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Design OK'd for animal shelter
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Captured stray dogs and feral cats could be taken to new digs in Stanislaus County by next year now that Stanislaus County supervisors have approved plans for the $11 million Animal Shelter.

The 33,360-square-foot center will be constructed west of Ceres to replace the aging facility on Finch Road a stone's throw from Ceres' northern boundary. The shelter will be constructed at Crows Landing Road at Cornucopia Way.

A contract could be awarded by fall with construction completed by late next year.

The existing 35-year-old shelter on Finch Road is woefully inadequate in size and that materials used in the shelter are more prone to spread diseases to the animals held there. Overcrowding worsened when the state passed a new law that requires counties to hold animals for a minimum of five days. The shelter's condition was blasted in a 2005 Grand Jury report.

The center is being constructed as 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.

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. But private veterinarians have protested the county move as competing against their businesses and are protesting. They also say that the services won't make the problem of unwanted pets go away. County officials say the competition would not be great since the clinical area won't have radiological or surgical equipment. The alternative, said county vet Kwane Stewart is to build a larger facility and destroy more animals.

Efforts to get pet owners to spay and neuter their cats and dogs were not as effective as county officials want to see. Last year the Finch Road shelter took in 22,400 stray or unwanted animals last fiscal year.

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

The project will be funded by the county with the cities of Ceres, Hughson, Waterford and Patterson helping to pay it based on the percentage of the number of animals that come from their jurisdictions. Ceres' share will be $320,000 based on it contributing 11 percent of the animals taken there.

In March the City Council determined that partnering with the county is the best way to handle animal control.