Humane Healer

Kelly Grisham - examining dogThere are a lot of reasons why Dr. Kelly Daly Grisham (03C) chooses to use her veterinary skills in humane society medicine – 2.6 million of them this year and every year.  That’s how many dogs and cats are euthanized in shelters annually according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

But there’s more. As enormous as that figure is, it doesn’t begin to compare to the incalculable number of cats and dogs forced to live harrowing lives as homeless and often hungry strays. Estimates of stray cats alone in the U.S. go as high as 70 million.

The problem is pet overpopulation and the amazing number of offspring that animals left to their own pursuits can produce. Conservatively, a fertile cat can deliver two litters a year with an average of four to six kittens per litter. That’s as many as 12 new fertile cats annually that might together produce 144 new fertile cats … that might create 1,728 new fertile cats … and so on. A frequently cited – if often debated – statistic is that one fertile female cat and her offspring can lead to 420,000 cats in just seven years.

As medical director and surgeon at the Greenville (S.C.) Humane Society, Grisham does more than her share to address this complex problem. When she heads to work in the morning, 60 to 120 dogs and cats await low-cost spay or neutering by two of the three veterinarians on staff. In 2016, that added up to 13,920 sterilizations, with Grisham personally handling 4,800. When you do the math, the positive impact on the animal population is staggering.

“Surgery starts at 9 after we have examined each patient, and we go until we’re done or it’s 3:30, because owners start to pick up their pets at 4:30 and need discharge instructions and medications,” she said. “You have to be fast and able to multitask.”

Grisham is, indeed, fast, having been trained in “High-Quality, High-Volume Spay/ Neuter Surgery” procedures originally developed through the national Humane Alliance spay/neuter education center and now disseminated by the ASPCA. These guidelines have enabled veterinary clinics across the country to perform large numbers of safe, high-quality surgeries at low cost.

At GHS, one of the largest no-kill animal shelters in the Southeast and one of South Carolina’s most active low-cost spay/neuter clinics, all fertile dogs and cats relinquished by their owners are automatically spayed or neutered, and sterilization services are provided to family pets at a cost of just $25 to $100, depending on species, age and size.

“No matter how many surgeries we do, though, we won’t quickly solve the animal overpopulation problem in the United States – and the U.S. is better than most countries,” said Grisham, who also performs spay/ neuter procedures one day a week at the nearby Anderson County Humane Society. “We are making some progress that is apparent at certain times of the year, like at Christmas when we don’t have enough puppies for everyone who wants one. But I believe it will be a couple of decades before real progress becomes apparent.”


Grisham’s responsibilities as medical director include such duties as establishing isolation and disinfection protocols, training veterinary technicians, and spending one day a week caring for the general needs of the animals in the facility. But her involvement with GHS goes beyond her job description, due in part to the size and breadth of the operation.

At any one time, 250 to 300 dogs and cats are sheltered in GHS’s highly-rated facility, which was built in 2011 but already is being expanded. It is not that Greenville has an unusually large number of unwanted puppy litters or more pets than usual being relinquished by owners. GHS’s numbers are so large because the organization is so successful in adopting out animals. GHS partners with 35 high-euthanasia shelters in five states, pulling cats and dogs from these facilities and then keeping and caring for them until new homes are found. Adoptable animals at GHS do not stay long. On average, puppies are adopted in just one day, kittens in two to three days, dogs within a week and cats within a month. In 2016, a total of 6,405 animals were permanently adopted into their “forever” homes.

“The longest it has taken to adopt out an animal was six months for one cat,” Grisham said, explaining that the facility and its work are high profile in the Greenville area because of the organization’s extensive programming, goal-oriented leader and staff, and energetic social media and word-of-mouth marketing. A low-cost vaccine clinic draws many to the facility, and an extensive network of community volunteers makes it possible for 1,000 dirty food bowls and 64 loads of laundry to be washed daily and literally scores of dogs to be walked.

GHS also runs an active outreach and education program for schools, hospitals and retirement centers, visiting 44,000 individuals last year. Grisham participates – along with her rescued hound mix, Lexie – teaching responsible pet ownership and offering insight on the path to becoming a veterinarian.


Kelly Grisham - with small dog in kennel Grisham’s schedule at GHS certainly can be described as intensive, but working hard is part of who she is. It started when she worked five hours after school each day as a vet tech in Cumming, Ga., for a high school externship in addition to holding a part-time job as a barn worker and side jobs exercising horses, pet-sitting and babysitting.

