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Is Sutter County ready for spay/neuter rule?
With its human population nearing 100,000, Sutter County soon will be subject to a law requiring that pets undergo spay or neuter surgery prior to adoption from its animal shelter.
The US Census estimates the county had 94,919 residents in 2010.
"We've been concerned about this for quite some time," said Bob Clary, who recently served as interim manager at the county's shelter in Yuba City.
But exactly how the county will go about meeting this requirement is unknown.
A $5 million new animal shelter, under construction on Garden Highway in Yuba City, will include a surgical facility. But a funding source to equip and staff the facility will be required before it sees any use, said Clary.
And outsourcing spay/neuter services could prove costly.
Of nine veterinary clinics that received a request for low-cost spay neuter services from the county in July, only one responded positively, Clary said. The request was for help in combating the county's feral cat population.
County officials estimate that 19,000 feral cats live in the county's river bottoms, orchards, back lots and alleys.
Clary said he believes that with human population numbers having held steady for several years, the county is safe from ramifications of the state's spay/neuter law.
"I honestly feel that it will be five years down the road before we have to meet that," he said.
As for paying for the surgery in the future, he said, "Whatever the cost is going to be, we'll have to pass that on to the adopters."
But those involved in animal welfare and rescue have said the lack of spay/neuter requirements in Sutter County is irresponsible.
"An animal should never be adopted out from a shelter over the age of 4 months that's not spayed or neutered," said Yvonne Moore, president of Sutter Buttes Canine Rescue in Gridley.
Moore's shelter uses grant funds and public donations to spay and neuter dogs — many of them rescued from the Sutter County shelter — prior to adoption. "They (county officials) are doing nothing to reduce the burden on their own system," said Dawn Capp, founder of Chako, a rescue group in Sacramento that provides free spay/neuter services for pitbull owners. "They'll adopt out an animal and get back three more."
Chako offers vouchers for pit bull owners to get their dogs altered free of charge at a local veterinary clinic.
"If they (Sutter County) would at least spay and neuter their animals, they wouldn't be contributing to the problem," Capp said. "Those animals wouldn't be reproducing."
Yuba County already has implemented a preadoption spay/neuter surgery program with the help of a local veterinarian under contract to provide low-cost services.
The cost for the 2011 contract was between $15,000 and $16,000, according to Capt. Adam Long of the Yuba County Sheriff's Department, which oversees animal care services there.
Sutter County's spay/neuter policy consists of a $40 rebate on adoption fees for unaltered animals. The money can be claimed if the animal has been spayed or neutered within a month of adoption.
According to Clary, nearly 40 percent of those adopters who have been offered the rebate successfully claimed the benefit.
And Sutter County has been the recent beneficiary of free services provided by the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
The school recently began to include Sutter County's shelter among its sources for feline and canine surgery patients to help train vet students.
During semesters when advanced students are involved in surgery training, about a dozen animals at a time are transported to and from the Davis campus for spay/neuter surgery at no cost to the county.
But changes to the county's policies regarding preadoption spay/neuter will have to wait until new funding sources and agreements from local veterinarians to reduce fees can be secured, Clary said.
Kate Hurley, director of the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program, said Sutter County cannot wait long.
Hurley has been contracted to help the Sutter Animal Services Authority develop policies and procedures for the county's shelter.
"If you're adopting out an animal, it has to be spayed or neutered," she said. "They (Sutter County) are going to have to do it, and they know it. They're very close to the line."
CONTACT Nancy Pasternack at email@example.com or 749-4781. Find her on Facebook at /ADnpasternack or on Twitter at @ADnpasternack.
Unwieldy cat population poses challenge
By Nancy Pasternack
With an estimated 19,000 untamed and sexually intact cats fending for themselves in Sutter County, officials charged with overseeing animal services have been at a loss for how best to address the unwieldy population.
UC Davis veterinarian Kate Hurley, a consultant to help remedy a range of county animal services problems, has initiated a two-step approach.
The first has been aimed at fixing what Hurley believes is the county's contribution to its own problem.
On Sept. 1, the county's animal shelter stopped accepting healthy feral cats.
"We weren't solving the problem, but just giving the appearance of taking some kind of action," Hurley said of feral cats that residents had been trapping and bringing to the shelter.
Hurley cites studies that indicate 90 percent of stray cats have access to food and water and are healthy. She argues that most are better off remaining where they are, especially if they are feral, timid and unadoptable.
Once at the shelter, feral cats had been held in cages indefinitely. Most were eventually euthanized.
The move to stop accepting those cats "takes away the illusion that you have a solution," Hurley said. "It ends the charade."
Hurley, considered a pioneer in the field of animal shelter medicine, has acknowledged the seemingly extreme nature of the policy.
But addressing the shelter's role had to precede any effort to tackle outdoor cat populations, she said.
Since the change, feline euthanasia rates have, predictably, plummeted.
During the prior two months, 300 cats had been euthanized, Hurley said. During the subsequent two months, 30 cats were killed by lethal injection.
What lies ahead, however, is the hard part.
Hurley said she would like to see community residents begin taking responsibility for that part.
She recommends, as do many others in the world of animal rescue and welfare, widespread use of trap-neuter-release programs.
Such programs, according to Hurley, are effective in helping reduce feral cat numbers over time, without euthanasia.
Intact female cats breed at a rate of two to three litters per year, on average.
By neutering male feral cats in large numbers and then returning them to their home turf, Sutter County could dramatically limit future offspring.
TNR advocates estimate that 75 percent of all male feral cats would need to be altered for the community to see a significant change in future population numbers.
Such programs require funding, help from local veterinarians, and volunteer labor to trap and return the animals before and after surgery.
An effort in July to appeal to local veterinary clinics for assistance in such a program was not encouraging, according to Bob Clary, who recently served as Sutter County's interim animal shelter manager.
Only one veterinarian responded positively, he said.
"I got the impression the others were a little too busy to grasp the concept," said Clary.
A broad animal care network will likely be necessary, Hurley said, to tackle Sutter County's feral cat population.
In the meantime, with the shelter no longer accepting and euthanizing the animals en masse, its role in the cycle has been removed, she said.
"Sometimes we can look too much to our government," she said, "and not take enough community responsibility."
Sadie was a lucky lady
By Nancy Pasternack
Sadie is a lucky dog.
Abandoned at Walmart in Linda on Christmas eve, the mixed-breed pooch was taken in by a good Samaritan, spayed at the expense of a rescue group out of Sacramento and now stands a good chance of adoption and a healthy life.
According to Dawn Capp, an attorney, dog trainer and founder of Chako Pit Bull Rescue, Sadie's spay surgery is a key factor in her good fortune.
In addition to the fact that she will never have to experience discomforts and health risks related to pregnancy or whelping, she will be relieved of hormonal surges that come with fertility.
"A female in heat can be temperamental. Spaying can reduce that stress," she said "And males don't react as strongly to them."
The scent of a female animal's hormones can carry a long way.
"That causes stress for an intact male. It's simple biology," Capp said.
Behavior is often easier to manage in a male dog once the animal has been neutered, according to Capp.
"When you neuter males before they mature, you tend to reduce male-to-male aggression. It also tends to reduce roaming and marking behaviors," she said.
"At worst, you see no change," as a result of spay/neuter surgery, according to Capp. "At best, you have a lot of positive benefits.
But don't count on the surgery to solve all behavioral problems in a pet, she warned.
"An unstable dog is an unstable dog whether or not it has testicles," she said.