Dr. Cole Chavis works quickly over her tiny patient. Just two little legs can be seen as the patient lies motionless on her back. This small dog has no way of knowing it, but Dr. Chavis is giving her a lifetime of freedom.
Freedom from bearing unwanted, unloved litters of puppies who might end up as strays, or, worse, put to death by animal control. Freedom from endless pregnancies and the risk of being exposed to illness, infections, fights, wandering away from home and other dangers that torment pets who haven’t been spayed or neutered.
Nearby, another small patient lies in the recovery area, resting in narcotic slumber. This time tomorrow, both dogs will be on their way home to loving owners or to a shelter that will offer them up for adoption.
This is a normal day of operation at the Spay/Neuter Alliance & Clinic in Ridgeland, S.C., where cats and dogs from 11 counties in Georgia and South Carolina are brought to be spayed or neutered. The services of SNAC are available to every pet owner, regardless of income.
Barbara Greenstein is SNAC’s president. “Two years ago, a group of us who had been involved in volunteering in animal welfare work decided we were primarily dealing with symptoms of pet overpopulation,” she says. “The shelters and rescue groups in our area were overwhelmed. There didn’t seem to be a solution.”
So the group began to look for one. They learned about the Humane Alliance Spay/Neuter Clinic in Asheville, N.C., a low-cost, high-volume spay/neuter clinic that had an astonishing success rate.
“Over the past 10 years, they’ve done nothing but spays and neuters,” Greenstein says. “Just in that time, the rate of admissions to shelters and the euthanasia rate has gone down by 72 percent.”
Inspired by what they’d learned, the group formed a board of directors, then traveled to Asheville to visit the clinic and see this miracle for themselves. “We were blown away,” Greenstein says.
The Humane Alliance is helping other animal protection groups start spay/neuter clinics of their own. “They’ve started almost 25 clinics around the country,” Greenstein says. “They mentored us at no cost. Then they sent their staff down here for further training and to smooth over the problems.”
The clinic opened March 1, and has done more than 2,000 spays and neuters.
SNAC Vice President Ruth Groh has a rescued animal of her own, a dog named “Liberty” because she was found in Liberty County. Groh says having spaying or neutering done at a veterinarian’s office can cost up to $300 more than at SNAC.
SNAC differs significantly from a regular veterinary practice, Groh says. While a veterinarian performs the surgeries, pet owners must find their own veterinarian to do follow-up care, such as immunizations, treatment of illness and injuries and regular checkups. The animal will visit SNAC just once in its lifetime.
“We want to do as many surgeries as possible and be as efficient as possible,” Groh says. “We don’t ask for a means test.”
Everyone who brings or sends a pet to the clinic will pay a lower cost. Regardless of size, all male dogs are neutered for $55 and all female dogs are spayed for $65, while male cats are neutered for $40 and female cats are spayed for $50. The fee includes not only the surgery, but an overnight stay at the clinic, all pain medicine and transportation to and from the clinic.
Additional fees may apply, for example, $10 is charged if the animal is pregnant or $15 is charged for umbilical hernia repair. Also pet owners can choose to have vaccines and tests administered at the time of the surgery for an additional cost.
Why is this important? Because the euthanasia rate in this region is about 35,000 yearly -- including dogs, cats and entire litters of puppies and kittens. The vast majority of the animals that are killed are healthy and adoptable.
SNAC’s mission is to help reduce pet overpopulation and save lives by offering pet owner’s a low-cost way to neuter their pet. Of the 11 counties SNAC serves, seven are in Georgia, including Chatham County.
“We provide free transportation,” Greenstein says. “There are pickup points in each county. We have a large truck that was donated,” she says. “It goes out and picks up the animals from animal shelters, rescue groups and private owners. People can also bring in their pets themselves. When they arrive, they are very carefully checked over by the veterinarian to make sure they aren’t sick. If they are, they must be returned, but the owner can reschedule.”
Current pickup points include a private home in Chatham County and locations in Springfield and Statesboro.
Through grants, SNAC has been able to obtain state-of-the-art equipment and cages. PetsMart and PetCo were the major sponsors, Greenstein says, giving $100,000 and $35,000 in grants to get the program off the ground. Now that it’s operational, the fees charged for services will sustain the clinic.
Lloyd Stanley is SNAC’s driver. “He brings them here and they’re checked in,” Groh says. “They all get their own little cage. Dr. Chavis starts the exam and pre-med, then starts the surgery.”
“They all have to be weighed and checked out,” Greenstein says. “Puppies and kittens must be at least 2 months old or weigh 2 pounds to have surgery.”
Spaying a female dog takes 15 minutes, while neutering a male takes just 4 minutes. Female cats require 5 to 6 minutes, while surgery on males takes just 2 minutes.
It’s especially important to spay a female cat. “They can produce more than 300,000 kittens in a lifetime,” Chavis says. “They can get pregnant more than twice a year.”
Litters average about three to four kittens, but can be much larger. Because of the mild weather in this area and the productivity of female cats, Savannah has an unusually high feral cat population.
Sherry Montgomery has volunteered to make her home the drop-off point in Chatham County for animals that will be taken to SNAC. She also works with the Milton Project, an organization that traps feral cats, has them spayed or neutered, then returns them to their own environment.
“There are a lot of problems associated with mating,” Montgomery says. “When females are in heat, the males are fighting. They start reproducing at the age of 4 months. They can have four litters a year.”
A group of feral cats that lives in a specific place is called a colony. If one cat develops FIV or feline leukemia, it can be spread to the entire colony and beyond.
“They’re wasting diseases,” Montgomery says. “You have to watch them die. If we run across a colony where the cats are sick, they must be put down.”
Montgomery began working with feral cats when a colony lived near the office building where she worked. Feral cats are different from stray cats in that they have reverted to the wild and do not want attention from human beings.
“Three weekends out of the month, I trap,” Montgomery says. “Sponsors pay for the cost of spaying and neutering and rabies shots.”
From five to 20 cats are trapped each week. The cats make the trip to SNAC on Monday and are released back into the wild on Tuesday.
Even with the efforts of Montgomery and other animal rescuers, the problem remains troubling and large.
“Savannah has 50,000 to 100,000 feral cats,” Montgomery says. “You’ll find colonies near an open food source.”
In addition to trapping cats so they can be spayed or neutered, Montgomery also cares for three colonies. “Feral cats usually fall into one or two categories,” she says. “They’re born in the wild, or they’re put out. If there’s an open food source, such as trash cans or restaurants, they’re going to reproduce.”
Montgomery hopes SNAC can match Asheville’s success rate. “The difference with SNAC is that it’s a high volume clinic,” she says. “Because they don’t have a veterinary practice, there is nothing else to hold their attention, so they can make a difference.”
To schedule an appointment, call the Spay/Neuter Alliance & Clinic at 843-645-2500.