Experts: West TN needs low-cost spay, neuter for pets
Emily Littleton, The Jackson Sun, July 10, 2016
When Denise Jewell first bought her Yorkie in 2008, she had no idea how much she’d need a faithful companion in the years to come. She just knew the furry black and caramel puppy was precious, and she had enough money saved up to afford her.
Shortly after Jewell brought the puppy home, it earned the name Mischief for its antics around the house. Jewell, her children and her husband loved having Mischief around, and decided to wait to spay her until she’d had a litter. In 2009, Mischief gave birth to four puppies and Jewell found them all happy homes. But by then, her own happy home was crumbling around her, she said.
Jewell and her husband divorced soon after. Jewell kept Mischief, though, and moved to Jackson with her two children to try and start a new life.
“She’s just been a godsend. I talk to her like a real person,” Jewell said. “She acts like a person. I swear she knows what you’re saying and sometimes she smiles.”
Jewell said it was tough to make ends meet. She said combined money from her part-time job at Wal-Mart and child support from her ex-husband was barely enough to pay the bills. She couldn’t afford to pay over $100 at a veterinarian’s office to have Mischief spayed, and the dog had two more unplanned litters of puppies.
Jewell found all five puppies homes, but many animals from unplanned litters aren’t so lucky. They become homeless strays.
Last year, Jackson-Madison Rabies Control picked up 1,234 animals that were either running at large or had been surrendered by their owners, according to Candy Overstreet, environmental health program director at the Jackson-Madison County Health Department.
Companion Pet Rescue, one of the largest animal rescue groups in Jackson, finds homes for over 2,500 dogs a year, according to its website. The Jackson-Madison County Humane Society took in approximately 520 animals last year, according to Lynn Caldwell, president of the Humane Society Board.
Lack of access to affordable spay and neuter procedures is a major contributing factor to animal overpopulation, said Julie Jacobson, program manager for Spay Tennessee, a referral program for spay and neuter services.
Across the state, there are 29 spay and neuter clinics that are able to offer the procedures at discounted rates because they operate at a high volume and can buy supplies in bulk, and because they are often subsidized by state grants and donations.
Only two exist west of Nashville, however — nowhere near enough to significantly help reduce animal overpopulation in West Tennessee, according to local animal rescue groups. Both of those clinics are in Shelby County, and they are backlogged due to high demand.
West TN animal shelters 'drowning in animals'
The success of investing in low-cost spay and neuter programs has been well proven, according to Jacobson. In Putnam County, shelter intake dropped 36 percent within six years of a clinic opening. Jacobson helped start an affordable spay and neuter program in Jackson County in 2003, and there has not been a puppy litter in foster care in Jackson County since May of 2014, she said.
Shelter intake and euthanasia numbers are declining statewide, but not in West Tennessee, according to Jacobson. Animal rescue groups abound in the region, but she said they are only addressing one part of the problem.
“If your basement is flooding with water, what do you do first, turn off the spigot or start bailing out water?” Jacobson said. “Rescue groups are standing in the basement bailing out water. Somebody has to turn off the spigot.”
The Jackson-Madison County Humane Society was so often overwhelmed with need and underfunded that Caldwell sought funding from the city for years. In May of 2016, the Jackson City Council voted to absorb the nonprofit and support it with city dollars.
A tentative budget allocated to the Humane Society for the 2016-2017 fiscal year is $200,000, according to Jackson Mayor Jerry Gist. Some volunteers from local rescue groups are anxious to see taxpayer money from that budget devoted to preventative programs in hopes of beginning to control animal overpopulation.
According to Caldwell, there are several local veterinarians who will offer spay and neuter services at a discount sometimes, and in the past a state grant helped subsidize the surgeries for several years. There has never been a consistent or well-established program, however.
Karen Byers, who volunteered with the Humane Society and helped start an animal advocacy group in Jackson, said she is concerned with the lack of options for affordable spay and neuter procedures. In Jackson, they can cost anywhere from $110-$286 for dogs and $58-$228 for cats, according to local veterinary offices.
In a letter to Gist on June 6, Byers wrote, “I know there is resistance to new voices for a variety of reasons, but more of the same is so obviously not a solution. There must be openness to new ideas, all options heard so that the best choices can be made.”
She said her motive for writing the letter was simply to ensure that as planning begins for the city-run Humane Society, investing in preventative measures is a priority. She also started a petition on change.org, which can be found at this link: http://chn.ge/29u8QU2.
Gist and Kathleen Huneycutt, director of Jackson Health and Sanitation, said planning for the new society is in the very early stages. The only concrete decisions they have made are to renovate the existing facility and add a quarantine building. They are open to all options, and intend to make spay and neuter programs part of the picture.
“We’re definitely looking at a spay and neuter program. We’re looking at everything we could possibly do to limit the animals that are picked up,” Gist said.
Jewell said she hopes that one day there will be more access to spay and neuter procedures for West Tennessee residents with limited funds like herself. She wants to be a responsible pet owner but simply can't afford it right now.
"When I first got Mischief, I was a lot better off," she said. "Now I'm divorced, and I'm struggling."
Tennessee counties with at least one spay and neuter clinic: