The county is moving toward participation in a state program that will see full reimbursements for all local animal spay and neuter procedures, ultimately offering them at an extremely minimal cost to eligible pet owners.
The N.C. Spay/Neuter Program focuses on reducing the population of unwanted animals in the state by encouraging the spaying and neutering of dogs and cats. Under the program, cities and counties are eligible to apply for reimbursement of direct costs of spay and neuter procedures of cats and dogs owned by low-income persons.
Implementing such a program has received a great deal of discussion in recent months. Animal shelter director Alan Canady spoke to the issue earlier this month — and the Sampson Board of Commissioners gave its unanimous go-ahead.
During the first quarter of 2012, 22 North Carolina counties participated in the state’s program, receiving reimbursements of $137,212.25 for a total of 2,477 operations.
“That is actually pretty good,” Canady said.
He noted that the state has generous guidelines defining who is eligible for the low cost option. The guidelines for 2013, at 300 percent below poverty level, would allow for the majority of Sampson County residents to qualify for free spay/neuter services.
“If I’m a single person and I make less than $33,510, I qualify for this program,” said Canady. “For a household of four, as long as you make a combined income of less than $69,150, you can get your pet spayed or neutered at a lower cost.”
Residents interested in having their animal spayed or neutered would have to produce proof of income to be eligible for the program. A voucher would then be written for one of the local participating veterinarians. Those vets would have to produce itemized fees on a form to be turned in to the state, reflecting the actual costs of the spay/neuter process.
The county then pays the veterinarian after the invoice is submitted to the county.
“The county would have to approve up-front money to cover the initial cost for the program to start,” said Canady. “Money would be reimbursed after each quarter. If the county spends $10,000, after the first quarter, the state would turn around and reimburse us that $10,000 as long as it meets the requirements set forth.”
Quarterly, the county submits necessary paperwork to the N.C. Spay/Neuter Program for reimbursement. In most cases, the state reimburses the county 100 percent of the costs within 30-60 days of that submission.
“Every county I’ve talked to that has participated in this has never had a problem getting the money reimbursed,” said Canady. “Yes, it would take some up-front money to get this started, but in all actuality it would actually pay for itself.”
The Sampson County Animal Shelter would be responsible for accounting and issuing vouchers, but local rescue organizations, notably Sampson County Friends for Animals, would shoulder the responsibility for verifying income and submitting copies of that paperwork weekly.
Friends for Animals members Judy Shepherd and Lindsay Peterson spoke to the grant program at December’s City Council meeting, singing the praises of a program they said would extend spay and neuter procedures at a lower cost. The city researched the matter and subsequently handed it off to the county, which has generally discussed the matter since last year.
Shepherd, immediate past president and current secretary for Sampson County Friends for Animals Inc., said it was vital, and one of the organization’s goals, to provide low-cost spay and neuter procedures. She also previously noted the 300 percent below poverty level guideline. “When we did a little bit of calculation,” Shepherd has said, “it ends up being that about 90 percent of Sampson County qualify.”
There is a spay and neuter voucher program currently in place in Sampson, in which the cost for the procedure is included with the overall adoption fee. The cost is $40 for cats ($10 adoption fee, $30 spay and neuter fee); $80 for male dogs ($25 adoption fee, $55 for neutering); and $105 for female dogs ($25 adoption fee, $80 for spaying).
Under the new program, those eligible can get low-cost spay and neuter procedures done for pets regardless of whether they were adopted from the local shelter or not.
Canady said he would be making a strict schedule for Friends for Animals representatives to follow, only allowing paperwork to be submitted, and vouchers issued, on a certain day of the week. He said the impact of the program would be felt soon after being implemented. He said a March timeline was the goal.
“The impact of establishing this program would affect change in Sampson County almost immediately,” Canady said.
One female cat and her offspring can produce 400,000 cats in just seven years. One female dog and her offspring can produce 67,000 dogs in just six years. Not only would the program help tame the growing animal population locally, it would also reduce costs across the board.
“Over time, this will reduce costs to Sampson County by way of shelter staff, Animal Control staff, medical care, euthanasia and other costs associated with the pet overpopulation problem in Sampson County,” Canady said. “This program will go a long way in eradicating the nickname of ‘the killing place’ for Sampson County Animal Shelter. Now is the time to put this program into place while there is so much interest in the public assisting SCAS in making a difference in our community and our local animal population.”
Peterson has said that two local veterinarians are already on board, with participation open to others.
Finance officer David Clack said the spay/neuter procedures will not just be low cost, they will essentially be free of charge to those that qualify, allowing that all program rules and regulations are adhered to by all parties: veterinarians, Friends for Animals, county staff and everyone else included.
“The state will pay it as opposed to the person paying it,” said Clack. “If I come in, whether I adopt an animal or not, and just wanted my animal spayed — I don’t have to adopt the animal from (the shelter) — I just have to show I qualify. If I qualified for this program, I wouldn’t have to pay.”
As far as the county is concerned, there also is not a budget impact.
“It’s not a budgetary cost to get started,” Clack said. “It’s basically a cash advance. We get the money back. If we get quarterly reimbursements, it’s however many spays and neuters we do in that quarter.”
County manager Ed Causey said the only downside would be expending shelter staff time with paperwork. That is where the Friends for Animals staff comes in. He recommended a partnership with the non-profit group, whose personnel would be trained in regard to collecting and submitting paperwork, likely with a designated person to handle certain duties.
“We have a reluctance to let anybody else be responsible for things that we ultimately could be liable for on a monetary basis, so we’re going to have to have a hand in it in some fashion,” Causey said. “The majority of these animals would never be coming through the shelter. This is good public relations and helps the county.”
The county board authorized county staff to move forward with participating in the N.C. Spay/Neuter Program, approving a cash advance of $10,000 and directing the county attorney to draft a contract between the county and Friends for Animals for their services.
Commissioner Albert Kirby called the situation a “win-win.” Assistant county manager Susan Holder agreed.
“The more animals throughout the whole county that we can spay and neuter,” said Holder, “the fewer animals that will come into our shelter.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.