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Local animal shelter lowering ‘kill’ rate
• Stanislaus Animal Services Agency lowering euthanasia rate
Shelter at SASA
Kennels have been mostly cleared at the SASA facility.

The Stanislaus Animal Services Agency (SASA) has made great strides to reducing the euthanization of pets that come into its shelter, its executive director told members of the Ceres City Council on Monday, but unwanted pets continue to be a problem.

Annette Patton delivered her annual report, which also contained mostly good news about declining euthanasia rates. The city Ceres is a member of the agency’s Joint Powers Authority (JPA), along with Stanislaus County and the cities of Hughson, Modesto, Waterford and Patterson. The cities of Turlock, Oakdale, Newman and Riverbank have their own animal control services.

“This report brings the highest live release rate in all of Stanislaus Animal Services history,” said Patton. “I’ve said that for four years straight now but it’s true.”

She credited a number of reasons for the lower rate of euthanasia, including adopters, rescue partners and animal rescue foundations, including the PetCo Foundation, Maddie’s Fund and Best Friends Animal Society.

Patton showed a photo via Zoom that showed empty kennels.

“That’s probably not very impressive to most of you who don’t realize that on any given  day seven days a week we have 400 to 500 animals, pets, here to care for,” said Patton.

She said her staff took three full days at the onset of COVID-19 to clear out the shelter to foster homes “and those pets never came back.” Eighty percent stayed put in home while the other 20 percent found good homes.

Patton addressed the problem of wanted cats. Through several grants, SASA is neutering feral cats and returning them to their natural habitat so they cannot reproduce.

“A big production of these little cats come from Ceres,” said Patton. “They are the second highest intake of cats. Cats breed, I say, faster than rabbits.”

Initially 10,000 cats per year were taken in by the shelter, down to 5,000 which Patton called “way too many cats for this large community.”

“The first week of July, which is usually our biggest week of the year we may have 700 animals that we’re requiring a limited staff to care for, feed and clean up every day – something has to be done differently.”

Eighty-two percent of the cats that enter the agency’s shelter leave alive, said Patton. “It used to be nine percent 10 years ago.”

Four percent have to be euthanized for health or age reasons while 14 percent are medical pre-weened kittens.

To combat the problem of unwanted cats and the euthanasia of thousands more, the agency continues to provide the Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR) program for feral cats so they cannot reproduce. Stray cats which are spayed or neutered are also vaccinated before being returned to their original habitats with their ears “tipped” to indicate they have been sterilized.

The TNR program, which began in Stanislaus County seven years ago and is reducing numbers, is less expensive than euthanizing cats, said Patton.

The dog live release rate is at the highest level ever – 97 percent, which classifies the shelter as a “no-kill shelter.” Of those dogs euthanized, one percent is for extreme medical reasons. Others are done when owners request the dog to be put down. Dogs are also put down for behavioral problems like biting and attacking.

The greatest amount of adoptions is going to the Bay Area and mountain communities. 

“Recently there has been a big demand – I say that our dogs here must be dipped in gold,” said Patton. Highly desirable dogs come with a cost of $375 versus $120 for other breeds of dogs less in demand.

“We have multiple people from the Bay Area standing in line outside to get these highly desirable dogs.”

The dogs come microchipped, vaccinated and spayed or neutered.

The agency also provides dog licensing over the phone or online with DocuPet, a pet licensing agency. 

The Home to Home program allows the public to rehome their pet to a new owner by bypassing visits to the shelter. The intent is to keep animals from having to stay at the shelter.

Since COVID-19, the shelter offers drive-through pet vaccinations and is prepaid.

“We can do a couple hundred cars. The veterinarian just goes out to the cars, administers the shots and continues the process with the next vehicle. It’s much smoother, much easier.”