Stanislaus County board boosts fees for animals

Animal control fees in Stanislaus County went up almost across the board Tuesday night, despite some misgivings from supervisors.

The new fee schedule for things such as adoptions, impound fees, and spay and neuter vouchers comes because the county fees had fallen far behind comparable counties, according to Dave Young, interim animal services director. The Stanislaus fees are 25 percent to 50 percent less than others on an eight-county survey the county uses for salary comparisons as well as a variety of fee comparisons.

Under the new schedule, the dog adoption fee will rise from $75 to $90, and a dog license for an unaltered dog will rise from $100 annually to $150. The license fee for an altered dog will remain at $12. Cat adoption fees will stay at $45 to provide an incentive for cat adoptions, Young said.

The county animal shelter takes in far more cats and kittens than dogs, and they are harder to adopt, Young said.

The new fees for spay and neuter vouchers drew the most criticism from the audience. The vouchers, sold at monthly clinics around the county, were $50, which included vaccinations, a microchip, a license and a voucher to have the animal altered at a participating veterinarian's office.

The new schedule is a two-tiered structure, with low-income residents paying $72, and others paying $140. Young told the supervisors that the new structure is still a bargain, because spay or neuter surgery costs $52 to $100 for a cat and $98 to $224 for a dog, depending on the gender and size of the animal.

Several of the speakers at the meeting argued that $72 was too high for low- income people, and the higher fees would discourage people from fixing their pets.

"I don't see it working for low-income people," Elizabeth Camp said. "They don't do it now, because they can't afford it. They can't pay the rent, let alone for a spay or neuter."

Karen Mosser, a feral cat colony caretaker and a member of Alley Cat Guardians, said cats start breeding at six months, have four to six kittens per litter and three litters a year. That results in 13,000 cats taken to the animal shelter every year, where 80 percent of them are euthanized, she said.

"Raising the price of vouchers will not end the overpopulation problem in the county," Mosser said.

"Seventy-two dollars is not low cost in today's economy," said animal activist Susan Robinson. She suggested a mandatory spay or neuter for all cats by the age of five months, and a $1,000 fine for failure to comply.

$200,000 and problem worsens

Supervisor Jim DeMartini said he was disturbed that the county put $200,000 extra into the voucher program last year, yet the pet overpopulation problem is getting worse.

"I'm not sure what to do with this. I'm not sure raising fees will make anything better," he said. Taking care of people's animals is not a government responsibility, he said, although he ultimately voted for the fee hikes.

Supervisor Bill O'Brien said he always has favored putting as many county resources into spay and neuter programs as possible.

O'Brien questioned the new fee structure, which he said favors owners of large dogs over small dogs or cats. The large dogs cost more to alter, making the vouchers a better deal.

Young replied that the voucher fee is significantly less than what a private veterinarian would charge, even for cats and small dogs.

"I don't think there is a magic wand in this situation," Supervisor Dick Monteith said. He suggested that the county try the fee structure for six months and then evaluate it.

"Let's see if we are right or wrong on this. Time will tell. It gives us somewhere to start."

Bee staff writer Tim Moran can be reached at tmoran@modbee.com or 578-2349.