Just 4.2 years is the median time people stay with an employer today according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Given that, it’s with a bit of awe and a lot of thanks that we recognize the August 2 retirement and the 35 years of service of the Seattle Animal Shelter’s medical director Dr. Mary Ellen Zoulas DVM. She was a true pioneer in the world of spaying and neutering and shelter medicine in general.

For a bit of history, on Nov. 8, 1978, the voters of Seattle passed by a large margin, Initiative 16, relating to a City Spay and Neuter Clinic. Despite opposition from veterinarians, the clinic was opened in 1982. Dr. Zoulas was hired July 13, 1982 by the Seattle Animal Shelter, and was the only permanent, full-time veterinarian since.

When Dr. Zoulas helped open the SAS Spay & Neuter Clinic in 1982, the shelter was euthanizing more than 8,000 animals a year. At that time, only animals over 6 months of age were altered when they were adopted. Animals younger than that were sent home unaltered with a request to come back for surgery when they turned 6 months of age. You may not be surprised to learn that at least half of the female cats had a litter before they came back for surgery.

Dr. Zoulas’ early career was during a time when shelter veterinary medicine and shelter spay/neuter programs were not well supported within her own profession. In 1989, under the care and guidance of Dr. Zoulas, SAS started its prepubertal spay/neuter program for dogs and cats, one of the first in the country. According to Dr. Zoulas, “Fortunately SAS went ahead with the program, learned that not only we could safely perform the surgery, but the animals recovered much more quickly than adult animals. Plus, euthanasia rates dropped by 75 percent and the rate has continued to fall year after year.”

In 2001, Dr. Zoulas proposed the Pet Population Control Fund as a tax-deductible donation fund for charitable giving to help subsidize spay/neuter surgeries for those in need of assistance, ensuring all who seek spay/neuter surgeries for their animals can have it done. Every year, she promoted and supported World Spay Day. In the past, the clinic has offered free spay/neuter surgeries for the entire week.

Dr. Zoulas’ three and a half decades of pioneering service, innovation and commitment to the care and wellbeing of shelter animals will be a tough act to follow, but sets the course as the Seattle Animal Shelter looks to continue to drive progressive change in the shelter world. And thanks to generous contributions from donors like you to the Seattle Animal Shelter Foundation, SAS has been able to support more community outreach programs and spay/neuter services to pet owners and animals in need. This important work will continue, and we thank and recognize Dr. Zoulas for her countless contributions to the Seattle community, animals too numerous to count and to the greater US shelter and veterinarian communities by championing the importance of spay/neuter and shelter medicine programs.