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Success in Santa Clara County

California shelter taps into the community to ‘get a lot done with very little’

  • A special program for barn cats helps felines in a CA community

    Kennel attendant LaVonne Gonzales delivers a neutered, ear-tipped, and vaccinated barn cat to his owner. Boosted by volunteers, the shelter’s Barn Cat Spay/Neuter Outreach program has helped to substantially reduce cat intake and euthanasia. BRIGID WASSON/COUNTY OF SANTA CLARA ANIMAL SHELTER

If life were a poker game, you might say the County of Santa Clara Animal Shelter in San Martin, Calif., wasn’t exactly dealt a royal flush.

Built in the early 1970s, the shelter is described by those who run it as old and small. It has plumbing problems, electrical problems, and a leaky roof. The surgery area is small, the cat rooms have 2-by-2 cages that shelters typically don’t use anymore, and the building lacks good quarantine areas and the kennel drains that would help control the spread of disease.

The facility uses residential laundry machines because it can’t support a commercial unit. The machines run for the whole day, often break down, and aren’t covered by warranty because their use by the shelter is considered a commercial application. "I’ve become an expert on the darn appliance repairs," says Albert Escobar, the county’s animal control program manager.

The shelter serves the unincorporated portion of the county—a "pretty huge," largely rural area that’s home to about 100,000 people, notes shelter supervisor Brigid Wasson. Since the shelter serves farm country, it’s sometimes called upon to house lost or abandoned horses, goats, sheep, and chickens, and the large ranches and farms provide prime turf for cats to mate. "People have these explosions of kittens out on the farm. … Out here people are sort of used to having large numbers of cats, but they may not necessarily know about the resources for spaying and neutering," Wasson says.

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