Elk Grove hopes Sacramento County will take its animals

Elk Grove has found a new home for its stray animals.

Sacramento County supervisors on Tuesday approved a 5 1/2-year contract to house animals from Elk Grove at its Bradshaw Road facility and charge the city about $470,000 annually.

Elk Grove found itself without an animal shelter after the Sacramento Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals abruptly announced it would cancel a longstanding contract for animal housing in January. The local SPCA said Elk Grove was sending too many animals its way.

“Sacramento County has a really nice new facility, so we approached them,” Elk Grove Police Chief Robert Lehner said.

Supervisors expressed some reservations Tuesday to accepting an estimated 1,850 to 2,300 more animals each year. But Sacramento County animal officials stressed that the Elk Grove contract would allow the county to hire additional veterinarians and attendants, promote pet adoption and resume its “Spay Neuter Commuter” vehicle service, services that were cut because of budget reductions in recent years.

“It’s going to give us more resources to do public outreach and special adoption events,” said David Dickinson, director for Sacramento County Animal Care and Regulations, in an interview. “We’ll bring veterinary staff on site seven days a week instead of five days.”

Animal rights advocates were skeptical about the plan. The small but vocal group wants the city of 159,000 – the region’s second largest after Sacramento – to do more on its own to protect animals.

“We’ve reached the size where we can no longer outsource our animal needs,” said Dr. Kelly Byam, owner of Abel Pet Clinic in Elk Grove and past president of the Sacramento Valley Veterinary Medical Association. “A big city needs to act like a big city.”

Elk Grove officials haven’t ruled out building a separate shelter in the future, but stress that such a proposal must be carefully vetted before funds are committed.

“We have to make sure if we head down this road, it makes good financial sense,” Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis said.

A local grass-roots campaign is under way to build a permanent shelter in Elk Grove. Advocates have registered a nonprofit to begin fundraising and lobbying efforts. Byam estimated that a small shelter would cost $2.5 million to build and $500,000 a year to run.

“They come up with the money for aquatic centers and soccer fields. Let’s build some essential services before recreational services,” Byam said.

Sacramento County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Susan Peters wondered Tuesday whether Elk Grove has already reached a population tipping point to require its own shelter. When told that Elk Grove community leaders like Byam were working toward that end, Supervisor Jimmie Yee suggested the county agreement may be a temporary bridge until the city builds its own animal facility.

Board members said they wanted regular updates on how the Elk Grove contract impacts county animal care practices.

Sacramento SPCA officials said they had to cut ties with Elk Grove because of space concerns. SPCA’s 50-year-old facility on Florin Perkins Road has capacity for 150 animals. It had become dangerously overcrowded with 14,000 animals coming through each year, said SPCA chief executive Rick Johnson. The city’s current contract with the nonprofit is worth $400,000 annually.

“It was really about numbers,” Johnson said. “Without that contract, we know we will have 2,500 less animals impacting our shelter.”

Pointing to recent campaigns encouraging local pet lovers to help empty shelters, advocates say the region’s animal care programs are struggling to keep pace with the surge in demand for space. Though euthanasia rates have dropped 28 percent in area shelters since 2009, nearly half of all animals that wind up in Sacramento shelters are put down, according to a 2012 report.

“If the shelter is full, there’s only one way to make room – they euthanize the animals. Elk Grove contributed to much of the problem with our growth,” Byam said.

Sacramento County euthanizes 4,000 animals annually. In September, the county shelter had a 68 percent live release rate, which Dickinson said was “pretty good for a municipal shelter.”

The four-year-old county shelter can house up to 450 animals at any given time. It currently serves the unincorporated areas of the county, as well as Citrus Heights, Galt and Isleton. Roughly 13,000 animals make their way into the shelter each year, according to Dickinson. Five years ago, the number was closer to 18,000.

Though county leaders initially had concerns about capacity, Dickinson feels certain the contract with Elk Grove will work.

“If I didn’t think we could handle it, we wouldn’t be doing it,” he said. “Right now, it’s pretty much the county or nobody. (Elk Grove) can’t afford nobody because they need someone to provide services.”