- Associated Press - Saturday, June 28, 2014

GREENVILLE, Miss. (AP) - Seemingly everywhere, they’re hard to miss: Greenville’s stray dogs, soloists and in packs, and, too, the more furtive homeless cats.

Others aren’t missed at all, having attempted to dart across the road and been run over, the carcasses of those least fortunate animals lying lifeless on and beside city streets, sometimes for days at a time.

Those strays that do survive carry diseases, easily transmitted to cared-for pets that come in contact, and the threat of physical harm.

“Those animals carry a very large reservoir of parvovirus and distemper, which are highly contagious, highly deadly. Many of them are full of parasites,” veterinarian Shane Wilkerson, who owns Allen and Griffin Animal Hospital in Greenville, said.

And, too, “there are pet owners who are afraid to walk their own dog because of little packs of wild dogs who will attack,” he said.

There are so many stray animals in Greenville that the police department has two full-time officers assigned strictly to animal control.

That wouldn’t be necessary, Wilkerson said, if the city would enact an ordinance requiring pets be spayed or neutered - or that owners be levied a substantial annual fine.

“It’s an easy fix,” he said. “A spay-and-neuter ordinance would require that they have their pets altered, spayed if they’re female, neutered if they’re male, or pay a fee, a tax, every year when they came in for their pets’ vaccinations.

“And they should be micro-chipped, so you know who they belong to, who’s responsible for them.”

Belinda Alfred has been the director of the Animal Shelter of Greenville for more than half of the decade and a half she has worked there.

The city-owned shelter has a $75,000 budget, with which she must pay her two-person, part-time staff, purchase pet food and pay veterinarian bills, which last year, despite a good deal of pro bono care provided by several vets here, totaled more than $15,000.

“There are people who don’t know what all is involved in running an animal shelter and accuse (the shelter) of just killing animals,” Wilkerson said.

Alfred “spends a lot of her budget on care for these animals, getting them to where they can be adopted. She doesn’t have to do that, but she does. She does because she cares,” he said.

Donations are welcome. So, too, Alfred said, would be the spay-and-neuter ordinance.

“I think it’s the only solution,” she said. “In a month’s time, we’ll take in 20 cats and maybe 45 to 50 dogs.”

Last month, she said, “we adopted out 23 cats and dogs.”

Given that there are far fewer adoptions than admissions, “we have to put down 15 to 25 animals a month,” she said. “We do everything we cannot to. Here, the way things are in Greenville, there are so many strays and without a spay-and-neuter ordinance, there’s no way you could have a no-kill shelter. A spay-and-neuter ordinance would solve almost the whole problem.”

That might be overly optimistic, but there’s no question it would help mitigate the city’s rampant stray animal population, which, Alfred said, “has only gotten worse. There are more pets being thrown on the street.

“I fear it’s the economy, but some people do at least care. I get calls from people saying, ‘I just can’t afford to feed my pet anymore.’ We’re going to pick those animals up.”

Wilkerson, who bought Allen and Griffin Animal Hospital in 2002, two years after he graduated from Mississippi State University’s veterinary school, does what he can, housing strays that have been determined to be healthy and finds homes for, he said, “three or so a month, on average.”

Rebecca Goodman, who co-owns S. Goodman’s fine-apparel store in downtown Greenville, is among those working to convince the City Council, beginning with its Charter and Ordinance Committee, to consider enacting a spay-and-neuter law.

The effort formally began March 26 with a town-hall-type gathering at City Hall, in which Goodman took part, because, she said, “I’ve always been an animal lover, and whenever I’ve seen an animal that’s in trouble or needs to be rescued, I’ve felt I had to help. They’re God’s creatures, too.”

Council members Carolyn Weathers and Errick Simmons, who comprise two-thirds of the Charter and Ordinance Committee, attended.

The citizens group presented what a spay-and-neuter law might entail.

“If it’s going to solve the problem, we’re interested in hearing from them,” Simmons said of the presentation.

Goodman’s impression was that the Council members were amenable to the idea.

“I think they’re open to doing something about all these strays,” she said. The prevalence of stray packs and cat and dog road kill “doesn’t look good for Greenville, it’s all part and parcel to how you feel about your town. We’re all trying to bring Greenville back to being a great city and this is part of it.

“I think Errick and Carolyn care a great deal about this city, and we’re going to meet again. The next step is to go to the full committee meeting and ask, ‘what do we do next?”

How it might work

A typical spay-and-neuter ordinance requires that pets be fixed when they are first brought in for their vaccinations - doing so lessens the number of unwanted pets and their feral offspring - or pay a penalty for failing to do so.

Fixing a small dog, one weighing 25 pounds or less, costs about $125, Wilkerson said, so, “I would say the tax should be at least half the spay fee, say $75.”

An owner required to pay the penalty every year, he said, likely might conclude it’s ultimately cheaper to pay the $125 and be done with it.

Revenue generated for city coffers in such a fashion, “is money that can be used to help pay for the animal shelter,” he said. Though the police department has the two full-time animal-control officers, “right now, they could use more of them because we don’t have a spay-and-neuter ordinance, or just one if we did have an ordinance.

“That would free money to put another officer on the streets to fight crime.”

And fewer strays would result in a higher percentage of animals being adopted, he said, “there are a lot of good animals at the shelter that just need to have a chance.”

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Information from: Delta Democrat-Times, http://www.ddtonline.com

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