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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Sylas Satterfield spends time with the family dog, Boston, before the pet is neutered at a Lamont clinic in early 2013. 5th District Supervisor Leticia Perez used some of her office's discretionary funds to sponsor the event as part of pilot spay/neuter efforts.

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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Rafael Hernandez holds the family dog as his daughter Giselle comforts the dog before it is vaccinated at The Lamont Dog and Cat Clinic Sunday morning.

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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

An early 2013 clinic brought out Daniel Olguin and his dog Lobito. 5th District Supervisor Leticia Perez and Kern County Animal Control sponsored the event.

Just as new momentum was building for a communitywide, focused effort to get more animals spayed and neutered, city and county leaders managed to derail it.

Now the question is, can the effort still succeed?

Bakersfield and Kern County animal control officials insist they can, indeed, develop effective spay-neuter programs despite the acrimonious dissolution of their joint sheltering agreement.

But given what it took to turn around the animal overpopulation problems in Jacksonville, Fla., that looks doubtful.

"For two governmental agencies to be at odds with each other over animal control, the likelihood of community success is at great risk," said Scott Trebatoski, director of Jacksonville Animal Care and Protective Services.

In Jacksonville, Trebatoski meets monthly with the local Humane Society and a nonprofit spay-neuter clinic called First Coast No More Homeless Pets. They map out plans and catch up on what each group is doing, he said.

The meetings have covered such diverse topics as what city ordinances were needed to make the Feral Freedom cat project work to how each group could support a Humane Society adoption event.

They've suppressed egos, embraced communication and shared effort and credit, Trebatoski said.

"We all have relatively strong self-images," he said. "But it works because we don't really care who gets the credit for anything because,...we're here for the community."

KERN EFFORT STUMBLES

In June, it looked like a similar collaboration was coming together in Kern.

Local veterinarians, humane organizers, activists, nonprofit leaders, and city and county officials held a weekend summit and drafted a big-picture strategy for slashing Kern County's shelter kill rates:

* Develop a "one-stop" point of contact for the public to access animal welfare resources, vouchers and information.

* Pursue creation of targeted spay-neuter programs, feline trap-neuter-release programs and strategies for connecting remote communities with services.

* Communicate a clear, unified animal welfare message to the public, and give people tools to succeed as pet owners.

"I asked if everybody agreed: Do you all feel it is critical that we move forward with one message?" said Julie Johnson, Executive Director of the Bakersfield SPCA and host of the summit. "Every person at that table said yes. So I had buy in."

The city -- long a silent partner in its sheltering agreement with the county -- was making improvements at the shelter, micro-chipping animals and talking about how to do spay-neuter.

A new field of Kern County supervisors made the issue a priority and put $250,000 in cash behind the effort.

There was talk of success.

"If you don't care who gets credit, you can get a lot accomplished," Supervisor Zack Scriver said. "As long as everybody wants to get to the finish line, I truly believe we need to take advantage of the current collaboration."

Then, on Aug. 14, the Bakersfield City Council voted to boot the county from the shelter that sits on city land on South Mount Vernon Avenue after a series of stilted discussions failed to produce a formal two-year agreement.

The SPCA announced it would likely run the shelter for the city.

And discussions about progress and plans turned into an exchange of criticisms.

AFTER THE DIVORCE

Maybe, some day, the city and county will work together.

Steve Teglia, assistant to the Bakersfield city manager, said he sees the separation of city and county operations as a good thing -- a chance to collect better animal data, create better operations and perhaps eliminate the daily friction between the city and county over animal issues.

"I truly believe that, perhaps after time, there is much less reason for us to be in conflict with the county," Teglia said.

Johnson, whose SPCA is now the city's shelter partner, said she refuses to let the conflict and the politics derail her commitment to solutions. The goals of the animal summit are still being pursued, she said.

A small group working on the first goal is nearly ready with a plan for a website that will offer the public a one-stop spot to access information about animal rescue, welfare and control groups active in Kern County.

"We don't want to send people on a phone call goose chase," Johnson said.

It could also help animal groups communicate with each other.

She also predicted that over time, the barriers will erode and people will back successful programs.

That may be true, said Supervisor David Couch. But right now the county has to focus on finding a new shelter for hundreds of unwanted animals.

Supervisor Leticia Perez called the county's scramble to find a new shelter a crisis that will hurt the animals.

Perez spent some $25,000 of her office's discretionary funds into spay-neuter clinics in Arvin and Lamont in early 2013, prompting other supervisors to follow suit and start talking about a county-wide effort.

Now animals are paying for the fact, she said, that the "adults in the room" are choosing to squabble, not cooperate.

On the larger scale, she said, the county must continue to search for an animal overpopulation solution without the city.

"I'm certainly not going to sit back and wait for us to get along," said Perez. "We have a duty to the taxpayers of Kern County to resolve the issues at hand."