At the grand opening of the Fix A Friend Spay Neuter Clinic in Winnabow, Jill Jones and Sherry Gloer took yet another step toward fulfilling their lifelong dream of reducing euthanasia rates of unwanted animals.

They have always known that prevention is the key. As the treasurer and president of Adopt an Angel, they have seen firsthand the desperate need to reduce the number of cats and dogs that are euthanized in the area. The numbers are astounding — since 2004 at least 55,000 animals have been euthanized in the three-county region.

“That is a conservative estimate, the true figure is probably much greater,” says Jones.

Adopt an Angel is a nonprofit animal rescue that has operated in the area for nearly a decade. The idea of the Fix A Friend clinic was inspired by a business model designed by the nationally recognized Humane Alliance in Asheville, N.C. In December 2012, Adopt an Angel was accepted into the Humane Alliance Mentorship Program and became a part of the National Spay Neuter Response Team.

After nearly 16 months of planning and preparation, the Fix A Friend Spay Neuter Clinic opened in August 2013, thanks in part to donations from the Miss Avis Davis Foundation, PetSmart Charities®, Adopt an Angel, Paws-Ability, State Farm Insurance and the hard work of the new staff.

As a member of the board that advises Fix A Friend, Jones makes it clear that the new clinic is in no way designed to compete with local veterinary providers. Their target clientele is local animal shelters, caretakers of feral cats, rescue groups and anyone who is seeking affordable spay and neuter services. When the clinic works with a member of the public, it serves as a referral agent for those who do not have a veterinarian yet. She explains: “Once the animals are spayed or neutered, we never see them again. They are referred to local vets for regular veterinary care.”

The organization plan for the clinic required a bit of research and thoughtful planning. Because North Carolina law prohibits nonprofit organizations from owning medical practices, Adopt an Angel could not own or operate the clinic. Dr. Amy Eutsey, a local veterinarian with nearly two decades of experience, jumped at the chance to be a part of the project.

“When you work in private practice, you tend to avoid the shelter and euthanasia aspect,” says Eutsey. “Now I can take an active role in prevention of unwanted animals.”

Fix A Friend’s new home is a 2,400-square-foot facility on U.S. Highway 17 in Winnabow, 14 miles south of Wilmington and 20 miles north of Shallotte, just south of the junction of N.C. Highway 87 SE. Open Monday through Thursday from 8 am to 5 pm, the facility can serve up to 27 patients per day.

Joe Needham, the office manager for Fix A Friend, is adamant about their work.

“We are waging a war here,” she says, further explaining that cats can have three to four litters per year with an average of five or six kittens per litter. “By the time the mom is in heat again, her first litter is also ready, so in four months we’ve gone from one mom to potentially five or six.”

Prevention is her motto.

“If we spay ten cats, we are preventing a potential of 40 unwanted cats in just one birthing season,” she says.

Additionally, dogs and cats can continue to have litters until natural death, so the potential for the number of progeny is off the charts.

Needham schedules the appointments in a delicate balance to make the best use of time for each patient.

“We have to take into consideration the size and age of the animal as well as the gender, because each of those factors determines the amount of time on the surgery table,” says Eutsey.

Eutsey is especially proud of her staff. In addition to Needham, veterinary technicians Ashlee Whitfield and Siobhan Newton play intricate roles in surgical preparation and post-surgery care. The clinic provides a limited menu of services that include spay and neuter of cats and dogs only.

Lieutenant Thomas Tolley manages the animal shelter for Brunswick County. He is enthusiastic about the new clinic.

“I believe as a community we will see the effects in a very short time,” Tolley says. “It has already helped to bring awareness about the over-population of animals in our county and surrounding areas and the importance of spaying and neutering your pets.”

Tolley says he admires the work of the Fix A Friend staff.

“They are very passionate about the war on over-population and have put themselves on the front lines to combat this problem — that speaks greatly about how caring they are,” he adds.

Tolley says that the Brunswick County shelter sees approximately 5,500 animals per year and places about 33 percent of those into homes. Unfortunately, they are running out of available homes for the animals, so those that are not adopted must be euthanized.

“We must reduce the intake of animals coming into the shelter, and the only way to do that is through responsible pet ownership and spaying and neutering,” he says. “I sincerely hope the pet owners in our area take advantage of this spay and neuter clinic and help us to reduce the number of unwanted animals.”

Jones and the staff of Fix A Friend are optimistic yet very realistic about their work. Their ultimate goal is to eliminate the need for animal euthanasia in our area. It may seem like a Pollyanna approach, says Jones, but she thinks it might be possible some day.

In the meantime, Jones is certain that Fix A Friend will make an impact.

“We intend to take 5,000 animals a year out of the birthing cycle,” she says. “So while we may begin to see a small difference in a year from now in the reduction of the number of sheltered animals — we will certainly see a big difference in three to five years.”

That thought alone brings a collective smile to the faces of the staff at Fix A Friend.

Fix A Friend Spay Neuter Clinic prices range from $35 for a feral cat up to $90 for a dog larger than 65 lbs.

6033 Ocean Highway E., Winnabow