For a decade, Kern County has been mired in a futile, expensive quest to reduce the annual killing of tens of thousands of unwanted animals. But lessons can be learned from Jacksonville, Fla., which a decade ago had the same sad animal welfare story as Kern.

Yet the question remains: how did the leaders of a tightly run city and county in one of the most fiscally conservative areas in California blow millions of dollars in a failed effort to solve a problem when the solution was there for all to see?

Kern and Jacksonville, which have similarly sized populations of diverse low- and middle-income people, were both taking in roughly 30,000 stray, lost or unwanted animals a year and euthanizing 20,000 of them.

But while Kern is killing about the same number of animals today as a decade ago, Jacksonville's city animal control agency euthanized only 5,090 animals in 2012. And that's with a $3 million annual budget, compared to Kern's $8.1 million.

Jacksonville's story is different because in 2002 it focused on spay and neuter programs that targeted the neighborhoods producing most of the unwanted animals.

Kern County, by contrast, pursued a series of short-lived, reactive programs implemented on the fly with minimal analysis or understanding of how they would reduce intake or euthanization numbers.

The situation here got even more challenging when a decade-long animal partnership between the city of Bakersfield and the county of Kern dissolved last month amid a flurry of insults and recriminations.

This special report includes the following articles:


-- Kern's animal control budget has doubled since 2006 -- with little to show for it.

-- One local nonprofit knows how to get the job done.

Coming Sunday:

-- How exactly did Jacksonville do it? We lay it out.

-- Now that Kern County and Bakersfield animal control are divorcing, can a spay-neuter push succeed?

-- LOIS HENRY: Kern doesn't have a money problem. It has a data problem.

All articles will be online at