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Cindy Stodola picks up her 7 and a half month old dog Makita after he was neutered at Critters Without Litters in this file photo.

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Shelby Mack / The Californian

Vicky Thrasher and Joann Keller check on dogs in the kennel at Critters Without Litters, a spay/neuter clinic that recently opened on Stine Road.

If you care about Kern's animal overpopulation problem, life sometimes can be pretty depressing.

The county animal shelter continues to take in hundreds more animals than it can care for, resulting in the awful reality that we must kill nearly 20,000 animals every year.

But there are small glimmers of hope here and there. I like to celebrate those glimmers when I can, so here are a few that I've come across recently.

Critters Without Litters , Bakersfield's low-cost, high volume spay/neuter clinic, has received a grant from PetSmart Charities that will allow it to drop its already low prices to just $20 for puppies and kittens through the month of June.

Puppies and kittens can actually be altered at 4 months of age, something not a lot of folks know (hence the name of Critters' campaign: "Did you know?").

The grant will help fund 200 puppy/kitten alterations and Executive Director Vicky Thrasher told me the clinic still has 100 slots available. So call soon (831-6000).

"We're really hoping to get hold of those folks who maybe had an 'oops' litter and do the whole batch of puppies or kittens before they're adopted out," Thrasher said.

And, yes, she said, the clinic will honor vouchers for this program. Considering some local vouchers top $30, owners could ask that the extra be used for rabies shots or other services. Thrasher said that's up to the voucher issuer, so if you get a voucher, be sure to check on that.

Oh, and just because I like to keep tallies, Thrasher told me Critters has altered 3,500 animals since it opened last October.

Clinic owner Larry Keller has hopes for far more, but I say that's an excellent start.

I love this next tidbit.

Three local ladies with full time jobs and very full lives wanted to do something to stem the tide of death that animal overpopulation brings.

So they created S&N Foundation, a 501(c)3 charity dedicated to providing spay/neuter vouchers for low-income Kern County residents.

It started last year with a kickoff fundraiser in September, President Julie Nunes told me.

Low-income folks, those who make $30,000 or less annually and/or are on some kind of government assistance, can call to request an application (858-4339).

Cost for the voucher is $20, which covers the entire spay/neuter plus rabies vaccination and a microchip. All proceeds are rolled back into the program.

The group works exclusively with Critters in order to keep costs down.

"We've given 28 vouchers so far and over 20 have been used," Nunes said. "It's been great and everyone loves the service. The only problem is, a lot of these folks are elderly and need transportation. It's a liability for us if we transport the animal so we're looking at how to expand our services in that direction."

They may be small, but this is a determined group so I have faith they will find a way.

Also in the small-but-determined category, last month I wrote about how Cathey's K-9 Rescue was starting its "puppy surrender" program.

The program is still going strong and the rescue is still taking puppies and issuing vouchers for the full cost of spaying the mama dog, Nancy Cathey told me.

If you have pups to surrender you must make an appointment by calling Cathey at (760) 417-9627. She will adopt out the puppies at the rescue's regular Saturday and Sunday adoption days at Petco on Rosedale Highway.

Last year, Cathey's adopted out 160 puppies and spayed 42 mother dogs through the program.

So far this year, the rescue has adopted out 136 pups and spayed 32 mother dogs.

"We haven't had any problems with illness and everything's going great," Cathey told me.

I've overlooked this service in past articles.

Serenity Cat Hospital routinely offers low cost spay/neuter options for cats, $45 per neuter and $50 per spay. Though this is a for-profit organization, run by veterinarian Cherry Mattias, people can use vouchers here as well.

Mattias also works on feral cats or "the neighborhood cat" that everyone feeds but no one claims and can operate on healthy kittens as young as eight weeks or two pounds, she said. She recently changed locations from Panama Lane to Taft Highway.

And, finally, I'm very excited about the growth in the voucher program offered by Friends of the Kern County Animal Shelters Foundation.

The group had been offering vouchers for some time for about $40 per spay/neuter. The program was doing OK, but growing at a tepid pace. Frankly when an alteration can cost upwards of $100, $40 isn't enough help if a family is struggling to keep the lights on.

Enter Critters Without Litters, where cats are $40 to $50 and dogs range from $65 to a max of $80, and suddenly even a $20 or $30 voucher goes a lot farther.

In January of this year, Friends gave out 55 vouchers. Good but not great. Then it revamped its program to give $20 for cats and $30 for dogs, with a lot of information about Critters, and voucher numbers started a steady climb.

In February, Friends gave out 74 vouchers, March 81, April 71, May 82. And there's a waiting list for June.

Not only that, President Judi Daunel told me, the vouchers have had a 62 percent usage rate.

The only thing they need is more money to fund more vouchers (see item on Friends' upcoming fundraiser).

"People are trying to be responsible pet owners," Critters' Thrasher said. "They will get their pets altered if it's reasonable."

She said, on average, Critters gets three to eight vouchers weekly from the various local organizations.

OK, I know each of these efforts is just a small glimmer on its own.

But if we support them, someday, hopefully, they will become an actual beacon to lead us out of our animal overpopulation nightmare.