Five months after opening its doors, the York County SPCA's high-volume, low-cost spay/neuter clinic keeps humming along efficiently, giving shelter workers real hope that "fixing" as many dogs and cats as possible will soon translate to euthanizing far fewer of them.

"It's not 'if' -- it's 'when,'" executive director Melissa Smith said. "That's what keeps us going. We won't accept anything less. For (emotional) self-preservation, we have to believe that. Because otherwise we are just spinning our wheels."

Since it opened Aug. 10 the clinic has had no shortage of clients.

'Bombarded': "It was amazing," Smith said. "We were bombarded from the time we opened."

And that's the idea.

"The whole reason we're doing all of this is to end euthanasia," Smith said. "We want to end euthanasia just as much as our community wants us to. And there is no other responsible solution."

Studies have shown one female cat and her offspring can produce 420,000 kittens in just seven years, according to Smith, while one female dog and her offspring can produce up to 67,000 puppies in six years.

Pioneers: That's why the York County SPCA partnered with the Asheville, N.C.-based Humane Alliance, which pioneered the high-volume, low-cost spay/neuter clinic model in 1994 and helped more than 100 shelters across the country start up their own.

Ten years after the Asheville clinic opened, shelter euthanasias in western North Carolina had dropped by 75 percent, according to Smith, who said shelters there also saw a comparable decrease in the number of stray and unwanted animals being brought to shelters in the first place.

"We are very excited and very hopeful," she said.

Possibly free: Because there are so many unwanted pit bulls in York County, the clinic offers free spaying and neutering to pits whose owners can't afford the clinic's already reduced prices, Smith said.

Feral cats cost $15 to spay or neuter, and the SPCA will lend out humane traps for a $50 cash deposit, so people can capture feral cats. The shelter also offers a transport program for feral cat colonies, she said.

For pet owners, it costs $55 to neuter a male cat and $77 to spay a female cat, while male dogs cost $95 to neuter, Smith said.

The cost to spay a female dog ranges from $100 to $180, depending on the size of the dog, she said.

Losing money: "We're losing a lot of money on every surgery," Smith said.

Every time a feral cat is fixed, it also receives a rabies shot and feline leukemia test and has an ear "tipped" so rescuers know not to capture it a second time for surgery.

Dogs are tested for heartworm and Lyme disease.

The high-volume clinic -- located in the York County SPCA's Emigsville shelter on the Susquehanna Trail -- employs two part-time veterinarians and four support staffers, including technicians and managerial staff.

That's in addition to the two part-time veterinarians on staff in the main shelter, Smith said.

The numbers: A single clinic vet can now perform about three dozen surgeries a day, according to Smith.

Before the clinic opened, it took two vets to perform about 20 surgeries a day.

"The hope is that the increased effort to spay and neuter will ultimately result in less animals coming to the shelter," she said, and therefore less euthanasia of dogs and cats that can't find homes. "I am hopeful that by year three, we will see some sort of decrease."

As of last week, the shelter had taken in 2,275 dogs and 4,457 cats this year, plus about 115 other domestic animals, Smith said.

Feedback: Smith said feedback from clients has been overwhelmingly positive.

She said many express "sheer appreciation" because they truly can't afford to spay or neuter their pets.

Even though winter has barely begun, Smith and shelter staff and volunteers are already anxious about spring, and the deluge of unwanted animals that follows until the fall, she said.

Each year, shelter workers say the same thing to each other, according to Smith: "We can't go through another summer."

Heavy burden: For some, the emotional burden of coping with euthanasia is too much, and they quit, she said.

But thanks to the clinic, those shelter workers now have something they didn't have a year ago, Smith said: Hope.

"Every day I'm so impressed with the work our veterinary team does in our clinic," she said. "A day we don't have to think about or discuss euthanasia is a wonderful day for us."

To schedule an appointment, call the shelter at (717) 764-6109. For more information, visit www.ycspca.org.

-- Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com.