DULUTH -- When starting an animal rescue organization didn't have enough of an impact decreasing the number of unwanted pets euthanized by county animal control each year, Elizabeth Burgner and Lynette Purves decided to help control Gwinnett's pet over-population Bob Barker's way.
The former host of the TV game show "The Price is Right" signed off episodes with this reminder to viewers: "Help control the pet population. Have your pets spayed or neutered."
It's through a low-cost spay and neuter clinic that the founders of the Companion Animal Rescue League, which is still in operation, hope to make the most difference in decreasing the number of animals that die in Gwinnett's shelter yearly.
"We felt like we needed to do more," Purves said. "Spay/neuter is the way to stop so many animals from entering the shelters so less of them will die there."
"You just can't rescue your way out of the euthanasia rates," Burgner said.
With that unfortunate but practical idea in mind, the duo opened the doors to Planned PEThood, Gwinnett's first high-volume, low-cost spay and neuter clinic, in Duluth on Monday.
"We think the best way to help out with (decreasing the euthanasia numbers) is to decrease the number of animals being born," Purves said. "We offer more affordable spay/neuter, people will take advantage of it and less animals will be entering the shelter."
Planned PEThood offers neutering for male cats for $45 and spays for females for $60. Female dogs are sterilized for $80 to $100, depending on the weight of the animal, while male dogs are neutered for $70 to $90, also depending on weight. All surgeries include a rabies vaccination and pain medication.
In comparison, a nearby animal hospital charges $200 to spay a female cat, $150.30 to neuter a male feline, $225 to spay a 50-pound female dog and $200.30 to neuter a 50-pound male. The costs include a pre-op exam, pain medication, EKG and pulse oximetry monitoring, anesthesia, hospitalization, an IV catheter and fluids, medication for pain following the surgery and the procedure itself.
"It's hard for people, especially in this economy, to be able to afford (these services)," Purves said. "People procrastinate because of the price and so what happens is then you have an accidental litter. You don't mean to, but she smells good and a male dog gets in the fence ..."
Some vets have requested information on Planned PEThood to pass on to their clients who can't pay their fees.
"Even regular veterinarians who do charge that much realize that there's a need for low cost and they're willing to work with us," Burgner said.
"They know their clients that can't afford it, they just won't do it," Purves added. "It's not that we're taking business from them. This way the animal is taken care of with spay or neuter and their clients will come back to them for their regular care."
Burgner said Planned PEThood is able to offer services at low costs because the organization is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. The clinic also received $42,000 in grant funding from PetSmart Charities to purchase necessary medical equipment and as a high-volume clinic, Planned PEThood should provide enough spay/neuter surgeries to sustain itself financially. The goal is to provide more than 5,000 spay/neuter surgeries during the first year.
The clinic had three patients scheduled for surgeries on its opening day -- a female mixed breed dog named Charlee, Dallas, a male mastiff puppy, and a gray male cat that goes by the name Moo Bear.
One client was referred by Spay Georgia, an organization that assists with low-cost spay/neuters by providing vouchers to be used at participating clinics. Another client saw the clinic's sign while driving by along Buford Highway and the third came across Planned PEThood's Facebook page online.
Burgner and Purves hope to schedule at least 15 procedures a day starting out and then increase the number of spay/neuters to 30 to 35 daily at the clinic's peak.
Suwanee resident Vickey Blake volunteered her time Monday morning to staff the receptionists' desk. While the clinic's paid staff includes full-time veterinarian Riva Wokow and vet tech Holley Freeman, the organization will rely on volunteers to field phone calls and set appointments, clean kennels and assist in surgery recovery. The clinic also has its own mascot volunteers, two clinic kitties -- Biscuit, a friendly orange and white cat that will serve as the facility's greeter, and Pepper, a more aloof black and white feline that monitors the lobby. Both Biscuit and Pepper were adopted from the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter.
In addition to offering low-cost sterilization services, Burgner and Purves have started a Spay It Forward fund that will pay for surgeries for animals whose owners can't afford even low-cost services. During an open house last week, the clinic raised $486 toward that fund, which was followed by another $250 in donations.
"Whatever we can do to make sure (pets) stop having babies," Purves said. "Reduce the numbers, that's the only way we're going to be able to (decrease) the euthanasia rates."