Shelter money found in storm

After threatening for two months to slash hours at the South
County Animal Shelter, county officials stuck their hands between
the couch cushions this week and found $121,000 to keep the shelter
open.
Gilroy – After threatening for two months to slash hours at the South County Animal Shelter, county officials stuck their hands between the couch cushions this week and found $121,000 to keep the shelter open.

Santa Clara County Executive Pete Kutras confirmed Friday that a provision in the state budget should provide enough money to keep the facility open the current six days and 34 hours a week.

“The revenue is not expected until the spring, but we can book it for this year,” Kutras said. “We’re calling off the closure and we will work through staffing.”

The decision is a victory for Friends of the San Martin Animal Shelter, or FOSMAS, a volunteer group that battled the county over a $90,000 budget cut announced in June. Agriculture Commissioner Greg Van Wassenhove cut 1.5 vacant staff positions from the shelter and said the current staff could not keep the shelter open six days a week without overtime or extra help.

“I’m just overjoyed,” FOSMAS member Elaine Jelsema said. “This is the result we were hoping for. To have the supervisors and Mr. Van Wassenhove realize that the community supports the shelter, we’re very grateful. I’m thrilled it’s going back the way it was.”

The San Martin shelter, the only one in South County, houses about 3,500 cats and dogs a year. According to shelter staff, they find homes for 54 percent of the dogs and 74 percent of the cats they take in. A large network of FOSMAS volunteers provides foster homes for hundreds of kittens each year, and animals are not euthanized unless they’re determined to be unadoptable. Last year, a study commissioned by the county recommended that the shelter be expanded because it is overcrowded and South County’s human and animal population are expected to grow significantly over the next 20 years.

The shelter was due to close two days a week in September. But FOSMAS members fought back loudly and bitterly, led by Phillip Jewitt, a county employee who ran the shelter until he was reassigned by Van Wassenhove earlier this week. Volunteers overwhelmed county officials with phone calls and e-mails demanding that the cuts be rescinded. Tuesday, Supervisor Don Gage asked Kutras to find money for the shelter.

Kutras said the money his staff found wasn’t there in June because the state didn’t adopt its budget until last month, and there was no guarantee that state lawmakers would fund a 2000 mandate that requires shelters to keep animals alive for at least five days. But when county staffers took a looking glass to the fine print, they found $121,000, the same amount the county received last year under the mandate. Kutras gave full credit for the discovery to Gage.

“We’ve been crawling through this budget trying to determine all of its ins and outs and impacts,” Kutras said. “Without Don Gage having us crawl through this again, we wouldn’t have found this solution. Don listened to his constituency.”

Gage said Friday that he was just doing his job, working with his fellow supervisors and county staff to find a solution that wouldn’t drain the county’s diminished general fund. He said the FOSMAS volunteers who were sharply critical of Van Wassenhove should have taken a more diplomatic approach.

“When you get too confrontational, people say ‘the heck with you,’ ” Gage said. “We need to form partnerships and see how we can help each other. That’s the way you get things done, and that’s what I do with the other supes. The letters were helpful to know that people out there care, but that didn’t motivate me any more than I already was. I care about South County and I wanted to do this for South County. That’s where I live.”

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