Sunday, August 8, 2010

Kill the "kill fee"

It’s high summer, and in Kern County that means you can’t hardly walk twenty paces in any direction without encountering them. Sometimes they appear to travel alone; other times you’ll find small groups lurking in the shadows.

Yes, cat season is in full swing, although given the relatively temperate conditions in the Central Valley, it’s hard to find a time when cats aren’t in season. Our cat overpopulation problem may not be the worst in the country, but I assure you that we easily rank in amongst the top locales, both for sheer quantity and for the ways in which we fail them. And we’re apparently set to fail them again.

Starting August 9, Kern County Animal Control (KCAC) will begin assessing an “extended service fee” (their words) of $5 for each stray or kitten brought to the County animal shelter.

I’m certain the County has some perfectly reasonable-sounding explanation for the fee, having already braced themselves for the criticism they can’t help but to expect to follow a decision such as this. In fact, it already sounded good enough for KCAC to create the fee and get the support of the Board of Supervisors to implement it. But frankly, from where I’m sitting, it doesn’t wash.

Shelters, by their very design, are supposed to be the place where people take companion animals for which they can no longer provide care. They are also supposed to be the place where people bring in abandoned/stray pets in hopes of getting them into the homes of someone who will care for them and, failing that, a place where they can receive a slightly more humane death than that which awaits them on the streets. It’s a message that humane groups throughout the country have spent decades trying to get to people: Don’t dump your pets by the side of the road to suffer and die. If you can no longer care for them, at least get them to a shelter where they can be treated as humanely as possible.

So what is KCAC telling people now? That they only care about cats if you’re willing to pony up? Otherwise, feel free to dump them on the side of the road/toss them in trash/leave them on your neighbor’s doorstep. Anything other than bother your local government-funded shelter with them, because the shelter-peeps don’t really care what sort of bad end they come to if you aren’t willing to pay their freight. And please spare me the whole “it’s irresponsible people who must be made more responsible through increased penalties” argument, as I’ve yet to see where that particular train of thought has gotten us much traction thus far, especially since we don’t help people be more responsible by providing anywhere near enough low-cost spay/neuter services for a community as economically-challenged as is Kern County.

Isn’t it enough of a turn-off already for people bringing in kittens to be told how the shelter is going to kill them straightaway because they are too young/too sick/too numerous? Now you want to charge them for the needle and the Lethal-Plus under the guise of an “extended service fee”? Funny, I thought taking in stray and homeless animals is your service. Why not just call it a “kill fee”, since in June 2010, 78 percent of the cats taken into KCAC didn’t make it back out?

No matter what you call it, cats will continue to die in large numbers in Kern County until we have a proper low-cost spay/neuter clinic. Implementing a fee for taking them in only ensures that more will die even less humanely than before.

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