Shelter Director Has A Dream
This article was originally published in the Smithfield Herald on July 13, 2007
by Sarah Nagem, Staff Reporter
Smithfield -- Ernie Wilkinson gets emotional when he tells the story of the first time he put an animal to death.
Wilkinson, director of Johnston County Animal Services, was taking a certification course, and the droopy-eared old dog wasn't sick or dangerous, he said. It's just that nobody wanted it.
As head of the county’s animal shelter, Wilkinson realizes that euthanasia is sometimes needed, but that doesn’t make it any easier for him. So in an effort to reduce the number of animals put to death, Wilkinson wants to open a spay/neuter clinic near Animal Services.
"I have to see what happens to these animals when there are just so many of them,' he said. "We’ve got to find a way to eliminate the need to euthanize animals."
Wilkinson wants the clinic to offer low-cost spay and neuter operations for pets. The fee would likely be about $25, he said, as opposed to the $150-$200 pet owners can shell out at a veterinarian's office.
Wilkinson envisions the clinic having three operating suites and a kennel. It will cost at least $500,000 for construction, equipment and a year's worth of service, he said.
The money needs to come from donations. So far, the project has about $12,000, Wilkinson said. He hopes local veterinarians will volunteer at the clinic.
Too many Johnston County residents don't get their pets spayed or neutered, Wilkinson said. Pet owners don't want to pay for the operation, or they want to breed their animals, he said.
But getting a pet spayed or neutered is "part of being a responsible pet owner," Wilkinson said. "It controls the population of these dogs and cats, totally controls it," he said.
If Wilkinson had things his way, North Carolina would have a mandatory spay/neuter law. But he doesn't think that will happen, partly because of the popularity of breeding animals.
But animal overpopulation is a statewide problem, Wilkinson said. He got the idea for a clinic when he did some work with the Asheville Humane Society. That organization is affiliated with a clinic similar to the one Wilkinson envisions.
"Everybody realizes that the best defense to shelter intake is spay and neuter," said Quita Mazzina, executive director of the Humane Alliance Spay and Neuter Clinic in Asheville.
Mazzina said the Asheville clinic spays or neuters about 22,000 pets every year. As a result, euthanasia has decreased about 70 percent in Buncombe County, she said.
Wilkinson wants the Johnston County project to gain support. "I hope and pray it happens," he said.
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