One cat and her offspring can produce up to 420,000 kittens in six years?

By SARAH FAY CAMPBELL sarah@newnan.com It's undisputed that there are simply too many pets, or "companion animals," in Coweta County. That fact is evidenced by the large numbers of unwanted pets that are put to death every year. From January through June 2008, Coweta County Animal Control had to euthanise 242 cats, 18 kittens, 145 dogs and 35 puppies. In 2007, 1,475 animals had to be killed. That averages out to four animals every day.
It's also undisputed that spaying and neutering is the only way to improve the situation. "It seems like with cats and kittens ... each year it's the worse we've ever seen. And each year, it gets worse," said Donna Rossi, president of the Newnan-Coweta Humane Society. "It seems like it was just slammed overnight when the warm weather hit. All of a sudden, here come mommas and babies, and it just multiplied," Rossi said. "That's why spay and neuter -- is the only solution," she said. According to the Atlanta Animal Alliance, one cat and her offspring can produce up to 420,000 kittens in a mere six years. "Basically, what we need is a more responsible pet owner," said Coweta County Prison Warden Bill McKenzie, who is also director of Coweta Animal Control. Rossi said almost exactly the same thing. "You've got to be responsible. Being responsible, I think, is spaying and neutering. There is no need to let your pet have 'just one litter,'" she said. "People think, 'Oh, I can always find a home for my kittens,'" said Rhonda Marseli of West Georgia Mobile Vet. "The truth is -- people don't go to the pound and adopt kittens, because somebody they know is always pushing one on them." And people who let their animals reproduce willy-nilly are, actually, breaking the law. Any animal adopted from a shelter must be spayed or neutered within 14 days. There is no law requiring people to spay or neuter other animals, but any animal that is in heat or in season must be confined in such a way that a male cannot get to the female and get her pregnant -- except for intentional breeding. A violation can be punished as a misdemeanor, with a fine of up to $1,000 and/or 60 days in jail. However, workers at Coweta Animal Control don't remember anyone ever being convicted of that violation. Enforcement of the ordinance can be difficult, according to McKenzie, who oversees the animal control department. It's hard to track offenders by keeping up with who turns in litters at the shelter. The shelter's new software will help, McKenzie said. Another problem is manpower to follow up on offenders. Plus, offenders could have someone else bring the next litter to the pound, he said. Any violations would be tried in Coweta Magistrate Court. Having your pet "fixed" has other benefits. It's healthier for the animals, eliminating the chances of cancer in the reproductive system. And, of course, a neutered male cat is not so inclined to mark his territory. Being "altered" is good "even if your cat or dog never comes in contact with another its whole life," Marseli said. She's seen people bring in animals with severe prostate cancer and mammary tumors. "We have to do emergency spays sometimes," she said. "It's not just for overpopulation. It's for overall health." Nearly all clinics will perform surgeries on animals at least 2 months old, or two pounds. In the past, vets waited until animals were older to attempt the major surgery of spaying a female. Because of advances in veterinary technology -- especially improved anesthesia -- performing the surgery on younger animals is now safe. Waiting too long can lead to an unexpected litter -- cats can get pregnant while only 5 months old. And for owners of female dogs, especially, sooner means cheaper. As a dog gets larger, the cost to spay her increases. Spaying a large breed adult female can cost several hundred dollars at a vet's office. But various low-cost clinics can provide it for less than $100. While neutering is one of the simplest veterinary procedures there is, a spay is actually major surgery. Occasionally, local humane societies will offer a "spay day" with super-low prices. This year, vets from Coweta Animal Hospital donated their time and "we got some donated drugs and anesthesia and sutures," said Newnan-Coweta Humane Society Vice President LouAnn Jones. "We got a real good response," Jones said. Rossi would like to do even more to increase the options for sterilizing pets. "I wish that we had a vet school here," she said. "I would like, if nothing else, to at least be able to give out a certificate," she said. The county's animal shelter has a room that could be equipped as a spay and neuter suite, Rossi said. It is the room that is now used for lethal injections. She'd love it if, some day, local vets could donate their time to spay and neuter shelter pets before they are adopted.

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