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Animal Care Blog

Spaying & Neutering: How Far We've Come
 Posted: 01/31/18 9:15 AM by Shelly Simmons

Pet Overpopulation in Greenville County

I moved from Ohio to Greenville County in 2007.  Before I moved, I worked at an animal shelter that took in about 4,000 animals each year and I always felt that our shelter was flooded with incoming animals, there were never enough families coming in for their lost pets, not enough people in the community adopting, and not near enough low-cost spay-neuter options around to tackle the problem. When I toured Greenville County’s animal shelter for the first time, saw all of the cages and kennels full of dogs and cats, and talked with the staff about the number of animals entering through the doors of this shelter, I was speechless.

20,000 lost and homeless animals were coming through these doors. 20,000! Before I worked at an animal shelter, I would never be able to visualize what 20,000 dogs and cats looked like, so I’m going to imagine that many of you reading this also cannot visualize this. This is what 20,000 animals looks like (with each dot representing one animal):

20,000 can also look like this: On average 385 animals came into your local animal shelter every single week of the year. This is what 385 animals looks like:

Or it can look like this: Every single day that your animal shelter was open for business, an average of 66 dogs and cats were helped. 66 animals looks like this:

Can you imagine how incredibly difficult it was for the employees to come to work each day knowing that they were responsible for trying to find homes for 66 dogs and cats every single day? Would you know where to find 66 homes today and then again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day?

The fact is that there aren’t 66 new homes in Greenville County to put homeless animals in every day. The key to solving our problem in Greenville County and ending pet homelessness is to find ways to reduce the number of animals breeding indiscriminately in our community. The single-most effective way to do this is to spay and neuter our pets and the unowned community cats that live in our neighborhoods.

Targeted Spaying and Neutering

The Greenville County community is tackling pet overpopulation through spay-neuter efforts in a variety of ways. There are several veterinary clinics that offer discounted spay and neuter surgery; not one, but TWO, low-cost spay/neuter clinics (including our own Low Cost Animal Care Clinic), and a non-profit organization (Speak for Animals) dedicated to providing ongoing, low-cost spay/neuter options. Working together, we have seen progress over the years. Despite the human population growing in our County by over 60,000 from 2007-2015, the numbers of homeless dogs and cats entering our shelter did not increase. That is an accomplishment to be proud of, but it’s not what we need to end pet homelessness. We need to see that number drop… a lot!

In 2016, Animal Care made several systematic changes to how we focus spay and neuter efforts in Greenville County. While it’s important that every pet is spayed and neutered, trying to focus on doing a high volume of procedures without targeting the animals most likely to end up in a shelter does not give us the results for which we are looking.  

Community Cat Diversion

Our first change was to target the largest population of homeless animals entering our shelter that was also at the greatest risk of euthanasia: community cats. 53% of cats entering our shelter were being euthanized, and not because our team didn’t try their hardest to save them but because: 1) Many cats living outdoors are unsocial, making it nearly impossible to find a suitable home to adopt them.  2) Outdoor cats were reproducing at such alarming rates that this shelter commonly saw 30-50 kittens enter our doors every single day in the spring and summer months—many too young to survive on their own. 3) Only 0.009% of the cats entering our doors were ever found by their owners at our shelter and studies showed us that outdoor cats are 7-10 times more likely to find their way home from the street than an animal shelter.

Targeting community cats for spay/neuter allowed us to:

  • Immediately stop the reproduction cycle of the animals who were contributing the most to pet homelessness and shelter overpopulation.
  • Return cats (spayed and neutered, of course!) to their outdoor home area where their owners/care-takers could find them.
  • Decrease the number of free roaming cats so there is less potential of rabies in our community and less wildlife (song birds) at risk.
  •  Decrease the number of cats entering our shelter for the first time in the history of the animal shelter in Greenville County.

In 2016, we started up our Community Cat Diversion program, where outdoor cats can be spayed/neutered, ear-tipped and vaccinated for FREE!  This is commonly known as TNR (trap-neuter-return). The results have been phenomenal… with the largest part of the success thanks to targeted spaying and neutering of community cats. 

Large Dogs = Large Litters

Our second big change was to look at what was most affecting our intake when it came to dogs.  Hands-down and overwhelmingly, the answer to that question is LARGE DOGS! Some people may think about animals inside of a shelter and worry about the puppies and the little dogs, but have no fear! There are plenty of people coming in to adopt them. What we don’t have are enough people coming in to adopt large dogs. Large dogs are also less likely to be spayed or neutered because the surgical cost is much more expensive than a puppy or small dog. They also have the largest litters—sometimes 6 or 8 puppies at a time or more.

It made sense to target large dogs for spaying and neutering, so in mid-2017 we began offering FREE spays and neuters for any large dog living in Greenville County. Read that again. If you know someone living in Greenville County and they have a large-breed dog (or a puppy that will become large when full-grown), they can schedule an appointment at our clinic to have their dog spayed/neutered for FREE!

Subsidized Spay/Neuter Services

We aren’t done tackling the pet homelessness problem, but we have seen amazing accomplishments so far.  In ten years, I have personally watched the number of cats and dogs coming through our doors drop in HALF.  From 20,000 animals each year to just over 10,000 animals entering in 2017, I am full of pride for our community. Greenvillians all have something to stand up and be proud of and I hope you will join me in shouting from the rooftops how far we’ve come.

What’s next? I’m excited to announce that in 2018, Greenville County’s Animal Care Clinic will begin offering FREE spay/neuter surgeries for income-qualifying pet owners.  Studies prove that by providing low-income pet owners subsidized spay/neuter services, intake in shelters decreases (Getting to Zero, Peter Marsh).  This and the other targeted spay/neuter services we provide will continue to dramatically decrease pet homelessness and make Greenville County a great and safe place for animals to live and thrive.

Funding these Programs

All of the free spaying and neutering we are doing here at Greenville County Animal Care doesn’t come cheap!  We rely on grants and donations to the Second Chance Fund to keep these incredibly important programs going.  By giving to the Second Chance Fund to support these spay/neuter programs, you are literally saving the lives of thousands of animals in your community.  The statistics I’ve shared are the evidence that proves these life-saving programs work. Please give today so we can continue spaying and neutering our way to a NO KILL Community!