BLOUNTVILLE — After a year or more in the planning and developing stages, the Animal Shelter of Sullivan County opened its own surgical suite on Friday. It means spaying and neutering can be performed in-house for the first time.
“It’s a huge deal,” Dr. Jennifer Weisent, professor of shelter medicine at the University of Tennessee’s School of Veterinary Medicine, said of the new three-table surgical area and adjoining prep rooms, lab station and recovery area.
“This area, the Tri-Cities area, is in desperate need of help with the overpopulation of animals and this enables us to more easily help the shelter, and the shelter to help itself,” Weisent said.
Weisent, along with veterinary students from UT and certified veterinary technicians, visited the new surgical suite on Friday to conduct the first surgeries.
Shelter Manager Brandi Perkey said being able to have spaying and neutering performed on site will help the shelter reduce cost and time spent on transporting animals to UT, and it will speed up the adoption process and the community cat program. All animals adopted out of the shelter are required to be spayed or neutered. And the community cat program’s goal is to capture, “fix” and release as many unowned cats as possible. The purpose of the program is to reduce that population over time by ending the cycle of stray cats having kittens time and time again, which, in turn, do the same.
UT’s veterinary program has been helping the shelter for some time, making visits to Blountville with its mobile spay and neuter clinic. But shelter workers also regularly transported cats down Interstate 81.
“We have a large mobile unit,” Weisent said. “But it is difficult to get it here. This surgical suite means we can come and work here, and, hopefully, local veterinarians will agree to perhaps come here one day a month, or however often, and help the shelter.”
“Normally in the past we would have to drive the animals to UT or meet them at Exit 23 on Interstate 81,” Perkey said.
“This is exactly what we need,” Weisent said. “It’s a big deal for this area.”
Weisent said the shelter wouldn’t be what it has become without Perkey’s dedication and hard work.
Perkey said the shelter, working with UT, the Margaret Mitchell Spay/Neuter Clinic in Bristol, Virginia, and area veterinarians, has already spayed or neutered more than 500 community cats this year — and more than 460 are on a waitlist.
“We are elated with the progress we’ve made and the partnership with UT,” Linda Brittenham, president of the Animal Shelter of Sullivan County’s Board of Directors, said on Friday. “It’s a win-win for animals and all the people of Sullivan County. We are not in competition with the veterinarians in our area. We see this as a complement to the services they provide. We hope we can work it out for some of them to volunteer to perform spaying and neutering at the shelter one day a month for a few hours.”
Perkey and Brittenham each praised all the volunteers and workers, giving them and the shelter’s community partners credit for transforming the shelter over the past couple of years.
“It’s a team,” Brittenham said. “Everybody working for the same common goal.”
Brittenham said the ball really got rolling on development of the surgical suite when a shelter benefactor died and left a more than $26,000 bequest to the shelter.