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There are an estimated 12 million stray dogs in the United States, a huge number to be sure. But consider that there are nearly five times that many feral cats, an estimated 58 million.

A 2013 study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute found that free-ranging, domestic cats are the single largest human-caused threat to wildlife. A 2011 review of wildlife crises on islands determined that cats helped cause the decline or extinction of 123 species of songbirds, parrots, seabirds and penguins; 25 species of reptiles; and 27 species of mammals, including a lemur and a bat.

That’s why it is critical to do all we can to control the numbers of dogs but especially cats. If they don’t have early contact with people, the kittens of stray or feral cats will become feral, too fearful to be handled or adopted. Since a female cat can become pregnant as early as five months of age, the number of feral cats in a neighborhood can rapidly increase if cats aren’t spayed or neutered.

It’s welcome news that PETWORKS Animal Services in partnership with the Sullivan County Humane Society will soon launch a program to help address the overpopulation of cats and dogs in Kingsport.

Beginning next month, PETWORKS will provide the region’s first on-site spay/neuter program to help low-income families get their pets fixed.

Tom Parham, president of PETWORKS, said the program aims to help reduce the overpopulation of the community’s homeless animals.

“This is a big deal for the region. The way we treat our animals is important to people,” Parham said. “We’re focused on reduced costs for economically disadvantaged people, and it’s just one more part of the organization’s mission to provide quality animal care at an efficient community cost.”

PETWORKS opened its new 17,000-square-foot facility at 3101 E. Stone Drive last October, providing the greater Kingsport area with more than double the space of its previous shelter. One notable feature of the new facility is a dedicated operating room for spaying and neutering animals. The room was made possible through a $145,000 donation from Buddy and Debbie Waggoner, animal lovers and longtime supporters of PETWORKS.

Buddy passed away on June 27 at the age of 65.

“If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have a spay/neuter facility, the equipment, and be able to do this community service,” said Ralph Suit, project director of the new shelter and dog park. PETWORKS has enlisted Dr. Baxter Burke to perform the spay/neuter services under the program twice a month.

The Sullivan County Humane Society is offering “snip” certificates for low-income families to cover the spay/neuter costs. Carol Perkins, president of the SCHS, said her intention is to send all of their snip certificate clients to PETWORKS, which is seeking donations to support the new program and possibly expand it to more days a month.

You can help.

To sponsor a snip certificate in honor of a pet, contact the SCHS at (423) 247-1671.

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