By Brian N. Willhite
New Kern County Animal Control Director Jen Woodard has some big plans for the challenged county shelter, which she hopes will become a more animal-friendly environment for the county and the community.
The lifelong animal advocate is hoping to save and rescue more animals while transforming the current pet population problem. She hopes to do this, she said, by modernizing current facilities and instilling new programs with a no-kill emphasis, as well as encouraging the community to support their local shelter.
Woodard comes to Bakersfield from the Los Angeles area where she played an intricate role in instituting programming that saved the lives of hundreds of animals throughout the many shelters in the metro system. Recently she helped open the Best Friends Animal Society Pet Adoption Center, where she held a senior management position and oversaw the shelter and clinic operations before accepting the director position in Bakersfield.
She spoke with Bakersfield Life about her new job.
How has the transition been for you with the new staff members and county personnel?
It's been great to have the support [from the county] so I can focus on what the problems are with the shelter from an outsider's perspective. I'm also big into data and trends so I felt like this couldn't get any worse here, and that we're only going to be winning from here. So, by adding staff and programming and excitement over the city-county collaboration, it's created this perfect storm of greatness for the animals.
I thought, 'I want to be part of that,' and I came into a staff that wanted so much to change and wanted to save lives. The first thing they said to me was, 'We want to adopt out healthy animals.' I knew the passion was there for the staff.
How can communities support their local animal shelters and encourage more pet adoptions?
The No. 1 thing people can do is spay and neuter their animals. Vaccinating is also important, not just for rabies and licensing, but for DHPP (Distemper, Hepatitis, Parainfluenza and Parvovirus). What we see is hundreds of puppies coming in per year bringing in the Parvo virus, which is fatal for puppies. We also need volunteers, we need fosters, and we need people to spread the word and share our information.
We're also going to be rebranding ourselves as an adoption center, too. Right now the adoption center is around the corner in the back. We're going to move it to the front so that the first thing people come into is a place of life and a place where you can adopt. In this county, only about 20 percent of animals that are owned are adopted or rescued. So we want to get the word out that adopting is good for many reasons: you're saving a life, getting an animal that is already vetted and taken care of, and you're contributing back to your community.
How can Bakersfield incorporate the "no kill" philosophy into its programming and achieve those goals?
We are going to be picking from many programs like the TNR (trap neuter and release) program, where feral cats are typically euthanized but now will be given the opportunity to be trapped, neutered and released back into the community because there's nothing to do with them. They're wild, and killing them isn't solving a problem.
There are also a number of other types of programs featuring pit bulls and chihuahuas, which in Southern and Central California are a huge issue. So we're looking into some way where we can offer some services to pit bull and chihuahua owners regardless of income. As long as people want the services, it's our job to figure out how we can get their animals spayed, neutered and vaccinated.
What's the best thing about seeing an animal get adopted?
It's still amazing to me. I've probably seen thousands of animals go to new homes, and I still get a kick out of it. And even though we might have seen hundreds adopted in the last month, for that person it's something special. Once the adoption does happen, it's a happy moment and a little tense because you worry if they're going to bring it back. But then you see the happy-tail pictures afterward, or they call you up ... I think all of us take it personally. You feel good because you know you were part of that animal being at that agency and getting out alive. It's an amazing experience.