Calif. county approves state's first government-run spay/neuter clinic


County leaders say clinic not meant to compete with local veterinary practices

Modesto, Calif. — Stanislaus County started work on a new animal shelter that will house California's first government-run sterilization clinic, but not all veterinarians are supportive of the new endeavor.

"With county providing enforcement, humane societies and private citizens facilitating education and fund-raising for ultra low-income families and un-owned cats, and local veterinarians providing service, we can reduce the unwanted population of dogs and cats in our county without government funding," wrote Susan Enz of Village Oak Veterinary Hospital in Modesto, Calif., in a letter to county leaders.

Enz is involved with Project X, a non-taxpayer funded low-cost spay/neuter program that completed 2,000 sterilizations in four months through participating private veterinary practices. The group is on target to sterilize 9,000 pets in its first year, Enz says.

But the county's program should combine Project X's efforts with its own, according to a study conducted by California State University that was reviewed by the Stanislaus County Board of Directors prior to approval of the new clinic. The study estimates that the county's Department of Animal Services could perform 2,600 sterilizations per year, in addition to 700 by rescue groups, at least 2,000 by Project X, 5,000 through one-time grants, and 3,000 through its own low-cost clinic, bringing the total possible sterilizations in Stanislaus County to 13,300 per year. About 3,200 sterilizations per year would stabilize the county's pet population and prevent an increase in unwanted pets, while about 9,200 sterilizations each year for five years would "drastically reduce" the number of pets that may wind up at the county's animal shelter.

The county began talking about operating its own sterilization clinic as a result of a recommendation to reduce the number of unwanted pets in its 2007 Animal Services Needs Assessment and Master Plan.

There is some concern from county leaders that local veterinarians would view the clinic as competition, so it will be set up to perform sterilizations and related care only — no other well-care or treatment.

The contracted spay/neuter group running the clinic will have to perform at least 3,000 sterilizations in the first year of its contract, and 4,020 in the second and third years. Prices will range from $30 to $120 for ultra-low and low-income pet owners, and most feels also will include microchipping and core vaccines.

Cheryl Kirkbrite, an office manager at Veterinary Medical Associates in Modesto, near the planned clinic, says her practice doesn't see the endeavor as competition.

"We want to see all of these animals altered. If we can help our patients, fine, but bottom line, we want to see all of these animals altered," she said. "We need that out there."

The California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) supports low-cost spay and neuter clinics in other areas and has no official position on government-run sterilization clinics, says CVMA spokesman Phil Boerner.

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