Coral-Graceton cat clinic new group's latest spay/neuter effort
The proliferation of stray cats and dogs has been a perennial problem in area communities, placing burdens on municipal officials charged with rounding them up and on the shelters where the unwanted animals may end up.
A new nonprofit group in Indiana County is addressing the problem at its source, raising funds and providing veterinary services to have as many cats and dogs as possible spayed and neutered.
In its latest effort, SNIPP (Spay and Neuter Indiana PA's Pets) partnered with an area cat rescue organization to spay 39 female cats and neuter 13 male felines in a clinic held Aug. 17 at the Coral-Graceton Volunteer Fire Department.
SNIPP still has a waiting list of 50 more cats that have been registered to undergo low-cost spay or neuter operations but couldn't be accommodated during the Coral-Graceton event.
While the mobile unit from Frankie's Friends Cat Rescue of New Kensington is booked with other events through September, SNIPP President Bonnie Adair is hopeful the traveling veterinary clinic, housed in a former motorcycle trailer, will be able to return to Indiana County in October to take care of some of the cats that are on the waiting list.
The Aug. 17 event more than doubled the amount of animals SNIPP has eliminated as a potential source of new generations of unwanted cats and dogs in Indiana County since the organization was formed last October.
Adair said the group had arranged desexing procedures for nearly 40 animals prior to the Coral-Graceton event.
“We've done many more cats than dogs,” she said, noting that stray cats seem to be a more frequent source of neighborhood complaints.
Initially, she said, the group would meet in parking lots to pick up smaller numbers of cats from clients and transport them to sites where other organizations were conducting spay and neuter clinics.
Earlier in the summer, SNIPP made trips to spay and neuter events in Tarentum and Kittanning and to a Tom-a-Thon offered at the Westmoreland County Humane Society.
Having the Frankie's mobile unit come to Indiana County “just makes everything so much simpler. To drive a half dozen cats someplace takes a lot of time,” Adair said.
SNIPP also has helped clients have dogs altered using the spay/neuter services available through such organizations as Derry Township's Action for Animals.
“Most of our clients have been able to take their own dogs over there, and we just help with the cost,” Adair said.
Other locally established animal shelter and rescue groups have voucher programs to provide owners a break on the cost of spaying or neutering their pets.
Still, Adair said, the cost of such a procedure provided at a veterinary practice can be beyond the means of some cat and dog lovers.
“If you were to go to a standard vet to have a cat neutered or spayed, it could run you up over $300,” she said, pointing out that other related services, such as blood testing and shots, would be included in that fee.
“Not everybody has that disposable income,” Adair said. That's where SNIPP comes in.
According to Adair, most of the founding members of SNIPP have been involved with organizations in Indiana County that operate animals shelters — the Indiana County Humane Society or Four Footed Friends.
Adair said the idea for SNIPP started in a conversation she had with an Indiana resident and fellow animal lover who is now the new group's treasurer.
“It started by me saying to Patricia (Mele) one day, ‘What about a spay/netuer group?' Late last fall we had a couple of meetings and decided to proceed.”
Other officers on the group's eight-member board include: Jeanne Stelnak of Indiana, vice president; and Julie Baker of Blairsville, treasurer.
The group prepared articles of incorporation and began raising funds through a letter campaign this past spring targeting individuals thought to be sympathetic to its cause.
“We got an incredible response,” Adair said. “All of our members kind of knew somebody.”
Adair noted one friend and supporter, Barbara Hafer of Indiana, covered the substantial cost the group faced when applying for official tax-exempt status. Since that status has been attained, donations to the group are now tax-deductible.
There also have been a few day-long stints manning a community booth in the Indiana Mall, where SNIPP has collected donations and has sold baked goods and pet accessories.
The group also has established a website at www.SNIPPIndianaPA.org.
Mainly to raise awareness of its mission, the all-volunteer group additionally judged a pet parade at the recent Brush Valley Day celebration and had a presence at an inaugural Fourth of July community festival at the Coral-Graceton fire hall.
