SAFE offers low-cost spay-neuter option in midstate

pramati@macon.comMay 19, 2013 

  • TO LEARN MORE

    SAFE offers low-cost spaying and neutering options for dogs and cats in the Middle Georgia area. It’s also seeking donations of puppy pads, tube socks, paper towels and rice. For more information, call (478) 550-5050 or visit the group’s Facebook page.
    To learn more about having a dog spayed or neutered for owners who live in the 31201 ZIP code, call Bibb County Animal Welfare at (478) 751-9200 or visit www.co.bibb.ga.us/AnimalWelfare.

A new organization in Middle Georgia gives pet owners a low-cost option for getting their animals spayed or neutered.

Saving Animals From Euthanasia, a nonprofit known as SAFE, provides reduced-cost spaying and neutering for dogs and cats in the midstate and beyond. Operating from a recreational vehicle, SAFE has the ability to go to various locations in its goal of helping control the population.

Susan Helton, SAFE’s president who has been involved with animal rescue organizations for 30 years, said she helped start the organization because of the high number of animals that end up in the Bibb County Animal Welfare shelter.

“Look at the volume coming into the shelter,” she said, noting the more than 5,000 euthanizations from the Bibb County shelter in 2011. “The only way to stop it is spaying and neutering. The whole purpose of this is to offer a program to people who can’t afford to have their animals (altered). There’s a lot of people who would like to have it done but can’t afford it.”

Helton said the average cost for spaying or neutering an animal at a veterinarian’s office in Bibb County is roughly $200 to $300. SAFE offers the same service for $60, thanks to donations and low overhead. The organization also has applied for grants, and some generous residents have underwritten some of the procedures, meaning the operations on some of the dogs and cats have been free.

SAFE will begin full-time operations this week, operating at different locations. Using a specialized RV the organization leases, Helton hopes to average 20 spay/neuters per day. It’s a small RV, however, and is fairly cramped due to several built-in cages to hold the dogs and cats while they await or recover from surgery and a small operating room in the back.

Helton said the organization wants to purchase a new, larger RV and allow for dogs and cats to be housed at separate ends, with two operating areas in between. A new vehicle could allow for up to 35 procedures a day, Helton said.

Helton formed the organization with Kathryn Spears, who serves as chief financial officer as well as a nurse who assists with surgeries. Helton said she got the idea for offering low-cost surgeries after the Humane Society of Atlanta came to the midstate four times last year for spaying and neutering. The demand from the public was so overwhelming that not everyone was able to get their animals altered. So she and Spears became determined to start their own program in Middle Georgia to help make headway into the overpopulation issue.

SAFE will use one full-time and two part-time veterinarians to perform the operations. The actual operations don’t take much time -- under five minutes on average to neuter a male dog or cat, and about 15 minutes to spay a female. They will spay pregnant animals if they are not full-term or producing milk, Helton said.

Many midstate animal rescue groups are working with SAFE when the groups take in new dogs and cats.

“(The service) is long overdue,” said Anne Brennaman, president of Macon Purrs N Paws, which hosted SAFE in the rescue group’s parking lot last week. “Most people can’t afford (expensive surgeries), so this is a low-cost alternative. It’s so much easier to (go to SAFE) They can do a whole lot over time. We’ve got to do this in Macon.”

Kerry Howard, who fosters rescue animals, said one of her dogs was neutered by SAFE last week.

“It’s something that’s desperately needed,” she said. “The pricing is perfect. Anyone can afford it.”

Bibb County Animal Welfare Director Sarah Tenon, who has made educating the public on spaying and neutering one of her key objectives since taking over the department last year, praised SAFE’s efforts.

“I think it is wonderful,” she said. “We encourage residents to take advantage of it. It will help reduce the pet population in the community and at the shelter, which thereby will reduce the number of euthanizations to healthy animals. Affordable spaying and neutering is something you’ll definitely see a lot of people take advantage of.”

SAFE’s efforts should augment a grant that Animal Welfare was awarded from PetSmart. The grant pays for 1,100 dogs to be spayed or neutered over the next two years. The dogs’ owners must live in the 31201 ZIP code, and cats are not included.

The grant’s parameters were determined by PetSmart, Tenon said.

Volunteers have been working to get information about the grant into the community, Tenon said, and people are starting to take advantage of the service.

“We still need the support of the community,” she said. “We’re going door to door, into the schools. We’re putting out 5,000 flyers. It’s definitely going to help.”

Between the grant and SAFE’s efforts, Tenon hopes Macon can become a model for pet population control.

“We’re becoming more aggressive, and I think Macon and Bibb County are going to be leading (Georgia) counties and cities (in spaying and neutering),” she said. “I think we’re going to be leading the way in reducing overpopulation. We’ll be the light for others to follow.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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