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Unwanted pets still big problem
• SASA shelter gives Ceres City Council annual update
cat unwanted
This male brown tabby Domestic Shorthair is among cats available for adoption yesterday at the Thomas Mayfield Regional Animal Services Center in west Ceres.

Great strides continue to be made to reduce the euthanizing of pets that come into its shelter Annette Bedsworth, executive director of the Stanislaus Animal Services Agency (SASA), told members of the Ceres City Council last week, but unwanted pets continue to be a big problem locally.

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.

Bedsworth mentioned the shelter’s “great” partnerships which are not common among other agencies. She noted, for example, that Dogwood Animal Rescue Project of Sonoma County is paying for dogs and cats to be spayed and neutered in Stanislaus County.

“It’s a big deal and the reason being is we have too many animals in this community that are not spayed and neutered,” said Bedsworth. “We take in on an average right now of about 12,000 pets each year into Stanislaus Animal Service Agency. A decade about we were taking in 22,000, now we’re down to 12,000. That’s still many and 90 percent that come into the shelter are not spayed or neutered so this is critical. We have donors from an outside county agency willing to pay for that.”

She explained that anyone in Ceres can pick up a coupon from the shelter at 3647 Cornucopia Way in Ceres good for free pet spaying or neutering at Valley Pet Clinic.

Another partnership is Home to Home, which keeps pets out of shelters.

“Pets in the shelter mean you incur costs, it fills up the shelter, which increases the expenses. We want pets to remain in homes.”

The “Petco Love” program also helps cats find homes at the Petco store in Turlock. Petco also awarded SASA a grant of $250,000 for its foster program.

One of the largest grants to the agency, close to $1 million, was awarded by Best Friends Animal Society which has supplied two full-time employees onsite for the past three years. The employees helped get the shelter’s cat adoption program in order.

The agency still has a problem with unwanted cats, said Bedsworth. The agency used to take in 10,000 cats per year – of which most bred in the Ceres and south Modesto areas.

The agency had a live release rate of 9 percent. Now the shelter has a high release rate of 85 percent.

“Because cats only breed when it’s hot, we would literally take in hundreds of cats in every day. It did not work because all you’re doing is killing cats because you cannot get (adopt out) that many cats.”

Cats can no longer be dropped off at the shelter unless by appointment.

“We no longer accept cats. There’s no legal cause for that and there’s no reason for it. We did it over and over again year after year and all we did is kill cats and that’s not what Animal Services is about.”

Under the Community Cat Program, persons can make appointments to bring in cats so they may be spayed or neutered and released back into their neighborhoods, or, if young, are adopted out.

Some unwanted cats are spayed and neutered and channeled into the Working Whiskers Program. The cats may be picked up by local farmers and ranchers to be placed on farms and dairies to help catch mice.

Volunteers who participate in the Foster program help bottle feed pre-weened kittens and care for them in their homes.

The shelter hosts Saturday drive-through dog vaccination clinics in warmer months by appointments.

Bedsworth noted the shelter’s high release rate for dogs, with only one percent being euthanized for behavioral problems; and 7 percent euthanized for medical reasons.

“We have a very high (dog) adoption rate in Stanislaus with 38 percent and our number adopters reside outside of Stanislaus County,” said Bedworth. “We have people that come in from the Bay Area, the mountain communities, Sacramento and all the way down south. If you fall in love with a dog or cat on our social media page, you don’t care; you will drive and you will come to adopt.”

The SASA webpage is typically visited about a million times per month, she said.

Financial resources continue to be a challenge for the joint powers authority, she said, and noted that Stanislaus takes in the same number of animals as Sacramento County yet they have 25 more full-time positions.

“Something’s got to give,” she said. “We need more resources.”

Bedsworth noted that the state budget will be allocating $50 million to animal services statewide which could benefit the shelter in west Ceres.

A problem that has developed since COVID is finding people to fill jobs that are available. There is also a nationwide shortage of veterinarians to care for the shelter pets.

COVID also caused SASA in March 2020 to discontinue its door-knock canvassing for dog owners who haven’t purchased dog licenses. She told the Ceres council that has resulted in “status quo” revenue.

Also lacking due to limited resources is animal welfare education.

Bedsworth, a Ceres High School graduate, mentioned in her annual appearance before the City Council, that she is retiring from Stanislaus County after 33 years.