It is no exaggeration to say Fresno’s animal shelters are overrun with lost, abandoned and stray dogs and cats.
The Central California Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has nearly 30,000 animals come into its shelter each year. Fresno Humane Animal Services transfers hundreds of pets each month to animal rescuers around the state and beyond.
City Councilman Miguel Arias is working to put an item on the Oct. 24 council agenda to discuss financing a $15 million to $20 million shelter that could be open within two years.
Mayor Lee Brand is also ready to go, but he foresees having a plan for a new shelter worked out by the end of this year.
The urgency to get a new shelter open is being driven in large part by the SPCA, which contracts with the city now for animal services. The nonprofit has given notice that it intends to serve through the remainder of its current contract, which ends next June.
Brand hopes he can persuade SPCA to remain on board until the new shelter can open. If not, the city would see if Humane Services could step in. That agency now handles animal control for the county.
While the operator remains to be determined, the city has identified three properties where a new shelter could be built and not conflict with existing neighborhoods. Two are sites along Highway 99, and the third is near Fresno-Yosemite International Airport. All three are zoned for industrial use.
How to pay for a new shelter is something the council and mayor’s office must still figure out. Arias said borrowing from the city’s reserve fund, or its utility budget, could provide the money. A bond measure could also be tried.
Remembering how the Great Recession whittled away Fresno’s reserve fund, Brand is hesitant to dip into it again. The fund is now built back to $34 million — about 10 percent of the overall general fund. Brand wants to keep it whole and safe for what he would consider true emergencies. The animal shelter, he said, is not an emergency.
The mayor also believes he can get significant donations from some deep-pocket donors to help defray the cost. “I am confident we will have a specific plan before the year is over,” he said.
In addition to a city shelter, the county is in the process of building a new facility, and the SPCA will continue using its shelter.
The need for all three is great. State reports show that in 2016, nearly 7,000 dogs and 7,500 cats were put to death in Fresno County because they did not have owners, could not be placed through rescue groups and had overstayed their time at the shelters. Only Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties have higher totals.
Pet owners, get your dogs and cats fixed so they don’t create unwanted puppies and kittens. City leaders can do more to educate pet owners about their responsibility to spay and neuter their pets. And here’s hoping Fresno’s elected leaders work together to create the animal shelter so that euthanasia total can be lowered.