Sept. 09--Fresno City Hall may have a solution to its animal-control headache -- make the Police Department chase down that dangerous canine bulldog.
With a potential crisis only weeks away, Assistant City Manager Bruce Rudd said he has asked Police Chief Jerry Dyer to devise an animal-control operation based out of police headquarters.
Such a remedy is not a sure thing. But the mere suggestion that a department down 100 sworn officers from a few years ago might also take on cat-herding duties shows the level of City Hall desperation.
"Right now, we're locked and focused on what to do in the next three weeks and the next three months," Rudd said. "This is a real challenge."
Dyer in his 11-plus years as chief never has even hinted that he would like to add the dog pound to his agenda. But, he said, the police are always willing to serve.
"If it comes our way, we'll make it work," Dyer said. "Then we'll see if it's short-term or long-term."
The city and Fresno County have long depended on the Central California Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for animal-control services, many of them state-mandated.
But the SPCA stunned City Hall and the county last spring by triggering a six-month exit clause in its contract.
SPCA officials said they were tired of taking heat for euthanizing the thousands of dogs and cats that Fresnans refused to nurture themselves.
They said they'd had enough of animal activists hounding them to open their private board meetings to the public. They said they wanted to focus on things like education and spaying/neutering.
The city-county response was tepid at first. A joint task force that included animal-rescue groups met most Fridays at City Hall. But progress was slow as the clock ticked.
Rudd in recent weeks had been lobbying the SPCA to stay on the job for an extra three months. The SPCA publicly scotched that idea last month, sending the first real sense of panic through City Hall.
That's when Rudd, deemed the city's Mr. Fix-It even though the SPCA-City Hall tiff originated on the City Council, turned to Dyer for help.
Details on the police proposal are scarce. Dyer said he hasn't had time to "put pen to paper." But he and Rudd have a rough idea of what might replace the SPCA until at least Christmas:
Sworn officers would not be directly involved in animal-control activities. They would continue with their usual law-enforcement activities.
The city would hire a few extra dispatchers for animal-control calls. They would work next to police dispatchers, who often get dangerous-dog, dead-cat calls from the public.
The city would hire six or more animal-control officers. They may come from the ranks of SPCA employees laid off when the city-county money spigot is turned off Oct. 1.
The city would scrounge up a fleet of trucks from among the seldom-used vehicles peppering city storage lots. Line up some camper shells, buy some portable kennels and -- presto! -- those animal-control officers have something workable to drive.
This new animal-control force would have clear but narrow tasks. Sick, injured or dangerous animals are picked up. Strays are left to fate.
The public would be told who to call. A list of animal-rescue groups would be available to callers with unwanted but healthy animals.
A couple of police lieutenants would add animal-control administration to their responsibilities.
Rudd said animal control is just half of the challenge. Animal shelter is the other half. The city doesn't have an animal shelter ready to go. Rudd admits he isn't sure how he will cobble one together in three weeks.
The basic outline is simple enough, he said. Find a big empty warehouse or retail store in an area zoned for such an operation. Buy or lease a bunch of kennels. If the kennels aren't available, get strong fencing.
Food and water bowls are necessary, of course. So, too, are brooms, shovels and hoses for the inevitable waste that hungry animals produce, not to mention sufficient drainage and sewer arrangements.
A shelter capable of handling all the animal emergencies is a complex structure, Rudd said. The city will need someone with managerial skills and veterinary qualifications to oversee such an operation. Rudd said he has no idea where he will find that someone.
The city was paying the SPCA about $2.2 million a year. Rudd said the SPCA already has been paid for the first three months of this fiscal year. That would leave the city about $1.65 million for the next nine months.
The SPCA in one form or another has been providing animal-control services to the city for more than 50 years. Its campus near Roeding Park had been built up over the decades.
The city, on the other hand, would be starting from scratch. Rudd said the burden of up-front purchases may be partially offset by overhead costs lower than those at the SPCA. Rudd pointed to himself as an example -- he already is wearing many City Hall hats, including that of interim parks director.
But even the scale of these hectic efforts fails to fully capture the uncertainty over the future of local animal control.
The county paid the SPCA slightly less than $1 million annually to provide services to unincorporated areas. County Environmental Health director David Pomaville said he talks daily with City Hall officials.
Ideally, Pomaville said, both governments will team for a common solution. But he gave no clue whether the county also is shopping for chew toys by the gross.
There's also a company, established just last May, that wants in the mix. The city and county recently asked for bids to replace the SPCA. Liberty Animal Control Services LLC, which has a Clovis connection, was the only firm to respond in detail.
The company in its proposal said it could be up and running almost as soon as the ink dried on the contract. But the company also estimated its annual cost for a wide range of services in the $4.2 million range, substantially higher than the combined $3.2 million that the city and county were paying the SPCA.
Pomaville said he is reviewing Liberty's bid while also negotiating with company officials over the $1 million funding gap. Beyond that, Pomaville declined to give details.
Finally, there's what everyone is calling the "long term." Neither the city nor the county has extra cash.
Rudd said he would love to avoid "spending money twice."
In other words, no one wants to invest millions of public money for a quick-fix animal-control and shelter operation that is later made irrelevant by a bigger public investment in a permanent solution.
Rudd doesn't mention it by name, but one of those potential big-ticket solutions is a proposed 2014 ballot measure championed by some animal activists that would use a bump in the sales tax to fund countywide animal services.
First things first, though. Oct. 1 is just around the corner.
Rudd said he needs someone in 22 days to pick up Rover and someplace to take the mutt. "I'm biting this apple a little bit at a time."
The reporter can be reached at [email protected] or (559) 441-6272.
Copyright 2012 - The Fresno Bee