Dr. Barry Nicholls of the Animal Medical Center in Anniston checks on a "patient" that was neutered earlier in the day. Photo by Stephen Gross / The Anniston Star

A cost-sharing program that enables Calhoun County pet owners to have their animals spayed or neutered at a reduced price proved popular Wednesday, the first day it was offered.

Vouchers known as “snip-it tickets” almost sold out, according to County Administrator Mark Tyner.

“We had gotten several calls but we didn’t actually know how big it would be,” Tyner said by phone Wednesday afternoon, just a few hours after the tickets went on sale at the Ken Joiner Calhoun County Administration Building. “We hated to order a lot and have them on hand if they weren’t going to move, so we started with a lower number to see how those went. We’ve already placed another order. We’re very excited.”

He said that the county ordered 21 of the vouchers, provided in a joint program supported by Birmingham-based animal clinic Alabama Spay/Neuter, and 20 were sold by the early afternoon. The county ordered another 80 for Thursday, he explained.

The program cuts the cost of spay and neuter surgery to $15 for any county resident regardless of their address, Tyner explained. There is no limit on the number of vouchers per home. Pet owners need to bring identification to the County Commission Office at the administration building in Anniston, to prove their address is within county limits.

Once the ticket is paid for, owners then call Alabama Spay/Neuter to make an appointment. The organization picks up animals from Pickette’s Feed & Pet Supply on McClellan Boulevard and drives them to their Irondale office for free, but pet owners can drive their animals directly to the office, too. Pets stay overnight after the surgery and can be picked up at Pickette’s or the Irondale office the next day.

Tyner said that county funds cover half of the surgery price, and Alabama Spay/Neuter pays the other. He said the county portion ranges from $25 to $55 depending on the species and sex of the animal.

Mark Nelson, director of Alabama Spay/Neuter, said the organization opened in 2008 and has more than 110,000 spay and neuter operations to its credit. He said that every surgery counts, because the stray population grows exponentially every year.

“One prolific female dog can birth a dozen or more puppies each year,” he said, and most puppies can do the same within a year. “We have a little pyramid diagram to illustrate that; two or three years after spaying or neutering a dog or cat it’s not just the puppies and kittens that aren’t born that year, but those puppies and kittens that are never born and have puppies and kittens of their own.”

Nelson said he’s seen other counties save money in the long run by reducing the pet population through spay and neuter programs, which takes some strain off of crowded animal shelters.

“It’s a national problem, and you can’t adopt your way out until you slow down the number of puppies and kittens being born,” he said.

Cheaha Regional Humane Society director Jane Cunningham said that she didn’t have enough specifics to comment on the spay and neuter program, but she expressed support for any program that helps end the overpopulation problem.

“I am all for a spay and neuter program, and I have been trying to get an effective one for many years,” she said by phone Wednesday.

Anniston Councilwoman Millie Harris is a member of Saving Animals Volunteer Effort, an organization in Anniston that has worked with the same Irondale clinic in the past. She said that the organization spent more than $50,000 over the last year on spay and neuter services for area pet owners. She was enthusiastic about the county’s efforts in “a positive direction,” she said, but the problem starts with pet owners, and that’s where it has to be solved, she explained.

“It’s a people problem,” she said. “We can offer free programs and financial assistance, but if they don’t start assuming responsibility for their own pets ... It’s a start. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Assistant Metro Editor Ben Nunnally: 256-235-3560.