Kern County supervisors on Tuesday gave the Marley's Mutts animal rescue of Tehachapi a chance to promote spay and neuter surgeries in Bakersfield's most animal-troubled neighborhoods.
The chance comes with $50,000. But it also comes with a lot of expectation as supervisors made it clear they have concerns about how the nonprofit has structured the program and whether it can succeed.
Supervisor Mike Maggard said the group promised innovation and creativity.
"This is a worthwhile effort, but the proof is in the pudding," he said.
Marley's Mutts has promised to turn the $50,000 into $50 coupons that residents of the 93306, 93307 and 93308 zip codes can use to get their pets altered at mobile clinic events hosted by the AngelDogs Foundation.
Those three zip codes produce the largest share of unwanted animals Kern County Animal Services shelters each year -- a problem that contributed to more than 16,000 animals being euthanized by the county last year.
Supervisors gave two other nonprofits smaller pools of money. Friends of the Kern County Animal Shelters received $20,000 and Spay & Neuter Foundation $10,000.
Tuesday's cash awards were part of a $250,000 effort to launch targeted spay and neuter programs and build a long-term, privately backed effort to reduce the number of unwanted animals born here.
In addition, supervisors gave themselves $50,000 to run their own mobile clinics, Kern County Animal Services $20,000 for vouchers and mobile spay-neuter clinics in outlying areas $50,000.
Various other county programs will receive the remaining money.
To accomplish its mission, Marley's Mutts will add $30 to the county's $50 to help pay for each $110 AngelDogs surgery and sign people from the three problem zip codes up for a spay-neuter appointment.
But supervisors questioned if the remaining $30, out-of-pocket cost was still too much for the Oildale and east Bakersfield residents the county is encouraging to alter their pets.
"We seem to be all over the map on how much we charge the public. Sometimes its $10. Sometimes it's $20. Now we're talking about $30," Maggard said. "I'm afraid that the $30 is too high."
Supervisors also made sure they could, if they don't see success from Marley's Mutts, yank back the money and spend it other places.
Supervisor Leticia Perez said she also worries the $30 bill will discourage people from taking a voucher and getting their pet to a clinic appointment -- even if the clinic comes to their neighborhood.
And she echoed local animal activist Liz Keogh's concern that county taxpayer money would be sent out of the county to AngelDogs -- which is based in Santa Clarita.
But supervisors ultimately voted to give Marley's Mutts a chance.
But another hurdle for Marley's Mutts emerged Tuesday. Perez asked if there were any legal reasons Marley's Mutts shouldn't receive the $50,000 award.
Kern County Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt said the rescue group could be in violation of county land-use laws.
"They advertise themselves as a rescue. Rescues require a conditional use permit," Oviatt said.
Right now, she said, Marley's Mutts does not have the permit.
Marley's Mutts founder Zach Skow said he wasn't surprised by the accusation, which he said was just competing groups trying to damage his application and get the money for themselves.
He said he is close to many of the Kern County Animal Control officers and one warned him that "everybody was up in arms" about the issue.
"I've always been told I don't need a conditional use permit," Skow said.
His animal rescue doesn't actually keep animals it rescues on his property in Tehachapi, he said.
"I never have more than five dogs in my house," he said.
All the other animals his rescue handles are farmed out to foster parents who care for them in private homes while Marley's Mutts tries to find homes for them, Skow said.
"I don't see what a conditional use permit has to do with spay neuter," Skow said.
Kern County Counsel Theresa Goldner said that the contract that awards the $50,000 spay-neuter voucher money will require him to abide by all laws.
If Skow is breaking land-use laws, he can't get the county contract.
Skow said he will talk with Kern County Planning and -- if he does need a permit -- will apply for one.
The process, Oviatt said, takes about six weeks and requires the Kern County Planning Commission to approve the permit.