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Sonoma County animal shelter takes measures to reduce overcrowding, euthanizations

  • Veterinarian John Strathman and assistant Dustin Kerwin prepare a cat for neutering at the Sonoma County Animal Shelter on Friday, Oct. 18, 2013. (JOHN BURGESS/ PD)

Sonoma County's animal shelter has adopted new policies aimed at easing overcrowded conditions and reducing the number of healthy animals that are needlessly killed.

Dog and cat owners who want to surrender their pets now must schedule an appointment with shelter staff to discuss alternatives. Healthy animals will be taken in only if space is available, otherwise these owners must wait.

The changes, which also include a new trap-and-release program for feral cats, represent a fundamental shift from the shelter's open-door policy.

Sonoma County Animal Shelter

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Most public shelters in California operate in that fashion, with the result that it has been “letting in a flood and drowning everybody,” said Brigid Wasson, who was hired Sept. 17 as the director of Sonoma County Animal Care and Control.

The county shelter's conversion to a “managed intake” facility is an effort to stem that tide. Concerns have been raised, however, that the new restrictions might prompt some pet owners to dump animals elsewhere.

Such a fate often isn't any worse for the animal, and may even be better, than if it had been admitted to the shelter, particularly in the case of cats.

An estimated 393,000 cats entered public shelters in California in 2010, an increase of 25,000 from 1998. About 278,000 cats were killed in shelters in 2010, which is only slightly fewer than the number killed in 1998.

The data is contained in a report generated by a group of animal welfare experts that seeks fundamental change in how public shelters operate.

Veterinarian Kate Hurley, director of the Koret Shelter Medicine Program at University of California-Davis and one of the report's authors, noted in an interview that shelters house less than one percent of the estimated population of domesticated and feral cats, and yet facilities are still swamped.

She said shelter managers normally respond by going beyond capacity, a decision she said has “crippled themselves without really helping cats.”

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