It’s a Saturday morning and they are serving up pancakes at the Central California SPCA in Fresno.
It’s a fundraiser to help support one of the organizations new programs called “Snip N’ Chip.” It’s a low cost spay and neuter service for low-income pet owners. Central California SPCA Executive Director Linda Van Kirk is happy with the turnout.
“Well, look at the crowd out there. It’s going absolutely fantastic. We are expecting a crowd of 500 to 600 this year versus the 300 we had last year, so we are ecstatic,” says Van Kirk.
Fundraising campaigns like this one, plus help from a lot of volunteers is what the SPCA is depending on as it begins to transition into the kind of facility it would like to be. One that no longer acts as a law enforcer. One that no longer provides animal control services for the City of Fresno. When that will be is still up in the air.
“It’s a little unnerving because we don’t know exactly what changes we face. So that make it a little bit hard to make a lot of plans. We certainly can plan for the items that are our core values, like the spay and neutering, like education,” says the Central California SPCA’s Beth Caffrey.
It was almost a year ago that the SPCA announced it was getting out of the animal control businesses, and would no longer provide the service for the city and county of Fresno, ending what had been a 50 year partnership.
Last fall the county announced it was going it alone and decided to turn the old morgue building into a shelter. The Board of Supervisors voted to contract with a new company, Liberty Animal Control to provide their service. The City of Fresno chose instead to extend its contract with the SPCA for six more months. City Manager Mark Scott says that operating agreement will be up in a few more weeks.
“We are talking to them about extending beyond this time period. So I am hopeful in the next couple of weeks we will have an agreement drafted that will allow us to move forward with them on an ongoing basis, while we work out the long term plans as to how the city can take over the animal pound operations,” says Scott.
While the city hasn’t figured out yet how it will move forward with animal control, officials know it will be costly. Scott acknowledges that the SPCA has been underfunded for years. The new contract is expected include additional funding.
“In this case we are going to budget about $1 million dollars a year more, going forward for operations. Right now we are going to be paying that money to the SPCA to continue doing what they do,” says Scott.
So for the City of Fresno, the SPCA continues to take in stray dogs, abandoned cats, horses and a host of wild animals. People can still go on a Saturday morning and get their dogs vaccinated. People like Lyn Parsley don’t mind the wait.
“Well, they have always been good to my pet, and the cost is one of the biggest reasons I come,” says Parsley.
Beth Caffrey, director of community relations for the Central California SPCA, says when it comes to stray and abandoned animals, the city and county split has been confusing for county residents and those who live in unincorporated areas. Many still show up hoping to turn in their animals.
“So our dispatchers are trying to do everything they can to answer those community questions and get people to the right place they need to be, so they can get that help,” says Caffrey.
Caffery says the SPCA’s continued working relationship with the city is giving both the time they need to make the transition to separate entities. Fresno officials are aware of the challenges involved in setting up its own animal control service, starting with finding a facility.
“The city is looking at a site near the sewer treatment plant on Jensen that has the facilities, has the land, where you could bring in and construct the facilities for the animals, that has all the infrastructure in, says Fresno City Council Member Lee Brand.
He says it could cost an additional $1 to $2 million just to get the building ready. Add the cost of running an animal control shelter and you understand why the city isn’t rushing.
“We have to take the time to do this right, and it’s not simple. Nothing these days is simple, so we are going to have to look at all of the factors,” says Scott.
One option that appears to be off the table is a tax. Fresno County Supervisor Henry Perea’s proposal for a countywide sales tax to fund animal control didn’t get very far.
“The majority of county elected officials decided it was too early to be talking about a tax and we agree,” says Scott.
Council Member Brand believes the city can generate additional funds by raising fees and getting more people to license their dogs.
“We have an estimated 80,000 households that have one or more dogs and we have 9,000 households paying licensing fees,” says Brand.
SPCA officials say that’s the problem they have faced all along and not having the money for outreach and education didn’t help the situation.
“We certainly would like to see direct funding for spay and neutering. I think a lot of local government areas have realized, let’s take care of the problem on the front end which means we are going to need funding for that front end,” says Caffrey.
Scott says in moving forward he believes the SPCA still has a huge role to play in the success of any animal control program. He and other city officials are also hoping the county will come back to the table.
“We are going to get some people who have done this before into the loop evaluating it and we will come up with our own analysis and include within that a role for the SPCA going forward, a role for other animal rescue groups going forward. And we’d would love to have it work out where the county and other cities in the county are involved in one solution,” says Scott.