It’s been 22 years since visionaries like Deborah Searfoss and others came together to start a low-cost spay and neuter clinic in this area, a place where more than 100,000 dogs and cats have had procedures.

People Promoting Animal Welfare has leased space within the city of Greenback since 1998 to address the pet overpopulation problem that existed here. The nonprofit clinic has gone nonstop since then with the help of many different veterinarians over the years.

Searfoss is founder of the organization and remains on the board. Paula McFarland serves as president.

In March 2019, the PPAW board of directors voted to name the two primary vets, Drs. Kelly Simonian and Erin Dols, as executive directors. They now serve as the only veterinarians of the organization and work on a full-time basis.

“That has changed the way the clinic operates,” Simonian explained. “Before, we had contract veterinarians, which included myself and Erin. It was up to four different contract veterinarians at one point. They were coming in one or two days per week. When we took it over, it is now two veterinarians who are wanting to serve in a full-time role.”

And now that these two are spending additional time at the clinic, more procedures are being done. That’s when the board and these two executives realized the clinic is too small to support the efforts.

The board sought the help of a local real estate agent/developer who months ago found PPAW a piece of property, 1.8 acres, where it could build a much larger facility. It sits on U.S. Highway 321 at Unitia Road, just four miles inside the Loudon County line with Blount, near the city of Friendsville.

The plans are to construct the 3,000-square-foot building within the next 18 months. It will double the current clinic capacity.

“The great thing about it is there is increased space for everything,” Simonian said. “There will be more room for surgeries. Right now, we have space for only two surgery tables. The new facility will have space for four.”

She added that the current Greenback location can hold up to 60 animals at one time. The new clinic will be able to accommodate 120.

Like every other organization, PPAW had to put on the brakes a bit as coronavirus became a public health threat and surgeries were delayed. Simonian said before COVID-19 hit, they were operating two days a week with two veterinarians and two days with only one veterinarian.

On those days when both doctors were present, PPAW was seeing between 50 and 55 patients per day, Simonian said.

On the single veterinarian days, the numbers were between 25 and 30.

“We are pretty high volume,” Simonian said. “Thankfully, we have a pretty efficient team, including an excellent team of technicians.”

Most of the staff are full time. There are a few volunteers.

Simonian has been a part of this organization since 2018, and Dols, a little longer. Simonian said the new restructuring will allow for better continuity of its services.

Full speed ahead

“We will be here,” Simonian said. “We will not need to find anyone else. We think just having the continuity of both of us here and also involved more in the day-to-day operation of things will provide stability.”

PPAW draws most of its patients from Loudon, Monroe and Blount counties, but there are no restrictions. Simonian said there are some who drive from out of state to get the low-cost surgeries, including a man who brings feral cats to be spayed and neutered.

There is no other clinic in this immediate vicinity that does what PPAW does. Thanks to generous grants over the years, it has been able to provide some services at no cost on occasion.

The Charles and Sue Fouche Foundation is stepping up in a huge way to help with the new facility. It will match donations 3-1, providing up to $180,000.

The cost of the whole project is $500,000 to $600,000, Simonian said. The short-term goal is to raise $250,000 of that so the work can get moving.

The Fouche Foundation will help them do that, Simonian said. She said the foundation has provided much-needed funding for the past 10 years.

Getting sewer to the site is essential, she added. Friendsville is making plans to do that.

In addition to spay and neuter services, PPAW also provides vaccinations, heartworm testing, microchipping and preventive procedures.

Simonian said PPAW is forever grateful to the city of Greenback for allowing it to lease space. “They have really supported the clinic and our mission.”

The new location will be more centrally located, Simonian said. It will be closer to clients in Maryville and also Lenoir City, she said. The facility will be visible from the highway.

With more than 100,000 cats and dogs spayed and neutered, this small clinic has been able to make a difference, the veterinarian said. Cats can have up to four litters of kittens per year and each litter can be up to eight kittens.

That adds up, Simonian said.

The focus now is on raising the needed funding for the expanded clinic.

PPAW announced the campaign on Facebook on June 15. More than $8,000 has been raised through that effort. Simonian said they can’t wait to be able to do even more for the community.

“Pet overpopulation is still a problem,” she said. “I think the whole spay/neuter community has done a lot. You are seeing no-kill shelters now. That wouldn’t be possible if there weren’t a lot of spay and neuter efforts. We have made a difference but there is still a long way to go.”

Melanie joined The Daily Times in the early 90s and has served as the Life section editor since 1993. A William Blount and UT alum, Melanie is generally the early arriver who turns on the lights in the newsroom.

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