State

Stanislaus animal shelter design gets final OK

Stanislaus County supervisors on Tuesday approved the final design for an $11 million animal shelter intended to provide clean, humane facilities and reduce the number of unwanted animals.

The 33,360-square-foot center, planned on county land near Crows Landing Road and Cornucopia Way, will have what officials believe is the only spay-neuter clinic at a county-owned shelter in California.

County staff will negotiate a contract with Stanislaus Area Veterinarians for the Economically Disadvantaged, or SAVED Inc., to run the low-cost clinic serving low-income pet owners. The county will keep working on an agreement with Modesto, Ceres, Hughson, Patterson and Waterford to provide animal services and share the costs of the shelter.

On Tuesday, supervisors also dealt with lingering budget issues, including a loss of Proposition 36 funds for treating nonviolent drug offenders and cuts to Sheriff's Department support staff.

The animal shelter was approved on a 5-0 vote, clearing the way for the county to invite bids from construction contractors. The county is hoping to award a contract in the fall, and the shelter -- with room for 563 animals -- could be built and occupied by late 2010.

What spurred the most discussion Tuesday was the low-cost sterilization clinic for dogs and cats, which will occupy 1,635 square feet of the shelter.

Private veterinarians continued to oppose the clinic, saying it will compete unfairly with their businesses and won't solve the problem of unwanted animals.

"As a veterinarian, I don't want to compete with the government," said John Shaner, who treats pets in Riverbank.

Kwane Stewart, veterinarian for county animal services, said the county needs to get the animal population under control or it will have to build larger shelters and euthanize more creatures at taxpayers' expense. The county destroyed 14,357 animals in the last fiscal year, including about 9,900 cats, at a cost of nearly $1.7 million.

Too few owners alter their pets

Despite programs to encourage owners to spay or neuter their pets, the county shelter on Finch Road took in 22,400 stray or unwanted animals last year.

SAVED Inc. was the only organization to submit a proposal to run the clinic. Under proposed contract terms, the clinic will be a nonprofit operation, performing at least 3,000 spay and neuter surgeries the first year and offering rabies shots. The county will not charge for the space or utilities.

The project architect said the clinical area has no space for radiological or surgical equipment to support a full-service veterinary clinic.

Michael O'Brien, a veterinarian and head of SAVED Inc., said the county needs to target the 30 percent of pet owners who never use veterinary service. Animal services staff and volunteer groups could help to promote the clinic services to low-income residents, he said.

According to the group's proposal, fees for altering cats would range from $35 to $50 for low-income owners and $30 to $40 for very low-income; the fees for altering dogs would be $65 to $120 for low-income owners and $50 to $85 for very low-income.

Supervisors don't think the shelter alone will control the population of unwanted animals, though campaigns such as Project X and Stanislaus County Alternative to Euthanasia have worked to flatten the annual intake numbers at the Finch Road shelter.

"If there is no hammer to make these people get their animals altered, they are not going to," Supervisor Bill O'Brien said.

In another item, the county will minimize treatment services for nonviolent drug offenders because of the loss of Proposition 36 funds from the state.

The courts will still refer first- and second-time offenders to therapy instead of incarceration, but offenders likely will be placed on a waiting list for treatment, said Denise Hunt, director of Behavioral Health and Recovery Services.

The Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act, approved by California voters in 2000, is widely panned by law enforcement for lacking sanctions to keep offenders in treatment. It's separate from the county Drug Court.

Sheriff's office layoffs approved

Supervisors also approved the layoff of four support personnel in the Sheriff's Department, including an information technology manager, a human resources manager and two confidential assistants.

The personnel reductions are among measures to deal with an additional $800,000 in revenue losses for the Sheriff's Department since the county approved a 2009-10 budget plan in June. The lost revenue includes declining vehicle license fees, supplemental law enforcement grant funds and county service area funds.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or 578-2321.

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