In all the hubbub this past September as Kern County and the City of Bakersfield parted ways on animal sheltering, and the county canned its controversial Animal Control director, the matter of $250,000 for spay/neuter programs kind of got lost.
Last we heard of that money, county supervisors had ordered then-Animal Control Director Jen Woodard back to the drawing board as they didn't like her plan to basically bolster the county's sickly voucher system.
She was supposed to come back to the board with a request for proposals (RFP) that would open the money up to outside vendors or groups. Woodard was fired later that day, however, and the RFP has been in limbo ever since.
It's about to resurface -- and not a moment too soon.
Interim Animal Services (the new name) Director Shyanne Schull expects to bring the RFP to the board's Tuesday meeting, and she's hoping it generates a lot of innovative ideas from the community.
Kern could stand a little good news on the animal front.
And almost anything that helps stem the tide of unwanted puppies and kittens is good news.
So far, what I'm hearing from interested parties eyeing all or part of that $250,000 is "vouchers, vouchers, vouchers."
Meaning vouchers that give residents a huge cut on the cost to fix their pet.
County Animal Services has run a voucher system for several years. But it's anemic, at best, and fraught with red tape.
The last I checked, the county had $40,000 a year budgeted for its voucher program, but the vouchers had only been used to actually fix 124 animals from January through August of this year.
In that same time frame, 400 animals were fixed using vouchers from Friends of the Kern County Animal Shelters Foundation, which funds its vouchers through donations.
And that's just one group doing vouchers. There are myriad smaller organizations, and even individuals, handing out vouchers. (See list for just a few.)
The groups I've followed are legit operations that keep accurate books and track how and where their vouchers are used.
Most of these groups would be giddy to receive $10,000 or even $5,000 to help more people fix more pets.
I mention all this because I hope when supervisors consider how to spend this $250,000 they keep in mind that one single vendor may not be the answer.
"The money could be broken up in different ways," Schull told me. "I'm excited to see what kinds of ideas come from the community."
That's why the RFP will be very broad, she said.
Judi Daunell, president of Friends, said her organization would definitely be submitting a proposal.
"Well, yeah!" she said. "Any extra money would help out a lot. I could issue vouchers directly to county residents with that county money and use the rest of what we have for city residents and people who have six cats and 12 puppies."
She also mentioned the possibility of more mobile clinics.
In fact, she had been looking at a Simi Valley outfit called Valley Vet Non-Profit that has talked about coming to Kern to do two days' worth of spay/neuters, about 35 to 45 alterations, for a flat fee of $1,000. Even at the low end of alterations, that's $28 per spay/neuter.
"Now, that's cheap," Daunell said.
Even if she had to put the vet and his staff up overnight and pay for their meals, she said, it would be worth looking into.
Typically, mobile clinics have cost $4,000 to $5,000 locally and fixed about 35 to 40 animals.
So, yes, Daunell said, she is very excited to read the RFP coming out Tuesday.
Bakersfield SPCA director Julie Johnson, who also runs the city's shelter on Mount Vernon Avenue, will be closely reading the RFP.
"I'd love to see some of that money come here to be used in vouchers," she said.
If the money is to be used exclusively for county residents, no problem. There are plenty of county pockets in east Bakersfield, which Johnson reminded me "is just as broke as Lamont."
She'd also like to see animal control officers for both city and county handing out vouchers.
"Those are the people who really know the neighborhoods," Johnson said.
Though studies show you get the most bang for your buck by specifically targeting spay/neuter efforts to the neighborhoods where most of the unwanted animals are being produced, the county hasn't had that kind of data available. And the city only recently started its sheltering operations, so it's just now gathering that information.
That's no reason to stall on spending that $250,000, however.
The object should simply be to fix as many animals as possible. Right now, vouchers are the way to get that done, according to Vicky Thrasher, executive director of Critters Without Litters, Bakersfield's low-cost, high-volume spay/neuter clinic.
"On any given day, 20 to 35 percent of the people coming are coming in with vouchers," Thrasher said.
The local groups giving the vouchers out have worked on their systems and made them easy and efficient for residents.
"Let them to what they do best," was Thrasher's advice to supervisors.
And don't get bound up in bureaucratic strings.
Remember, the goal is to stop more kittens and puppies from being born.
Friends' vouchers fixed 177 cats and 397 dogs from the start of 2013 to present, according to Daunell.
Cats can easily have two litters of six kittens each per year. Dogs average six pups per litter per year.
So, assuming just half those alterations were spays, the Friends' voucher system prevented the birth of more than 2,000 puppies and kittens.
That's a conservative estimate and it was done on a shoestring budget by volunteers.
Think of how much more that county money could do.
Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at http://www.bakersfield.com, call her at 395-7373 or e-mail email@example.com.