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Responsible ownership is key to reducing unwanted pet population
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The new Animal Shelter that serves Stanislaus County, Ceres, Modesto, Waterford, Hughson and Patterson residents, opened last Wednesday after years of planning, and negotiations between the involved local governments. Prior to this last year, the Stanislaus County government provided services to communities in this area on a contractual basis. The services provided were frequently the subject of harsh criticism by people with concerns for animals, community members who had occasion to use the services and by the cities contracting with the county for those services.

The animal shelter had come under particularly severe scrutiny because the old facility was overcrowded with animals and workers, was old, in poor shape and overall conditions did not meet acceptable standards. I have heard it said many times that the way a society treats its animals says much about the nature of the people who make up that society. In short, the old shelter was an embarrassment for us and fell far short of being able to humanely house the animals that had to stay there.

In this county, some 14,357 animals were euthanized (killed) during the 2008-2009 fiscal year at a cost of almost $1.7 million. These animals had to be "put to sleep" because the old shelter's capacity for holding animals until they could be adopted was extremely limited. Now, with responsible pet ownership (having your animals "fixed" to prevent unwanted litters that may end up at the shelter), sterilization programs, and a new facility that has more than 500 cages, those numbers should start declining.

Not only is the new animal shelter a great new building, but now that it has been built, it symbolizes and allows for an entirely new start for the way this county handles abandoned and lost/recovered animals. We should be able to adopt-out more animals without having to be so quick to euthanize them. The spay and neuter program will do much better because all aspects of the animal control functions are now centralized at the new facility. Public education, which is critical to the success of any animal services program, will also be further reaching and more comprehensive. In part, these improvements will occur because of newfound enthusiasm and a sense that the shelter staff and volunteers have what they need to achieve their goals. Things were so bad at the old shelter that morale was low, there was a sense of hopelessness and the working conditions (both in practical and emotional terms) were nearly impossible.

It is important to recognize that even with this new animal shelter, the task ahead is monumental. We have to make up for years of inadequate resources for the animal services function in Stanislaus County. The stray animal problem is huge because few animals have been spayed or neutered these past years. Responsible pet ownership training, which involves the proper of animals, needs a great deal of public education and responsiveness. Once the people of this county do what is necessary to keep the population of unwanted animals from continuing to flourish, the overall problems we face now will diminish significantly.

The new animal shelter is a milestone in the history of Stanislaus County and it is truly an accomplishment to be celebrated in terms of local government collaboration, along with the support of community volunteers. But the hard work still lies ahead, and if we are to be truly successful in achieving the goals of being an area where the entire animal population is healthy and living in humane conditions, it will take all of us working together with a commitment to do what is necessary to ensure our animals are properly taken care of, sterilized to prevent overpopulation, and potential pet owners should be encouraged to adopt animals from the shelter.