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Keeping tabs on strays in Manteca
Manteca Animal Control officer Les Rowe checks on a complaint about a pets welfare. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Karen Duke almost gave her life to the cause she believed in most.

She was 69-years-old when she scaled a tree to rescue a cat that had kept climbing in fear and didn’t leave itself any sort of out. But when a branch broke and sent Duke hurtling 40-feet to the ground below, it left Lathrop’s “lady of the cats” badly bruised and broken.

Her femur was shattered, her lung punctured and she was facing multiple reconstructive surgeries – not to mention three weeks in the intensive care unit and nine months of rehabilitation.

But she’s back at it again – not necessarily scaling trees, but manning the numerous trapping stations around town that she operates for feral cats that she takes to local veterinarians to be spayed or neutered.

It’s a small operation with a big populace. While Duke was away the number of spays, she said, grew significantly and becomes exponentially worse as more and more people ignore recommendations that are, in the end, in the best interest of the animal.

That’s where the Phoenix-like story of Duke’s recovery – in the spirit of the second chances that she’s given to cats that were either thrown away or disregarded – departs radically from what ends up happening if those animals end up working their way through the municipal system.

Ultimately the determination varies, but once an unclaimed animal comes into the shelter – whether it’s the aging shelter in Escalon or the state-of-the-art facility that Manteca just built to accommodate a growing community – the grim clock starts. One of the first rooms past the public viewing area, off to the right, is a sterile, industrial-looking room that serves one purpose and one purpose only – to kill the animals that have watched that clock run out.

The whole process is very polished and it’s very efficient – the animal doesn’t appear to be uncomfortable or in any pain before it simply stops breathing. But what then? Well, in Manteca that means it’s off to Ripon to be burned in the specially constructed furnace at the Ripon Animal Shelter on Doak Boulevard.

It’s an uneasy arrangement, and one that local animal shelters would rather not enforce at all – more people that spay and neuter their animals means less of them, increasing the chances that legitimate strays and surrenders will find a new home before the needle clock runs out.

These are the sorts of things that Karen Duke wants to help eradicate.


The Manteca manor

While the Manteca Animal Shelter operating budget and its staff are the fiscal responsibility of the police department, the day-to-day operation of feeding dozens of cats and dogs is augmented at least in part by the donations of pet lovers and businesses that want to make sure that the animals that end up within the cinder block walls get as much of a fighting chance as possible.

The city invested $2.1 million to build the state-of-the-art facility at the corner of Main Street and Wetmore Avenue to replace the aging complex across the street, and the move up benefitted not only Manteca animals either. Currently Lathrop has a contract with the City of Lathrop for its animal control services, and animals that are claimed from Lathrop can’t be adopted by Manteca residents – preserving a certain amount of space for dogs as the community grows and eventually builds its own.

The Manteca Animal Shelter is located at 115 E. Wetmore on the corner of Wetmore and Main Street. The Shelter is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and is occasionally closed from noon to 1 p.m. depending on the staffing situation. For additional information call 209.456.8270 or