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Fairbanks animal shelter fees could see a repackaging

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Posted: Saturday, December 17, 2011 11:59 pm | Updated: 1:33 pm, Wed Jan 16, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — A proposal to streamline adoptions at the Fairbanks North Star Borough Animal Shelter to make it easier to adopt an energetic puppy, an old hard-on-his-luck husky or a cute kitten is getting better reception from local veterinarians who initially opposed it.

The proposal, which would standardize adoption fees and make spay and neuter procedures mandatory for all incoming adoptable animals, was shelved by the Borough Assembly earlier this month after a slew of veterinarians spoke out against the plan, concerned it could undercut already discounted rates.

The change would raise the standard adoption fees for all dogs from $90 to $130 and from $55 to $90 for cats, but that increase would also cover the cost of a spay or neuter — if needed — along with vaccines and a tracking tag.

The changes reduce confusion about prices and significantly cuts down on the wait time for people to adopt animals, said Animal Control Director Sandy Bessler.

Currently, the shelter only sends its animals to be fixed if the animal is selected for adoption. That process can include scheduling an appointment with a local veterinarian, boarding fees and fees for medical care, which can vary widely.

Some people have to wait up to two weeks to take their new furry friend home, Bessler said.

“People get very frustrated when they come in and they can’t put in that amount of time to make it through the process,” she said, “and it just breeds bad feelings.”

But local veterinarians had trouble with part of the ordinance that would allow the borough to negotiate its prices with the veterinarians. Dr. Barb Cole, a veterinarian and president of the Interior Veterinarians Medical Association, told the borough she was concerned that any lower prices would make it difficult to do the procedures.

The suggested rates are an average cost of all medical services over the last year, so it’s expected to remain budget-neutral without lower fees, Bessler said at the assembly meeting. That added explanation has helped Cole soften her stance on the changes.

“As a doctor I absolutely think they need to revamp the process,” she said, “and I think their proposals are very good and I think if they can better explain it that’d be fine.”

Bessler said the changes weren’t intended to impact veterinarians and the negotiations were an option to explore and not a certainty.

“I basically think it was a misunderstanding,” she said. “Our intent wasn’t to lock them into a fee and tell them what we’re going to pay them.”

The new process has a number of added benefits for the borough and the animals, Bessler said, which includes faster adoptions.

“We can only handle a certain number of animals and anything beyond that, we have to euthanize the animals simply because we don’t have the space to house them,” she said. “We try pretty darn hard to not euthanize them.”

Bessler said the shelter only euthanizes about 10 percent of dogs and 12 percent of cats, well below the national average.

Cole agreed changes to how the borough handles animal care, such as allowing veterinarians to block out days to treat animals, would be better for everyone.

“I do think it would better,” she said. “I think it’s more efficient for them, and I think it’s more efficient for us.”

Bessler said she plans on conducting outreach with the veterinarian community to make sure they understand the changes and is optimistic that the process can be improved in a way that pleases everyone.

“Anything that gets the animals taken care of better is something we all want,” she said.

Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544.

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