But the cities considering a change say they are quite pleased with the service being offered by Ventura County. The problem is just that the city officials are under orders to watch the bottom line.
"Our City Council has instructed us to monitor what happens in Moorpark and Simi Valley and what happens with Animal Regulation," says Larry Davis, Camarillo's assistant city manager. "We're certainly concerned that if Simi Valley pulls out and there's no reduction in cost and they try to spread that cost among the other cities, that's not fair."
The change might even push the county to consider letting a private contractor take over the duties now handled by its Animal Regulation Department, says Koester, the county's chief administrator.
"You can scale down to a certain degree," he says. "But if everyone bails and the county basically runs a minimum program that's mandated through state law--the shelter and rabies suppression--the other option is for the county to look for a contract entity to come in."
The focus on money, not service, has left many of the animal control officers feeling unappreciated--and misunderstood.
"It comes down to the bottom dollar, what they're looking at," says Animal Control Officer Pat Bryan, who spent one recent hot morning picking dead animals up off the county's sizzling roads. "If you live and work in one county, you should have all your services provided by that county."
Barber, rinsing the poison out of his syringe, grimaces at the public's perception of the department.
"We're just the guys who run down the street and pick up your dog and it costs you money to come and get it," he says. "That's how the general public sees it, and there's a lot more to it than that."
Dillard feels the little black dog, hunting for any trace of a pulse. After she confirms its death, Koerner completes a detailed log of his treatment, diagnosis and decision to end the dog's life--in case its owner ever comes calling. The staff move the dog's body--weighing barely 20 pounds--to the disposal drum, stacking it atop nearly a dozen others bound for the rendering plant. And they swab out its stainless steel cage to make way for the next case.
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Pets can be adopted at the Ventura County Animal Regulation Department's shelter, 600 Aviation Drive, Camarillo, or at several animal shelters around Ventura County. Animals lost in Moorpark and Simi Valley can sometimes be reclaimed at the Simi Valley shelter at 670 W. Los Angeles Ave., where they are held for two days until they are transferred to Camarillo. Most veterinarians offer spay and neuter services at reasonable prices.