This Woman Goes To The Dogs — And Spays Many Of Them

In a community overrun with stray animals, one woman in Macon, Ga., has taken it upon herself to spay every single female dog at her own expense. The stray dog problem is acute in the South and has gotten worse since 2008. Kerri Fickling decided she would never really solve the problem piecemeal; the only solution was to stop overpopulation at the source, and if no one else would do it, she would. Adam Ragusea, of Georgia Public Broadcasting, reports on her quest.

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In poor sections of some southern American cities, you'll find lots of stray dogs. In Macon, Georgia, one woman has taken it upon herself to try a drastic solution to the problem. Georgia Public Broadcasting's Adam Ragusea reports.

ADAM RAGUSEA, BYLINE: During the worst of the recession, a lot of people decided they couldn't care for their pets. The shelter in Macon euthanized more than 4,000 animals in one year, seven times the number they do these days. That's about when Kerri Fickling got involved with the local rescue organizations. But just before this past Christmas, she says something inside snapped.

KERRI FICKLING: I get my child off to school to school, I'm getting ready for work and I'm just being pinged left and right on Facebook and on texting, you know, pregnant mama in the woods, her second litter is due any day, the first litter is getting hit by cars. And I just finally said, we can't just keep putting Band-Aids on gushers. We've got to stop the problem from its commencement.

RAGUSEA: So Fickling made a public offer. I will spay any female dog in Macon, she said. I'll pick them up, drive them to the vet and pay the bill myself. One month and 100 dogs later...

FICKLING: It's kind of gotten a little bit out of hand, where I'm spending more time doing this than I am working.

RAGUSEA: Fickling also thinks some people she helps can pay for it themselves, but don't. So increasingly, her strategy is to go door-to-door in poor neighborhoods. Today, she has got a tip about some abandoned dogs in a trailer park.

FICKLING: Hey, puppy dog. Hey, puppy dog. Well, come here. Well, come here.

RAGUSEA: As accounts of Fickling's work have spread online, she's become a hero in rescue circles. It turns out she may have also stumbled onto the cutting edge of animal control.

EMILY WEISS: We have developed a program. We call it X Maps Spot.

RAGUSEA: This is Emily Weiss, vice president of shelter research for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. What she describes is basically a formal version of what Fickling is doing. They electronically map where shelter dogs are coming from.

WEISS: And take a look at if we apply a spay-neuter focus in this particular area where we see intake is highest, then when we do that, we are starting to see that we can better focus our resources.

RAGUSEA: Case in point: Portland, Oregon, where stray dogs aren't so much a problem as feral cats. Sharon Harmon of the Oregon Humane Society piloted Weiss' mapping system. Overlaying census data, one conclusion was clear.

SHARON HARMON: Whether your cat is spayed and neutered is directly tied to your household income.

RAGUSEA: So they targeted their sterilization programs on the lowest income areas.

HARMON: In three years, the Animal Shelter Alliance of Portland has seen a 30 percent drop in cats coming into our shelters.

RAGUSEA: Of course, that's all easier said than done.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

RAGUSEA: Back in Macon, Kerri Fickling pulls up to a house with a dog chained out in the cold. She asks me to hang back while she tries to convince the people inside to let her get the dog fixed.

FICKLING: Hello?

(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)

RAGUSEA: She talks her way in the door, but returns empty-handed.

FICKLING: They are not interested.

RAGUSEA: In her quest to spay every dog in her city, Fickling is learning what child welfare advocates have known forever: Not many people appreciate a stranger coming in and saying, you can't take care of your own, let me do it for you. For NPR News, I'm Adam Ragusea in Macon, Georgia.

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