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Success breeds limits for Stanislaus pet program

Stanislaus County's animal spay-neuter voucher program has been a bit too successful in the past two months, leading the county to restrict voucher sales, to the chagrin of animal rights activists.

The county program offers a voucher that dog and cat owners can take to one of 20 participating veterinarians for a spay or neuter operation, an implanted identification chip and vaccinations. The vouchers cost $50, and the county picks up the difference of the cost agreed to with the veterinarians.

The program is designed to get as many animals fixed as possible to cut down on the overpopulation of cats and dogs, which has led to overcrowding at the county animal shelter and high euthanasia rates. The county shelter took in 18,281 animals during the fiscal year that ended June 30 and killed 12,238.

The vouchers have been offered at the county's monthly clinics held in different communities on a rotating basis. But in December, the county started offering the vouchers over the counter at the animal shelter on Finch Road, so residents didn't have to wait until a clinic came to their neighborhood.

And starting July 1, the county adjusted the rate that veterinarians get for the work, which had not been changed in more than four years. The rate went from $78 for a male dog weighing less than 35 pounds, for instance, to $98.

Outspending the revenue

The result has been a rapid depletion of the county money budgeted for the program. Since July 1, the animal services department has taken in $43,667 in revenue and spent $140,438 on the program, said Monica Nino-Reid, assistant executive officer.

So, the county announced it no longer will offer the vouchers over the counter at the shelter as of Oct. 1. That led to protests at Tuesday night's Board of Supervisors meeting.

"This is a huge step backwards for the county," said Linda Sherman of Modesto. "The program is a victim of its own success. I implore you not to let that happen." Sherman said the county was selling four times as many vouchers at the shelter as at the clinics.

Animal activist Susan Robinson said she would donate $1,000 to the program and challenged the supervisors to match her offer and find more money in the budget to keep the over-the-counter voucher sales going.

"The program is very valuable," Robinson said. "You pay either way -- in housing and killing the animals (if not the vouchers)."

County Chief Executive Officer Rick Robinson said after the meeting that the voucher program is successful and valuable. The county will look at the program's history and what options are available, he said. That might include finding additional volunteer donors, he said.

In the meantime, the vouchers are available at the shelter until Oct. 1, and will continue to be available at the traveling clinics throughout the year.

The next clinic is scheduled from 8 to 11 a.m. Saturday at Mono Park in the airport neighborhood of Modesto.

A schedule of the dates and locations of the clinics for the rest of the year is available at http://animalservices.8m.com/mainmenu.htm.

To comment, click on the link with this story at www.modbee.com. Bee staff writer Tim Moran can be reached at tmoran@modbee.com or 578-2349.

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