A popular animal clinic in the Triangle is closing—a loss that threatens to unleash trouble. Over the past nine years, Pet Overpopulation Patrol (POP-NC) performed nearly 30,000 spay/neuter surgeries. A low-cost spay/neuter clinic on wheels, POP assisted low-income pet owners in remote areas, including senior citizens on voucher programs. Most of the animals the group sterilized were pets; a small percentage were feral.
Losing POP could mean increased costs and workload for animal groups, making it even harder to keep North Carolina's teeming animal population in check.
Spay/neuter services are key to curbing pet overpopulation, which is "the biggest problem faced by animal rescue groups," says Deb Eveland, cat foster program leader for Independent Animal Rescue (IAR), a Durham nonprofit that worked with POP.
Eveland expects her workload—along with IAR's call volume—to increase as a result of POP's closing. "Kitten season is just starting, and already IAR has been contacted about more litters of kittens than we can possibly help," she says. "Only a fraction of these will find a good home."
POP's head surgeon, Dr. Wendy Royce, founded the mobile clinic in 2004. She, three vet technicians and another surgeon worked 12–15-hour shifts, performing 30–35 procedures per day. They would often travel beyond the Triangle to reach pet owners in rural areas, in a van that increasingly needed repairs.
"Each different location presented unique challenges regarding access to electricity, water, bathroom facilities, and food for the POP team members," wrote Royce in an email. As a result, POP struggled to keep up with high turnover rates. "It wears on the staff," reflected Meredith Barthelemy, POP's former program director. "We were constantly having to pick up slack and train new people."
Spayed and neutered animals have calmer temperaments and tend to be healthier and live longer, report animal welfare organizations such as IAR and PETA. Sterilization can save thousands of dollars in medical costs because the animals are less prone to disease, infection, fighting and wandering.
Dealing with pet overpopulation costs taxpayers and presents public health and safety concerns. "Animals that are at-large and not well taken care of are often not vaccinated," says Deputy Paul Sherwin, public information officer at the Durham Sheriff's Office. "They're often diseased, underfed, and it's common for these animals to be aggressive, antisocial and territorial."
In the first quarter of 2013, Durham Animal Services (formerly Animal Control) impounded an average of 240 animals per month, most of them cats and dogs. Animal Services turns these animals over to the Animal Protection Society (APS) of Durham. APS ends up euthanizing nearly two-thirds of the animals because of health concerns, behavioral issues and space limitations, says shelter director Shafonda Davis. Moreover, too few people come to the shelter to reclaim their lost pets. Last year, APS received more than 6,400 animals; about 4,000 were euthanized.
Animal shelters, rescue groups and other animal welfare organizations regularly referred clients to POP. The clinic handled half of IAR's surgeries per month, according to director Christina Burch. "We are currently working to identify vet partners in various Triangle locations to pick up the remaining surgeries," she wrote in an email. "There is a distinct possibility that this shift in service providers will increase our costs."
The Coalition to Unchain Dogs, another nonprofit, relied on POP for 75 percent of its sterilizations. The group coordinates with pet owners to build fences for dogs so they won't be tied up. Lori Hensley, Durham chapter director, appreciated POP's convenience and Dr. Royce's veterinary skill. "Wendy is amazing, one of the best in spay/neuter surgeries around," Hensley says. "We are definitely going to miss them."
The few other clinics that could cover for POP are already overwhelmed. Spay-Neuter Assistance Program (SNAP-NC), the alternative low-cost mobile clinic in the area, will cover three of POP's former locations in Orange, Caswell and Person counties.
But SNAP is responsible for locations across 14 other counties as well. "We already have full surgery days, so this is not going to be easy," commented Laureen Bartfield, SNAP's director. "We're already busy. It will be very difficult for us to accommodate these locations, and we're not going to accommodate them at the frequency that POP did." Over the past few months SNAP has experienced a surge of calls, says Bartfield, partially due to kitten season and now to POP's closure.
In Nash County, no agency is scheduled to take over, although POP hopes All Walks of Life Mobile Veterinary Services will do so. "Ideally there would be a low-cost spay/neuter clinic in every county," says Barthelemy. "There will probably be some backlog and increased wait time at the beginning. It definitely is a concern."
A few new clinics have recently opened in Wake County, including Five County Spay/Neuter Clinic and Saving Lives Spay Neuter Clinic. Royce will continue her veterinary work with the latter. Some full-service vets have agreed to lower their prices to make spay/neuter more accessible to those who can't otherwise afford it.
"There's an unlimited supply of unwanted pets in North Carolina," says Burch of IAR. "We help as many as we can, but there are many more that we can't help."
This article appeared in print with the headline "See Spot breed."