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Unwanted cats still a problem
Animal Services report reflects on positive trends
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Ceres remains a problem area for unwanted cats, the executive director of the Stanislaus Animal Services Agency told members of the Ceres City Council last week.

The news was shared by Annette Patton as she delivered her annual report, which also contained mostly good news.

Ceres is a member of the agency's Joint Powers Authority (JPA), along with the county and the cities of Hughson, Modesto, Waterford and Patterson. The cities of Turlock, Oakdale, Newman and Riverbank have their own animal control services.

"Ceres is one of our higher populations for breeding cats," said Patton. "Believe it or they, they actually produce more cats out of Ceres than we do out of Modesto."

To combat the problem of unwanted feral cats, 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 three years ago and is reducing numbers, is less expensive than euthanizing cats, said Patton.

She said of the 3,967 cats her shelter euthanized last year, 3,000 were preemies, and 1,000 due to medical and age issues.

The euthanasia rate for dogs dropped to 29 percent, said Patton, which has been the lowest percentage in recent years. The rate was as high as 55 percent in fiscal year 2011-12. The 29 percent figure includes all dog euthanasia, including dogs that suffer accident injuries, terminal disease and old age.

"We're very proud of that number and we want to keep that number going down."

The agency has managed to increase revenue by issuing as many dog licenses as possible. For the past fiscal year, the shelter issued 28,403 dog licenses, up from 23,565 in FY 2011-12. Beginning in December the shelter will be set up to allow dog owners to pay for dog licenses over the phone or internet starting in December.

Last year the agency operated on a budget of $3.41 million, with revenues at $1.31 million and $2.34 million in funding from member cities and the county. Each jurisdiction pays into the JPA based on the percentage of animals it sends to the Thomas W. Mayfield Regional Services Center shelter on Crowslanding Road. Any city's contribution is offset by the revenues from dog licenses sold in its jurisdiction.

Patton reported that the shelter continues to benefit from the over 10,000 hours in free labor logged through the participants of the Sheriff's alternative work program, court referral program, Alliance Work Net Program and hospital student program. Volunteers help chemically clean the kennels each day, and feed and water the animals. Another 7,000 hours were given by other volunteers, including veterinarians, who engage in dog training and adoptions.

In the last fiscal year, Patton's agency sent 4,743 animals to non-profit animal rescue or adoption shelters, some which are from out of state and Canada.

"That's very critical for us," said Patton. "The more animals that can leave this area alive, the better for us as a community."

The shelter continues to increase its numbers of low-cost vaccinations - from 2,651 in the 2011-12 fiscal year to 5,414 for 2015-16. The increase is due to increased vaccination clinics, which are now held weekdays 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. and one Saturday per month.

Patton recapped a program that kicked off on July 1 that offers free spay and neuter for all pit bull and Chihuahua owners in four zip code areas - 95307, 95351, 95354 and 95358. The four areas are the target since 46 percent of the two breeds coming to the center originate from those areas.

Ceres was the third highest zip code area for the intake of unwanted Chihuahuas. A total of 283 pit bulls and 296 Chihuahuas came from Ceres to the shelter during the 2014-15 year, said Patton. Patton said a combined 3,970 pit bulls and Chihuahuas made their way to the shelter from the four zip code areas, and that 71 percent were unaltered.

Patton said her agency has changed its pet adoption program to produce a 23 percent increase in the first quarter of this year.

"What we're doing differently with this adoption program is we are promoting to the public on our website and sharing the date when animals become available for adoption," said Patton. "It's not very uncommon anymore to see people line up at 6 a.m. - we open at 9 - if they want a dog because it's first-come, first-served."

Another change is that people may now take adopted pets home before they have spay or neuter surgery.

Adoptions of shelter cats are also being set up seven days a week at the new PetCo store in Turlock, said Patton. Dogs will be offered every Saturday and Sunday at the new store.

Councilman Bret Durossette asked Patton, "How did we become Cat City?," to which she suggested that people are dumping them off over in the vicinity of the Tuolumne River and along River Road.

"And the fine for that is like $1,000?," queried Durossette.

"If you catch them, sure," answered Patton.

Ceres resident Leonard Shepherd said it was a good thing that the animals being killed are dwindling but questioned the wisdom of releasing unwanted cats into the community after they are fixed.

"It just puts them in line for disease, and being caught by dogs and coyotes and being run over and stuff," said Shepherd.