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$132,000 in added revenue will go toward replacing volunteers with paid staff

For the first time in a decade, the Sonoma County animal shelter is increasing fees it charges when people adopt or discard dogs and cats, or retrieve their missing animals.

Officials with the Animal Care and Control Division said the boost in fees will raise about $132,000 in new revenue annually and is aimed at weaning the agency from reliance on volunteers.

The shelter's dependence on about 100 volunteers to perform routine duties was criticized last year as inefficient and divisive in a consultant's report that recommended major changes.

"We understand the reason for this. There was a pretty clear message that we should not rely on volunteer services for the core services," said west Sonoma County Supervisor Mike Reilly.

On Tuesday, Sonoma County supervisors approved fee increases they said were long overdue. Previously, adoptions for dogs and cats had a base fee of $20, with separate charges for vaccinations and sterilization that could bring costs to between $54 and $164.

New adoption fees will vary with the animal's age, with kittens $125, cats over 6 years old $50, puppies $150 and dogs over 6 years old $90.

Supervisor Tim Smith questioned whether people would pay $150 to adopt a puppy. By comparison, the Humane Society offers a dog adoption package with training that ranges from $130 to $275.

But Dori Villalon, animal control director, said a "free" puppy costs almost as much when veterinary services for vaccinations, disease testing, microchipping and spay or neutering are included.

"This is designed to promote adoption of older dogs," Villalon said. "We rarely get puppies anyway."

The agency is also increasing fees for small mammals like rabbits and rats out of concern that "low adoption fees charged may encourage clients to purchase them as feeder animals for snakes," a staff report said.

In addition to adoptions and taking in unwanted pets, the Animal Care agency, which has a $3 million budget and serves about 8,000 animals annually, enforces animal control ordinances in the unincorporated areas and in Santa Rosa, boards lost pets and handles dog licenses.

A staff report noted that previous agency administrators had been reluctant to seek higher fee to cover increasing costs, looking to the shelter's Volunteer Board for help. As a result of the Citygate consultant's report, the role of the Volunteer Board has been limited to fund-raising for specific programs, such as microchipping, sterilization and heartworm testing.

You can reach Staff Writer Bleys W. Rose at 521-5431 or bleys.rose@pressdemocrat.com.

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