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Casey Christie / The Californian

<p>Jeff Burgess takes care of several abandoned dogs in the backyard area of an old home where no one lives in east Bakersfield. This is one of several he feeds regularly, but this one seems to be ill or injured.</p>

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Casey Christie / The Californian

<p>Several full-sized dogs and these four puppies are fed by Jeff Burgess where they were abandoned behind an old home in east Bakersfield. Burgess is concerned about their health and future.</p>

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Casey Christie / The Californian

<p>A puppy waits for Jeff Burgess to set the food down for him to eat.</p>

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Casey Christie / The Californian

<p>One of several dogs Jeff Burgess feeds in the backyard of an east Bakersfield home where they are left to fend for themselves.</p>

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Casey Christie / The Californian

<p>Jeff Burgess is slowly but surely making friends with some of the several stray dogs he feeds each day in east Bakersfield.</p>

The family of abandoned dogs huddles in a half-burnt shed that barely shelters them from the cold, persistent rain.

When real estate broker and appraiser Jeff Burgess comes around the corner of the house next door, the four puppies bound over first.

After a week and a half of these visits, they know Burgess has food for them.

They stay out of reach. They do not bark. They do not growl.

But if Burgess moves they flinch away, ready to run.

The three adults and four puppies live on the two Gage Street lots; property as abandoned as they are.

It’s a sad story that is repeated across the city day in and day out.

Empty homes. Abandoned dogs. New puppies.

Burgess knows that if he turns the animals in to Bakersfield Animal Control, they will end up in the Kern County animal shelter on Mount Vernon Avenue where euthanasia rates hover around 70 percent.

With those odds, he said, “maybe a couple of the puppies would get adopted.”

The dogs on Gage Street represent a growing problem that has proved politically unpalatable, too expensive — or both — to solve for the thousands of unwanted animals running wild in the county.

“People need to be more aware of the problem that Bakersfield is facing,” Burgess said.

City animal control supervisor Tammy Davis said the number of abandoned animals is rising to serious levels in the city. One trap in a Baker Street-area alley has caught five dogs recently.

The problem grows, Davis said, “when we have these dogs that are left that aren’t spayed or neutered and are having litter after litter.”

She said many animals are left in situations far worse than the Gage Street dogs are living in.

“We just took six dogs off a property where (people) had locked them in a dog area without food or water,” Davis said. “If someone hadn’t called and we hadn’t come, they would have died.”

She encouraged people to report abandoned animals to animal control authorities — even if the animal might face euthanasia.

A chance at life, or even a humane death, is better than life on the street where animals can be hit by cars or attacked by humans or other

animals, she said.

There is always hope — at least for individual animals.

Earlier this year, county animal control officers seized a pack of puppies and a young mother living in a pile of concrete pipes near Cottonwood Road after a Californianphotographer caught images of the homeless animals playing in a field.

The animals were rescued by Westside German Shepherd Rescue of Los Angeles and, according to the rescue’s Web site, all the puppies were adopted out into new homes.

The mother dog, named Sheyenne von Kern, took a long time to learn to trust humans — but she is now up for adoption through the L.A. shelter.

Burgess hopes the dogs he’s befriended could have the same fate.

But they aren’t the only abandoned animals he sees each day as he works around Bakersfield.

And Burgess only sees the problem growing.