Reducing pet overpopulation, one by one

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Jan 27, 2013 in Rat Answers | Subscribe

In nine years, one cat and her kittens can produce more than 11 million cats, an unbelievable statistic from Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland’s director of operations, Toni McLellan.

It illustrates the pet overpopulation problem affecting animal shelters.

Now, thanks to a donation from a local company, the Westbrook shelter is offering a low-cost spay and neuter clinic, providing pet owners a way to afford the surgery and help curtail the overpopulation problem. The center is collaboration among the Idexx Laboratories, two Freeport-based veterinarians and the Animal Refuge League.

The Idexx Spay Neuter Clinic charges $25 for families on public assistance and $45 for families on limited incomes for cats and $90 for dog surgeries. According to the shelter, spaying can normally cost up to $200.

“We tell everyone to call for more information. We don’t want to take business away from local area vets. We want to see those people that might not use the services of those vets because of the cost,” said McLellan. “We end up with so many unwanted litters year to year. This will hopefully reduce the intake.”

The shelter takes in more than 4,000 animals each year, more than 2,700 of them are not fixed, said McLellan. She said around 80 percent of all cats that come into the shelter need to be spayed or neutered.

“We still get questions like, ‘Isn’t it evil?’ So a big part of this program is the education factor,” McLellan said.

Other shelters in Maine, such as the Animal Welfare Society in West Kennebunk, have spay and neuter facilities to help keep the growing population under control, but most are not big enough or have the money to provide the operation.

Lynne McGhee, community relations coordinator, said before the Animal Refuge League opened the center on Oct. 30, the shelter was forced to take animals to vets as far away as Augusta for the surgery, causing stress to both the animals and the volunteer staff.

Westbrook-based Idexx, an international leader in diagnostics and information technology solutions for animal health and water and milk quality, donated $25,000 to the shelter, helping to cover almost all the cost of opening the clinic. McLellan then approached Dr. Elizabeth Stone and Dr. Beth Sperry, of Paw Veterinary Service, to perform the surgeries.

The operating room is small, but it works. Smaller cages allow more animals to be operated on daily, and while the veterinarians are still familiarizing themselves with the space, they have done up to 33 surgeries in one day.

Stone and Sperry operate in Westbrook on Tuesdays and Fridays. Most of the surgeries can be done in about 15 minutes, but with recovery time, cleanup and paperwork, volunteers come in at 7 a.m. and don’t leave until 8 or 9 p.m., making for one very long day.

“It’s very rewarding because everyone in the pet industry is in agreement that there is a problem with pet overpopulation and there is a large cost associated with the surgery, so there’s a huge need to make it affordable,” Stone said.

Since the clinic began, an average of 20 surgeries are performed each day it’s open, said McLellan.

Stone became interested in overpopulation issues while she was still in school and became aware of the effect free-roaming cats have on wildlife by killing more than 250 million birds per year. The interest in curtailing free-roaming cats and the overpopulation issues led Stone to open a low-cost spay neuter clinic, the Community Spay Neuter Clinic with Sperry in Freeport, where the two are still based.

“A lot of the animals that come in have never seen a vet before. They’re not puppies and kittens,” said Sperry.

She admits the two probably don’t make as much money as they would if they had a private clinic, but, she said, it is worth it to further a cause in which she believes.

Cats can become pregnant as young as 4 months old, get pregnant again as early as a few days after giving birth and each litter could average as many as six kittens, said Stone. She said it was safe to operate on animals as young as 8 weeks, although most pet owners wait until at least 12 weeks old so their animals can get vaccinated, as well.

Overpopulation in shelters and the growing number of unwanted litters is one reason to get animals fixed, but the surgery can also keep them healthy by lowering the risk of certain cancers and deterring pets from roaming or running away, a common occurrence when a pet is looking to mate.

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