SNIPP doesn't offer the animal shelter or placement services of other existing organizations, Adair noted: “We just want to spay and neuter as may animals as possible.”
By arranging low-cost surgical procedures such as those provided by Frankie's Friends, SNIPP hopes to remove any economic barriers that may prevent low-income owners from having their pets spayed or neutered.
“Typically, what we do, we kind of let people know what it's costing us,” Adair said. But clients are not turned away if they're unable to reimburse SNIPP for their animal's procedure.
On its website, SNIPP suggests a donation of $35 to sponsor surgery for a cat and a donation of $55 to provide a procedure for a dog.
That feline donation level matches the lowest fee per procedure that SNIPP pays Frankie's.
Dr. Becky Morrow, a veterinarian, an assistant professor at Duquesne University and former instructor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, helped found Frankie's Friends to house and care for surviving animals that were rescued in 2008 from a facility in Frazer known as Tiger Ranch.
With the mobile unit, the nonprofit has been able to branch out to provide various medical services for felines across area counties including spay and neuter procedures.
Morrow said the unit, staffed by a veterinarian and assistants, usually makes one or two trips per week. The Aug. 17 clinic at Coral-Graceton was its first visit to Indiana County, with Morrow performing all surgeries.
“We've done probably 5,000 surgeries to date,” Morrow said in a phone interview before her Indiana County visit.“We usually do 50 to 60 cats per clinic.”
With experience, Morrow explained, she's reduced the time necessary to complete the typical feline surgery to about four minutes.
With the low cost and short time involved with such visits, she noted, “We're not providing in-depth medical services for these animals. This is more of a service for those animals in the community that would not get services otherwise.”
The mobile clinic does include rabies shots, flea medication, a check for other parasites and sometimes attention to other feline medical issues that may be present.
In addition to pet cats with an established owner, SNIPP and Frankie's Friends look to provide spay and neuter procedures for stray cats that have become established in a neighborhood where one or more residents may be feeding and providing shelter for the felines.
“We call them community cats,” Morrow said. She pointed out, whether an owner claims it or not, “Any cat that's outside and breeding is going to contribute to the (overpopulation) problem.”
“We try to get everybody.”
At the Aug. 17 mobile clinic, Baker said, SNIPP assisted clients who brought cats from all corners of Indiana County, including Homer City, Black Lick, Indiana, Clymer and Glen Campbell, as well as an individual who traveled from Punxsutawney.
According to Baker, about 75 percent of the 52 cats that underwent surgery were pets, including farmers' barn cats, while the remainder were “community” cats brought to the clinic by three individuals.
Baker said, without taking the important extra step of getting the animals spayed or neutered, kind-hearted residents who provide food and shelter for strays are acting as a catalyst to only increase their numbers. Depending on where they end up, such strays, if not adopted, could be euthanized.
“People need to reach out to an organization like ours to have them taken care of,” Baker said of strays. “If they don't do something with them, they will propagate.
“By getting them all rabies shots, we're also helping to protect the human population.”
“A female cat can have three litters in a year, and those kittens start having babies in a year,” Adair said. “It just becomes an incredible problem.”
“I don't think we've done badly for our first year,” Adair said of the SNIPP group. “Our hope is, if we're successful, it should take some of the pressure off of the Humane Society and Four Footed Friends. But that's going to take time, and our program is really going to have to expand to make that happen.”
While previous fundraising covered costs for the Aug. 17 clinic, Adair said the group will need to replenish its funds to support a return visit by Frankie's Friends. She noted SNIPP has deemed it prudent to obtain liability insurance, which will be an additional cost.
A second letter campaign is being considered. With its new tax-exempt status, Adair added, SNIPP also can apply for grants available through foundations established by major pet-supply chain stores.
For more information about SNIPP or to have a cat added to the group's spay/neuter waiting list, visit the organization's website. It can be reached at SNIPPIndianaPa@gmail.com or 724-541-7205.
Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or firstname.lastname@example.org.