project X?

Veterinarians made up half of the 22 audience members who spoke at the public hearing beginning at 9:50 p.m. Tuesday. Nine of the animal doctors spoke against the clinic, saying it would cut into their bottom lines, and most urged supervisors to give them more time to expand a private discount spay-neuter program called Project X.

Started in Turlock, the program has sterilized more than 4,000 animals in four years and recently expanded to 12 animal hospitals throughout the county.

"I'm here to say it works, and it works well," said Rob Santos, who started Project X.

"Look at what we've accomplished in a short period of time," said Sean Fitzpatrick, who owns practices in Modesto and Manteca. He said Project X eventually could fix 9,000 pets per year, the target set by county officials.

Enforcement role

Pet overpopulation could be reduced if county animal control officers would do a better job enforcing license laws, said veterinarians John Shaner of Riverbank, Frankie Bonifacio of Waterford, Joanne Sonki of Modesto and Fitzpatrick.

"Using tax dollars to compete with business is distressing," said Sonki, whose practice is a mile from the clinic's proposed site on Crows Landing Road. "Use your money for enforcement. Leave the spaying and neutering to us."

Others said it makes sense to offer discount services all over rather than expecting people to drive to one location, some from across the county.

Two veterinarians split from the pack.

Craig Brooks of Turlock said the clinic should draw low-income families who would never consider "gracing the doorway of us private veterinarians."

Several animal advocates, some working with feral cat colonies, said private enterprise has failed to make a difference.

"The reality is kittens are having kittens, and they're as ubiquitous as cell phones," said Marlene Wilson of Modesto. "A true low-cost clinic is desperately needed."

Residents: Need is dire

Modesto resident Michelle Setaro said, "This is about reducing the killing of animals and not about private veterinarians' profits."

Rescue volunteer David Wiebe said both main ideas -- the clinic and Project X -- should go forward. "Why does it have to be either-or?" he asked.

Supervisor Bill O'Brien cast the only "no" vote, saying he's not happy with minor design features that could be modified to win his support.

Supervisor Jim DeMartini went with the majority because he wants a new shelter but served notice that he's cynical about government going where it doesn't belong.

"I've never seen government be able to compete with private enterprise for doing something efficiently," he said.

Supervisor Jeff Grover said, "It's too early for us to take anything off the table. We've got to stop killing this amount of animals."

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

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