At Berry, she worked all four years at the Gunby Equine Center and vacuumed stairwells in her dorm as part of the housekeeping staff. And she hit the books hard.

"Berry was the first time I ever really had to study,” she said. “High school was easy – even the AP classes were not that challenging. But Dr. (George) Gallagher – and those yellow pads he had us write notes on – taught me to put my heart into something and study it. And work taught me to get up and do what had to be done even if it was icy or cold and I didn’t want to feed horses at 6 a.m.

“Berry prepared me for vet school. Some other vet students met the entry requirements of having good grades and certain classes, but they didn’t have the hands-on experience in palpating cows, breeding horses, shearing sheep and clipping hooves that we got working with Dr. (Martin) Goldberg, Dr. Gallagher and Dr. (Judy) Wilson. They were great.”

Grisham’s study habits and Berry experiences served her well. She was accepted by the University of Georgia’s veterinary program on her first application, an accomplishment generally considered harder to achieve than getting into a “human” medical school. And although advised not to have a job while in vet school, Grisham worked first at McAlister’s Deli in Athens and then as a transcriptionist for the medical and surgical staff at UGA’s veterinary hospital.


Grisham’s husband, Dr. Matthew Paul Grisham, is a 2002 Berry alumnus who was accepted to one of those “human” medical schools. A graduate of the Medical College of Georgia, he is now a pediatrician working with the Greenville Health System. The two met at Berry but didn’t date until she was starting her second year in vet school.

After conducting a long-distance, Athens-to-Augusta relationship, they married in 2007 and moved to Greenville where he would serve his residency. Their D.V.M./M.D. union allows them to understand much of what the other faces at work.

“We can talk to each other about cases,” she said. “We understand each other.”

Today, the couple has two sons: Garrett (6) and Ben (3). They also have three dogs: Lexie; Stella, a timid rescued Great Dane/ Labrador mixture; and Lilly, a three-legged pit bull mix.

Life is good, and Grisham feels blessed. “I’m thankful for where God has taken me,” she said. “I feel like I went to Berry for a reason. I appreciate the quality of life I have now and that I’ve been able to accomplish so many of the goals I was asked to write down as a Berry freshman. The four years there were so impactful to my life.” 

Lifelong gratitude

One of the first things Dr. Kelly Daly Grisham mentions when asked about Berry is the scholarship she received from Mitch (37H, 41C) and Cleone Elrod and the influence the couple had on her life.

Grisham got to know them while a student at Berry after sending a note of thanks for her scholarship. They met first on campus, and she later made visits to their home in Asheville, N.C., often taking along a roommate or other friend.

“After all these years, I still visit them twice a year,” she said. “Our boys love those trips! The Elrods are wonderful people, and they are one of the reasons why Matt and I donate to a Berry scholarship every year.”

Lilly’s leg and legacy

Kelly Grisham - with her dog LillyMeet Lilly, a three-legged pit bull mix with a sweet spirit and a nurturing soul. If millions of stray animals weren’t enough to lead Dr. Kelly Daly Grisham to humane society work, Lilly could have tipped the scales all by herself.

When Grisham came across the dog while in private practice, Lilly seemingly had had no previous care – no vaccinations or deworming, no heartworm or flea control. Worst of all, Lilly suffered from a badly broken leg that her young owner could not afford to have repaired. Week after week, a concerned Grisham called to check on Lilly, but neither the dog’s condition nor her owner’s ability to provide care improved. Before long, Grisham offered to pay for surgery by a veterinary specialist herself – if the woman would relinquish ownership and allow Grisham to find Lilly another home.

The owner agreed, but it was too late for Lilly’s leg. After a local veterinary surgeon pronounced the shattered leg unsalvageable, Grisham amputated it and then nursed the dog back to health. Sweet and good, Lilly needed no other home. She became a beloved member of Grisham’s family and today is a frequent three-legged guest at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Greenville, where she visits children who also have lost limbs. It wasn’t long after Grisham acquired Lilly that she began volunteering with the humane society. In 2013, she became medical director.

“There was frustration and stress for me in private practice when owners were unable or unwilling to do what was best to care for their pets,” she said. “I felt bad for the animals. I want to help all of the animals under my care, which I can do at the shelter. We will fundraise to pay for advanced diagnostics and treatment so that animals get what they need.”