Dr. Carie Wisell of Companion Animal Hospital is committed to helping suppress the number of unwanted pets and will accept kittens into her adoption program, which includes a low-cost spay/neuter service.
ALBANY, Ga. -- After 20 years of service in the U.S. Air Force, mostly as an aircraft mechanic, Dr. Carie Wisell has switched gears and rekindled a childhood desire to become a veterinarian.
"Being a vet is something I've always wanted to do," Wisell said. "My military background has helped me so much. If I did this fresh out of college at 25 years old, I don't think I would have been a great vet. In the military you are taught to be your best, and I strive to be the best vet that I can be."
Wisell's husband, Keith, is also retired Air Force with 22 years of active service and is now a certified dog groomer, working alongside his wife at Companion Animal Hospital on North Slappey Boulevard. Carie Wisell purchased the clinic from long-time Albany veterinarian Dr. Ira Roth last October after Roth took a position with the University of Georgia veterinary school. Previously she worked with Dr. H.A. Gardner in Sylvester for a year and a half after completing veterinarian school.
Wisell was accepted to both the University of Georgia and University of Florida veterinary schools while she was stationed at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland when she was 39. She had earned a bachelor's degree in business management while serving in the Air Force and decided that the University of Florida would be the best choice for her to earn a veterinary degree.
"Getting through vet school was one of the hardest things I've done in my life. It's hard to get in and even harder to stay in," she said. "Especially at my age. The average age of a vet student is 25 years."
While at UF, Wisell had extensive first-hand experience dealing with spaying and neutering through the school's shelter medicine and Operation Catnip programs.
"The programs were really good experiences for building surgical skills," Wisell pointed out. "When I got out of school, I just had this drive to spay and neuter all I could. There is so much overpopulation."
According to Donna Strickland, director of the Albany Humane Society, 1,985 cats were taken to the shelter from July 2009 to July 2010, with only 21 claimed by their owners.
"Most people don't look for a lost cat," she said.
Fewer than 100 cats were adopted in Dougherty County, and approximately 50 were sent to rescue organizations. With nowhere else to go, the remainder of the felines were humanely euthanized. The total is just a drop in the bucket, however, compared to the national estimate of 3 million to 4 million pets that are euthanized annually.
Wisell is committed to helping suppress pet overpopulation and is offering several options for cat fanciers, including affordable spaying and neutering.
During her training in the University of Florida's shelter medicine program, Wisell learned to perform pediatric spay and neuter procedures on kittens, which allows for kittens as young as 7-8 weeks old and only 1 -2 pounds to have a small incision made by a skilled doctor without any ill effects.
Wisell accepts young kittens into her adoption program for free, provided the kittens are social and healthy. She then offers to spay the mother cat at regular price -- around $120. If the mother cat is not available for spaying, Wisell will, for $15 per kitten, check for parasites, give first vaccines, de-flea and de-worm, and spay or neuter. Then the kitten goes up for adoption with a medical assistance fee of $35.
"You can get a healthy, beautiful kitten with $175-$200 worth of services," she said. "We generally have a dozen kittens in here at any one time."
When the number of kittens exceeds her limit, Wisell has established a partnership with C.C. Council of Pets 'n Pals, located in the Albany Mall. Council takes the overflow kittens and sells them in his pet shop.
"Ninety percent of the kittens sold at the shop are from Dr. Wisell," Council said.
Council said he feels good about not adding to the unwanted cat population.
"The good thing is the kittens leaving here are already fixed," he said. "We can build as many shelters as we want, but until we get the spay and neutering thing going on, we will never be ahead. Some people forget about spaying and neutering their pet until they have a pregnant cat. This way it is done ahead of time, and there is no room for mistakes."
Because of the partnership with Wisell, Council has seen a reduction in the number of phone calls from people who bought a cat and six months later were asking for help finding homes for a litter of kittens.
"In the past when people would bring us kittens to find a home, six months later those kittens would have kittens," the pet store owner said. "It was just a perpetual cat factory."
"I give kudos to Pets 'n Pals for helping with this effort to keep the kittens finding good homes," said Wisell. "People who pay for a kitten are generally good pet owners because they have made an investment in that kitten."
Not all cats are lucky enough to find homes, however. Unsocialized or feral cats cannot be adopted, but Wisell also offers services for these often forgotten animals. If someone brings in a feral cat, Wisell will spay or neuter for $40 and vaccinate, give rabies shot and de-worm for $10 before flattening the tip of the left ear and releasing the cat back where it was caught.
"That way the cats are still in the area. With those healthy cats there, the colony is not going to get bigger and won't allow other cats to penetrate the area," Wisell said.
By pursuing her lifelong dream of becoming a veterinarian, Wisell also has found a unique way to give back to her hometown. There has been a positive side for her business as well, helping to build her practice as many of the cats she services return as clients.
"I will continue to do this for as long as I can," Wisell pledged before quipping, "and so far I'm not going broke, so I'm okay."