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Californian columnist Lois Henry

I admit it, I was disappointed and more than a little miffed when I first saw the county's recommendations for how to split up $80,000 among local non-profits for spay/neuter vouchers.

I felt one of the non-profits, Friends of the Kern County Animal Shelters Foundation, which already has a very strong voucher program, got the shaft.

And I cast a suspicious eye on Marley's Mutts Dog Rescue, which has made a big media splash locally but has almost zero voucher experience and yet got the lion's share of that money.

After doing some research, however, I am now cautiously optimistic.

My optimism rests mostly in the fact that the county has a leash on that $80,000. If the non-profits don't meet their goals, the county can snatch the money back.

I have a thing for accountability.

I still have concerns, but am dearly hoping to have them washed away by the successful efforts of all the non-profits that get this county money.

OK, so here's the background.

After decades of failed programs to reduce Kern's heinous euthanasia rates (we kill about 20,000 animals a year), the Kern County Board of Supervisors decided last year to get serious about spay/neuter.

They pledged $250,000 toward a variety of projects, including $80,000 for private non-profits. Supervisors specified the money go for voucher programs targetting dogs in the unincorporated areas of 93306, '07 and '08, where most of the shelter animals come from.

Several non-profits applied for that money. The successful proposals were from Friends (which got $20,000), Marley's Mutts ($50,000) and Spay & Neuter Foundation ($10,000). The amounts have to be approved by Supes at Tuesday's meeting.

Both Friends and Spay & Neuter have successful voucher programs.

Friends started in 2010. Last year, its vouchers helped fix nearly 900 cats and dogs, according to president Judi Daunell.

Friends' vouchers only pay a portion of the cost of fixing an animal but can be combined with vouchers from other organizations and have no income restrictions.

Over 2013, Friends had an average 50 percent redemption rate on its vouchers.

Spay & Neuter vouchers are for low-income people only. They cover the entire cost of surgery but participants must come up with a $20 co-pay.

In 2013, its first year, Spay & Neuter vouchers were used to fix 106 animals, according to president Julie Nunes. It had a 93 percent redemption rate.

Both organizations will use the county money to expand their current programs for residents in the targeted zip codes, according to their proposals.

I'd say those are two solid picks.

Which is why I was initially concerned when I saw how much the county had tipped the money scales in favor of Marley's Mutts, which is coordinating with Fixing Kern-The Spay And Neuter Project.

Marley's Mutts, founded by Zach Skow, has been operating in Kern -- mostly as a rescue and education organization -- for five years. Fixing Kern just started up in November, according to its founder, Jackie Cameron.

Between the two organizations, they have issued 34 spay/neuter vouchers. Thirty-four.

Uhhhhh. Yeah, I had the same reaction.

But hold on. Here's what else I learned about Marley's Mutts/Fixing Kern.

Between them they have more than 300 die-hard volunteers and tens of thousands of followers. (Seriously, Skow was able to raise more than $10,000 in a few hours after putting a dog with severe medical issues on Marley's Facebook page.)

Marley's also has a grant from the Salah Foundation that Skow said will match the county money dollar for dollar. And that's just one of the grants Marley's has obtained to launch into spay/neuter.

Clearly, they have the people and the money to make a go of it.

And their vision is much, much bigger than a simple voucher program.

If successful, I can see it making a huge dent in our animal overpopulation problem. Theirs is more of a multi-pronged attack that incorporates vouchers than a standard voucher program. They intend to mobilize their volunteers within the targeted ZIPs and swarm one neighborhood at a time, knock on doors, engage residents and hand out vouchers.

The vouchers will be for $50 each. Residents will have to kick in $30 and Marley's, using its grant money, will pony up another $30. That will cover the entire cost of the surgery, plus a microchip, rabies vaccination and pain meds.

Volunteers will then call the resident within 24 hours of issuing the voucher and book the dog for surgery. Ideally, that will be at one of several mobile clinics Marley's/Fixing Kern will also organize in that neighborhood.

If the resident can't make the clinic, volunteers will continue trying to book the dog at another clinic or vet until the voucher expires in 45 days.

Cameron told me they intend to bring Los Angeles-based Angel Dogs mobile vet to Kern for two weekends a month starting May 4 until the money runs out.

They'll also hold monthly "canine fairs" to educate people about pet ownership and hook up residents with resources.

"If we just fix the dogs, we're not fixing the problem," Cameron said.

I wondered how two organizations with such limited track records would handle the daunting logistics required by this plan. Cameron was confident. She's already tentatively booked Angel Dogs, has clinic locations in mind and the volunteers are raring to go.

The first voucher mobilization will be April 19 at Riverview Park in Oildale. They will give out 150 vouchers starting at 9 a.m.

"I think it's going to be great," she said.

I'll wait to see how their numbers shake out. But I stand by waiting to applaud their success.

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