Administrator: County saving thousands with spay program

COUNTY — Legendary gameshow host Bob Barker signed off every episode of The Price is Right by reminding audience members to have their animals spayed or neutered.
Pickens County’s spay and neuter program’s price has indeed proven to be right as well, according to county administrator Chap Hurst.

The county’s spay and neuter program has been extremely valuable to taxpayers, the county budget and animals alike, Hurst said at Monday night’s county council meeting.
“Between the fall of 2006 and December 2010, Pickens County has successfully sterilized 4,149 animals,” Hurst said.

Among the 4,149 animals, approximately 2,200 were dogs and 1,900 were cats. Female dogs average eight puppies per litter and female cats average four kittens per litter. If 50 percent of the 2,200 dogs and 1,900 cats were female, then 1,100 dogs and 950 cats were sterilized, which ultimately means that 8,800 stray puppies and 3,800 stray kittens will not be born in Pickens County, Hurst said.

“I’ve gotten letters from folks criticizing us for spending money on this program,” said Hurst. “But they don’t realize it is going to cost a lot more money to address an out-of-control animal population. We have to hire more people to pick up all of these animals — not to mention the costs associated with keeping them, feeding them and having them euthanized.”

According to Pickens County ordinances, when a stray animal is picked up by animal control, that animal must be held for a period of five days so that the owner has an opportunity to claim his dog or cat. Currently it costs $12.60 per day to pick up, feed and ultimately euthanize an animal that is not claimed. This adds up to a cost of $63 per animal for the five-day holding period.

“When you add up the number of puppies and kittens that were not born because of this program, that is 12,744 animals,” said Hurst. “At a cost of $63 per animal, it would cost Pickens County $802,872 to deal with these stray animals.”

The spay and neuter program has cost Pickens County $133,966. Stray animals or animals brought in by pet owners are transported to Animal Ali in Spartanburg. There, the animals are sterilized, vaccinated (if need be) and either returned to their owners or taken by volunteers who work diligently to find adopted homes for the animals.

While the $133,966 costs associated with this program might seem exorbitant, Pickens County has actually saved a total of nearly $670,000, considering it would cost more than $800,000 to house the animals that were not born because of the program, Hurst said.

“In addition to being a sound, cost-effective business practice,” said Hurst, “we also saved 12,744 animals from having to be euthanized. By adopting out more than 500 dogs, we saved another potential 4,000 new puppies that were never born in Pickens County. This program is saving the taxpayers money, and it is more humane for the animals.”

Hurst believes this program has already started to have a tremendous impact on controlling the stray animal population in Pickens County but says that it will probably take anywhere from 8-10 years before the problem is completely under control.

“Most animal control programs treat the symptom by holding and eventually euthanizing the animals,” Hurst said. “Our goal in Pickens County is to have a no-kill animal shelter. The spay and neuter program in Pickens County is going to the root of the problem and correcting it. Plus it is more humane for the animals.”

Controlling the animal population in Pickens has been a difficult job, according to Hurst. The program that is in place now appears to be cost effective, efficient and humane based on the numbers.
“I believe that this program, when we evaluate it, is working extremely well,” said Hurst. “We have been contacted by other counties who have seen the benefit of it and want to copy our program.”