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Cities, county break ground on joint animal shelter
Officials from the cities of Ceres, Hughson, Modesto, Patterson and Waterford gathered with county officials outside of Ceres yesterday to break ground on a joint $8.7 million animal shelter.

The new 33,358-square-foot animal shelter will be constructed at the County Center at the corner of Service and Crows Landing roads to will replace the current facility on Finch Road built in 1973. County officials say the facility is woefully inadequate and that materials used in the shelter are more prone to spread diseases to the animals held there. The aging shelter was never built to hold the large number of unwanted animals that are left each year.

The new shelter is being constructed by Diede Construction and is expected to be completed by Dec. 15, 2010.

"The county is pleased to usher in a new era of collaboration between Stanislaus County and the cities ... and to kick off the construction of the new Animal Shelter," said Jim DeMartini, chairman of the Board of Supervisors. "The new shelter, along with the public and private spay neuter program, community education and the encouragement of responsible pet ownership, is a community-based approach to reduce the tragic high number of unwanted animals in our area."

DeMartini said the new center is one element to reducing the numbers of unwanted animals coming into the facility. Currently about 21,000 unwanted dogs and cats are brought to the shelter, many of which are ultimately destroyed.

The other element will be the establishment of a countywide low-cost spay-neuter program. The new shelter will sport a spay-neuter clinic and will have enough room for 563 animals.

The county's goal is to lower the amount of unwanted pets. During the 2008-09 fiscal year the county spent $1.7 million to destroy 14,357 animals, of which 9,900 were cats.

The goal is to encourage community groups to work together to promote the spaying and neutering of animals, which in turn will assist with the problem of pet overpopulation. The county would like to see the existing facility used for spaying and neutering operations.

County officials plan to provide low-cost spay and neuter services in a 1,635-square-foot section of the shelter through Stanislaus Area Veterinarians for the Economically Disadvantaged, (SAVED Inc.) Those services would be offered on a non-profit basis to the poorest families in the county and include an estimated 3,000 sterilization procedures the first year.

Fees for sterilizing cats would range from $35 to $50 for low-income owners and $30 to $40 for very low-income owners. Sterilization fees for dogs would be $65 to $120 for low-income owners and $50 to $85 for very low-income.

The shelter will be operated under a joint powers authority agreements between the cities and county. Ceres taxpayers are also on the hook for annual costs of animal control services and using the shelter for unwanted and corraled dogs and cats. The city expects those costs to be $282,000 annually but offset by estimated revenues of $130,000 for a total cost of $152,000 each year.

City Manager Brad Kilger said he felt the shelter arrangement and costs were the "best deal under the circumstances." He said the city could not run its own shelter for less money. Turlock and Patterson were able to have their own facilities because they were constructed years before costs rose to what they are today.

Supervisor Vito Chiesa of Hughson said he hopes the shelter JPA serves as a model for other county-city partnerships.

"I'd like to see more joint ventures," said Chiesa. "If this model is successful maybe we can explore other partnerships. It's going to be a long time before we're back to a resource level."

The county will finance construction of the project through a loan from their 2006 tobacco bond tax revenues and paid back over 25 years. Ceres' annual share of the debt payment will be $38,195 this year and $63,821 per year until 2035.