A new chapter has begun in Kern County's fight to lower its exceptionally high pet euthanasia rate. Jen Woodard, the county's new Animal Control Director, hopes to do what the county hasn't been able to do so far — keep animals out of shelters and get into homes.
Overcrowding and euthanasia rates have been problems for years in the county. In 2011 alone, Animal Control took in more than 27,000 animals, and euthanized almost 18,000 of them.
"I think the county shelter does get in a significant number of animals but its not necessarily a pet over-population problem. There are enough homes, it's just trying to change human behaviors," said Woodard.
Woodard, who has been on the job just two weeks, say changing behaviors starts with community involvement. Short-term goals include finding more volunteers, rescue and adoption opportunities, and promoting low cost spay and neuter programs.
"We try to have low income services for people who maybe are really challenged with surviving and they're not going to be able to pay 500 dollars for a dog spay," Woodard said.
Before coming to Kern County, Woodard helped establish a no-kill facility in Los Angeles that saved more than 400 dogs and cats and performed more than 800 spay and neuter surgeries. She also started the Rancho Cucamonga Department of Animal Care in 2006.
"By the time I left, had about an 85% save rate," Woodard said.
Over at the Bakersfield SPCA, the no-kill shelter faces it's own over-population problems. Officials say they’re always at capacity largely because of irresponsible owners.
"People a lot of times around here for some reason, find that animals are disposable. They get a puppy, its cute, grows up to be a dog and they no longer want it," said Chuck Nordstrom, SPCA Public Relations Director. An attitude the SPCA says needs to change. "People need to understand that they are responsible like its one of their children both financially and emotionally."
An idea Woodard says is a cornerstone to her plans.
"I think all of that combined with adding some more events and opportunities for the community to be involved are the next steps in the next six months or so," said Woodard.
Woodard says other short term goals include making the shelter more sanitary and cutting down the disease rate. For now, there are no immediate plans to move the shelter.
Both Kern County Animal Control and the SPCA say there are low cost spay and neuter services available at a newly opened, no-profit clinic called Critters Without Litters located at 4300 Stine Road.