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Nancy Cathey/ Special to The Californian

Californian columnist Lois Henry

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A line forms outside Petco on Rosedale Highway on March 1 for people seeking spay and neuter vouchers from Cathey's K-9 Rescue.

Vouchers. Vouchers. Vouchers. Get enough of them in the hands of the right people and we might, just might, make a dent in our animal overpopulation problem.

I mention this for a couple of reasons.

First, because the deadline is fast approaching for groups to submit their applications for some or all of the $80,000 that was set aside by Kern County for nonprofit voucher programs. (See side box)

Second, a couple of recent incidents reminded me just how desperately Kern residents need, want, and will use help to get their animals fixed.

Kern doesn't have a "culture" problem, as some have asserted in the past.

We have a poverty problem.

Give people the means to do the right thing, and they will. In droves.

Earlier this month I wrote a blurb about Cathey's K-9 Rescue offering 100 vouchers to low-income residents that would cover the entire cost of a spay or neuter surgery.

Nancy Cathey, founder of the rescue, was set to give the vouchers out March 1 during one of her regular adoption days at the Petco on Rosedale Highway.

When she showed up that morning, people were lined up down the shopping mall.

"It's like Black Friday!" she texted me, with a photo showing people patiently waiting through a light drizzle.

She gave out all the vouchers and then fielded about 15 phone calls a day for the next few days from people asking if she had any more.

"I'm hoping to find a corporate sponsor so I can do that once a month," she said. The vouchers are exclusive to Critters Without Litters, a low-cost spay/neuter clinic. And Cathey estimates once she gets all the bills those 100 vouchers will add up to between $6,400 and $7,000.

"If I could get a sponsor to help me fix 100 dogs a month through this spring and summer, that would really cut down on the number of animals out there breeding unwanted litters that end up being killed in the shelters," she said.

In other voucher news, I got an email that was at once troubling and highly encouraging.

So many vouchers had been requested from Friends of Kern County Animal Shelters Foundation that it had to suspend issuing more until it either gets more funding or the vouchers it has in the field expire.

While it's not good that Friends had to temporarily stop issuing vouchers, it's great that word has gotten out and so many people are accessing their services.

In just the first two months of this year, Friends has sent out about 40 percent of the total number of vouchers it gave out in all of 2013, said Friends President Judi Daunell.

"But we had to stop," Daunell said.

The organization, which runs on donations, only has a little over $24,000 in the bank for its voucher program. The number of vouchers it has sent out would total about $20,000 if they were all used.

"It's simple math," Daunell said.

Not all of those vouchers will be used. And as they expire, Friends will be able to issue more.

The redemption rate for Friends' vouchers averaged about 50 percent for 2013. Looking at the usage rates month by month, though, it's clear that more people were using the vouchers as the year progressed.

In all, Friends vouchers helped fix about 880 cats and dogs last year. So far this year, that number is 90, about double what it was for the same time period last year.

Meanwhile, Spay & Neuter Foundation, which gives vouchers out to low-income folks, helped to fix 106 animals last year -- its first year in operation, according to founder Julie Nunes.

"Our redemption rate was 93 percent," she said.

I'd say those are all excellent trend lines.

Now all Friends, Cathey's, Spay & Neuter and many other groups need to keep it going is money.

Speaking of which, Friends and Spay & Neuter are among several local groups applying for the county's $80,000.

That money is targeted exclusively to fixing dogs belonging to residents in the unincorporated areas of the 93306, '07 and '08 zip codes.

Friends is asking for all $80,000. It plans to use the money for $50 vouchers for most dogs and $60 for large breed and pit bull females. It will also partner with other local nonprofits so they can give out vouchers as well.

Spay & Neuter is seeking $15,000, Nunes said. Cathey said she will likely apply for some of the money as well.

However county supervisors decide to split up the money, I think every dime used to fund vouchers is money well spent.

Like I said, Kern residents are eager to do the right thing. They just need a hand.

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 lhenry@bakersfield.com