Californian contributing columnist Jose Gaspar.

Henry A. Barrios/ The Californian

People can sure be mean to stray animals.

Some sicko in the Rosamond and Antelope Valley areas is getting kicks by dousing stray dogs with acid, causing severe chemical burns. Authorities say at least six dogs have been found with similar injuries.

Strays that aren't abused face a multitude of other problems, such as ending up as road kill. Or people decide they simply don't want their animals anymore and abandon them, leaving puppies in bags, boxes and dumpsters.

Dogs are left along lonely roads in rural areas and can remain there being loyal to their owner, thinking he or she will come back. Or they can make a futile effort to chase the owner's vehicle, but never catch up.

"It is a crisis in our county," said Annebelle Jimenez of Delano. "Anywhere you go you will see strays walking our streets."

Which is why Jimenez and others who share a love of animals have started a grassroots group called Saving Our Strays. Its mission: to decrease the number of animals that wind up in shelters by giving the community resources to reduce the stray animal population.

Unlike other animal groups, Saving Our Strays focuses 90 percent of its efforts on roaming animals that have never had a home. The other 10 percent involves trying to find a home for shelter animals.

The group formed last November with the Walmart dogs. Three strays made a home in the parking lot of Delano’s Walmart Supercenter. One had been run over, but Jimenez and others were able to save the other two.

That began a larger effort.

Some rescue groups won’t take strays, Jimenez said. So SOS does a lot of the back work.

For example, Jimenez puts her psychology degree to good use by taking strays home to determine if they have any behavioral issues. Getting the dog vaccinated is another concern, and it’s costly to do. 

The group has started a limited sponsorship program to spay and neuter animals through donations from local businesses and the Humane Society and Friends of the Kern County Animal Shelters Foundation. The program operates the third Sunday at ABC vet clinic in Delano.

Jimenez estimates 25 dogs have been fixed since January. The target breeds are pit bulls and chihuahuas since they’re hardest to place in rescues, Jimenez said.

SOS helps other groups to save even more animals.

SOS estimates it has saved about 200 dogs either by finding them a rescue, fostering them or pulling them off a shelter’s death row.

While Jimenez concentrates on saving strays in Delano, SOS’ more than 100 members do similar work in their own communities throughout Kern County. All funding comes from volunteers and other donations from individuals and rescues.

Otherwise, those animals stand a good chance of being euthanized.

According to Kern County Animal Services, 754 animals in its jurisdiction were euthanized this past July, a 43 percent kill rate. While heartbreaking, that’s better than the 954 animals euthanized in July 2014, or 55 percent of those that came into county shelters.

JImenez and many others in the local animal welfare community credit that drop to aggressive spay-neuter efforts by a multitude of groups and government agencies. 

“We feel like we have begun to see a turning point in animal welfare,” said Nick Cullen, director of Kern County Animal Services. “Spaying and neutering pets is the key to addressing the pet overpopulation problem here in Kern County. With so many agencies working towards the same goal through education and low-cost and no-cost spay and neuter services, we feel like we are starting to see the fruits of everyone’s labor with reduced intakes in the shelter and an overall reduction in euthanasia.”

Again, Jimenez wants to focus on those animals that are already here and need a home. To that end, SOS will hold an event Sept. 19 called "The Last Walk" — referencing the last walk animals took in a shelter before they were euthanized.

It’s sort of like the movie "Dead Man Walking," in which Sean Penn makes his last walk before being executed.

The purpose is to honor and remember those animals that could not be saved. There will also be informational booths where people can learn about the resources available for pet care, the costs of spay/neuter surgeries and spurring community involvement in saving stray animals.

"The Last Walk" will be held 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sept. 19 at Heritage Park, 2320 Mount Vernon Ave.

Contributing columnist Jose Gaspar is a reporter for KBAK/KBFX Eyewitness News. Email him at elcompa29@gmail.com. His work appears here every third Monday; the views expressed are his own.

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