County OK's Seed Money for Pet Panel Program
After years of struggle with a pet overpopulation problem, Moore County may be on the way to a solution.
A committee of volunteer animal lovers has developed a plan to educate the public about the problem and to make spay/neuter procedures more readily accessible.
In return, the Moore County Board of Commissioners has agreed to provide $16,300 in seed money to get the spay/neuter program started. This allocation will fill the financial gap until a nonprofit spay/neuter program sponsored by the Companion Animal Clinic begins operations next year.
"It's good to see something positive coming out of this," said Commissioner Michael R. Holden after committee Chairwoman Angela Zumwalt's summary of the panel's work at the Sept. 5 meeting of the commissioners.
It was Holden who proposed the appointment of what became known as the Moore County Citizens' Pet Responsibility Committee. The committee was asked to work on the pet overpopulation issue and to come up with recommendations for resolving the problem, an update to be made in September.
The commissioners were willing to provide the $16,300 requested after learning that animal control costs amounted to $617,000 in Moore County during the 2005 calendar year and costs are increasing.
"I want to thank the committee and especially Angela," Holden said as he made the motion to appropriate the $16,300. "She is one hard-working woman."
Commissioner Tim Lea said, "This is a great start. The committee does a fantastic job."
The commissioners are frequently fractious these days on any number of issues, but in this case agreement was easily reached.
Zumwalt called the pet overpopulation situation a crisis and backed it up with statistics showing that in 2005 the Moore County Animal Shelter accepted 4,628 cats and dogs. Of that number, 1,547 were adopted, the remaining 3,081 were put to death.
Cost of handling each animal, estimated at $133.32, includes responding to a call, catching the animal, quarantine and shelter until it is either adopted or euthanized. Most of these animals were lost, abandoned or surrendered pets, but Zumwalt also called attention to a growing problem with feral dog and cat populations.
Feral domestic animals are usually the offspring of abandoned or lost pets that reproduce in the wild and lose their domesticity.
They become a health threat to domestic animals and reproduce in growing numbers and, because they have no owners, these animals do not receive shots for rabies and other diseases, making them even more dangerous to domestic pets and to humans.
Zumwalt told the commissioners that one pair of mating cats can produce as many as 66 kittens within three years and up to 3,400 kittens within five years. The number climbs to 3.7 million kittens in eight years.
The committee is the outgrowth of a grassroots campaign to control the rapidly growing number of unwanted dogs and cats.
In 2005, several groups lobbied for adoption of an amendment to the county's animal control ordinance that would place restrictions on pet owners. The Board of Health recommended adoption of the amendment, but the Board of Commissioners delayed taking final action.
Although the amendment had strong support from a number of individuals and groups, other groups opposed some of the restrictions as a curtailment of their rights and an unnecessary expense. State law requires rabies vaccinations for all dogs and cats but does not require spay/neuter procedures.
Both sides of the issue include animals lovers, but the problem centers on different opinions about approaching the problem. One issue upon which almost everyone agrees is the need to avoid such a large number of euthanizations.
When a sign-up effort drew the names of almost 100 people interested in serving on a study committee, the commissioners decided such a large committee would be unwieldy and unworkable. That's when Holden came up with his idea of appointing a smaller committee but one with representatives from all sides of the issue.
The result was the 18-member committee chaired by Zumwalt. Members are hunters, breeders, shelters, animal welfare organizations, veterinarians, educators and town residents.
At a first meeting in March, the committee began work on a plan that provides five focal points: education, communications/awareness, low-cost spay/neuter, focus area concept, and backdrop for placing homeless pets.
Using volunteers and with assistance from school personnel, the committee developed pet responsibility modules to educate children in the elementary grades. Volunteers were trained in August, a recommended reading list was provided to libraries, and April was selected for an Animal Month presentation on a local television station.
In July the committee took part in a multi-group adopt-a-thon at the Southern Pines Armory, in which more than 66 pets were placed in homes through a "Happy Tails to You" emphasis.
In November, the Animal Center will extend its adoption hours. Open house events are also planned in November at both the Animal Center and the Moore County Humane Society building.
Zumwalt said the committee has submitted an application to participate in PetSmart's "Welcome Waggin'" program, which coordinates efforts between communities with a pet overpopulation problem and those willing to accept unwanted pets from other communities.
For the focus area concept the committee selected Robbins as a pilot town to initiate an effort to concentrate pet responsibility areas on one specific community.
Robbins was chosen for several reasons, including the overwhelming support expressed by town leaders. It was also chosen because Robbins can boast both rural and town environments, has experience with Hispanic population, has smalltown flexibility and cooperation, and is undergoing a revitalization project.
In July, the Robbins Town Board voted unanimously to join the fight against pet overpopulation.
The committee sponsored a booth at the annual Farmers Day event held every August in Robbins, when a number of residents signed up to have pets spayed or neutered and vaccinated during a campaign to begin in October.
Dr. Tom Daniel, a veterinarian, negotiated a fee schedule with a veterinary practice that will bring a mobile unit to Robbins one day a month from October through March. Daniel is spearheading the Companion Animal Clinic, expected to be operational by next summer to provide a continuation of the spay/neuter program planned in Robbins. He is also a committee member.
Although the program will not be free of charge, it will provide spay/neuter services at lower cost, and the clinic expects to attract funding through contributions, thus cutting operational costs.
Zumwalt said that the mobile veterinary unit usually charges $90 per dog and $60 per cat, based on the expectation that patients would include 20 dogs and 10 cats a day. This would be the cost for "owned" pets. The committee plans to offer the service at a lower fee schedule, $45 per dog and $40 per cat, with a $1,300 total daily copay.
Under the negotiated agreement, the cost will be less for feral cats because they have no owners to copay for each procedure.
The cost for this service for three days amounts to $1,875, much of which would be covered by donations from Animal Advocates and Moore Humane (society).
Zumwalt told the commissioners that the committee needs at least $14,300 to cover the noncopay remaining cost for services to owned pets and $2,000 for the Pet Responsibility Day emphasis scheduled for April 21.
The interim mobile unit service and the Pet Responsibility Day event are expected to result in 480 spay/neuter procedures. If half of those procedures are for cats, it would translate into 15,840 fewer cats in less than three years.
The communications/awareness focus involves a county Web site and newsletter. Newspapers printed 17 lengthy articles about the committee and its work, and two members were interviewed on Sandhills cable television station. The Pilot newspaper agreed to print a monthly column written by a committee member.
Zumwalt reported that the committee plans to continue meeting monthly in different communities while working out details of the monthly mobile spay/neuter program and plans for the Pet Responsibility Day in April.
Florence Gilkeson can be reached at 947-4962 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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