Citizen group offers suggestions to animal shelter disputes

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) Even after they split up, disputes continued between Bakersfield and Kern County over animal shelter issues, and now a citizen group will offer up their recommendations. The Kern County Animal Control Commission was asked by Supervisors to weigh in, and their suggestions go to the board next week.

"We can throw it out there," Commission chair Janice Anderson told Eyewitness News on Friday. "At this point, these are merely recommendations that we're making. The question is, is that something that will be part of a dialog that continues between the city and the county."

Earlier this year, the two shelter operations went separate ways in a dispute over cost-sharing. For years, a joint shelter had been operated by the county on city-owned property on South Mt. Vernon Avenue. But, starting in October, the city is now running their separate operation in that site, and the county set up shop on Fruitvale Avenue.

But questions remained, including which animals should go to which shelter.

Bakersfield has a policy of taking strays and abandoned pets only if the person bringing in the animal is a city resident. County officials quickly moved to adopt the same requirement since that's what the city was doing.

But the citizen commission suggests each shelter should accept animals based instead on where they're found.

"That's best practice, that's what is done with most animal controls that have multiple units," Anderson said. "Ultimately, where the animal is found is usually within close proximity to where it lives or came from."

Next comes the question of what to do if an animal is mistakenly brought to the wrong shelter. Animal advocates worry about asking people to take pets across town to the appropriate facility.

"In the absence of an Agreement whereby both City and County agree to accept animals without regard to jurisdiction, County should accept only County animals." their report reads. "However, the Animal Control Commission strongly recommends reaching an agreement that both County and City will receive animals brought to each other's respective shelters, regardless of jurisdiction."

That still leaves the matter of how to settle up over animals that end up at the wrong shelter. County staff had suggested a transfer of pets after a 24-hour hold period. But, the commission takes a different view.

"The last thing you want to do is transferring animals back and forth," Anderson says. She says that can stress pets, and raise the chance of spreading diseases.

Instead, the commission thinks animals should stay put, even if it's the wrong shelter, and both sides settle up later. "Maybe there's a monetary compensation between entities, should an animal be sent from one unit versus the other," she says.

The final issue the commission tackled is feral cats, and the county's fairly new program of "spay, neuter and release." Bakersfield doesn't have a similar plan in place.

"We'd certainly love to see them with a 'TNR' program," she says. But, until then -- "If they come up with any of our TNR cats, we'd rather they were returned to where they belong, rather than being euthanized."

The commission report is set to go to the Board of Supervisors meeting next Tuesday, and Anderson said she'd like to also take the ideas to Bakersfield officials, if she's asked to.

Eyewitness News contacted Steve Teglia, assistant to the city manager, on Friday. Teglia said he had not fully reviewed the recommendations, and had no comment. "Anyway, these are county issues," he said.

Anderson thinks there's a way past the disputes.

"It's politics," she said with a sigh. "The reality is, I know that both our director and the city's have been conversing." Anderson says she's still hoping for a "Kumbaya moment."