By Ramona Giwargis
MERCED — On the heels of the Merced Police Department's announcement that officers will call a veterinarian to euthanize injured animals rather than shooting them at the range, many are left wondering how the city will foot the costs.
"We don't know how we're going to cover the costs until we know what the costs are," said city spokesman Mike Conway. "We're still too early in the process. It's hard to answer that question without an idea of what this program is going to cost us."
Merced police announced Tuesday a change in their controversial policy for handling severely injured animals, which included taking animals to the department's range to be put down by gunfire.
The department now will call a veterinarian to evaluate injured animals before making a decision on euthanasia. Severely injured animals will be put to sleep by injection when it's deemed necessary, according to Lt. Bimley West.
Conway said the first step is to determine how many local veterinarians are interested in providing the on-call, after-hours services. The city will put out a "request for information" on its website to get a response from vets.
"Then we would talk with whatever veterinarians expressed an interest in providing the service, to determine what their costs would be," Conway said. "We're tying to determine the interest in the vet community, and then we will start talking with them about the price."
If the costs are on the "low side," Conway said the city might be able to use its contingency funds to pay for the veterinary services. But if they are on the higher side, the city has to look at other ways to cover the costs.
"It means looking at every fund balance we have for the city and see where we can squeeze additional funding out," Conway said. Because the city adopted its $191.9 million budget in June, Conway said, it cannot increase the budget for the fiscal year.
A few veterinarians on Wednesday expressed interest in helping the Police Department with the policy.
Leah Hill, owner of Animal Medical Center, the area's only 24-hour hospital, said her facility is "more than willing to help out at any time of day."
The facility has one veterinarian available overnight, according to staff.
Jon Klingborg, a veterinarian at Valley Animal Hospital, said his facility has treated animals brought in by the Police Department's animal control officers in the past. His office would be interested in participating in the program and would consider providing medical treatment at lower prices. Klingborg said the center already does that by participating in the county's low-cost spay and neuter program and vaccine clinics.
"Vets in Merced are dedicated to the well-being of the animals," Klingborg said. "And there are times it cuts into the profit, but we're okay with that if it's for the well-being of the animal. I don't see why this would be any different."
Merced Mayor Stan Thurston said Tuesday that the city is considering having several veterinarians for an on-call rotation for after-hours services each month.
During a news conference Tuesday, West said police officers will be instructed to call the nearest veterinarian and stay with the animal until help arrives. However, several veterinarians said Wednesday that animal clinics do not include "mobile" veterinarians and most of the medical equipment cannot be moved.
As the details are worked out, city officials said, the policy will not result in any additional costs to residents.
Conway said it's unclear when the request for information will be released for interested veterinarians, but the city will launch a "public awareness campaign" soon.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Copyright 2013 the Merced Sun-Star