2008-03-12 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets . .

by Joanne Anderson

Traps are shown lined up; Inset, cat recovers at Last Hope free Spay Day. Traps are shown lined up; Inset, cat recovers at Last Hope free Spay Day. The numbers are staggering. Cats reproduce exponentially. In theory, a prolific feline can have 3 litters of 4 to 6 kittens a year, so in a population pyramid, one cat can produce at least 12 offspring the first year, and with its descendants, 144 cats by the second year. End result: Maddie's Fund estimates there are 30-60 million free roaming, stray and feral cats in the US.

On March 2, Last Hope Animal Rescue, Inc. spayed and neutered 135 feral cats at a free clinic, potentially preventing over 19,000 kittens from being born by 2010, only to starve and suffer. The event was made possible through the help of 10 veterinarians and at least 40 other volunteers who passionately believe that TNR (trap- neuter- release) is the way to control the cat surplus. Yet this Spay Day only scratched the tip of the feral cat iceberg.

In a year's time Last Hope has held 3 free Spay Days with increasing patient loads-87, 110, now an astounding 135 cats sterilized in one day. We are learning from each feline M*A*S*H, held at generously lent Basic Pet Care in Lindenhurst. We know we overbooked. Since 2 people were taking reservations this time, 200 rather than 100 cats were expected. Word of a free clinic spreads like wildfire. Actual arrivals are contingent on successful trapping; therefore, not all of the cats show up. We seem to get 65-75% of the scheduled at each clinic.

Surprises slow down the surgical stations. We temporarily ran out of certain supplies, like oxygen and packs, because we had too many cats. Male neuters are simpler, quicker and require less skill and anesthesia, but since the cats are not tame, it is hard to sex them for a count until they are tranquilized. The last dozen cats of our 12 hour day, though not obvious calicos, all turned out to be females, delaying the grand finale. In addition, the doctors have different operating styles, supply preferences and tempos depending on experience and where they went to veterinary school.

Although all assistance is pro bono, a TNR clinic is expensive. Besides the operation, each cat gets a shot of painkiller, fluids, penicillin, ivermectin for earmites, Advantage for fleas, both rabies and distemper shots, ear tippingthe universal neuter signal, and when necessary, antibiotics for a discovered infection- all at no charge to the caretaker. FeLV/FIV testing is discounted too. Medical supplies for March 2 ran about $3,000. We used 9 vials of the knock down drug-Telazol®; sutures alone cost $1,000. Last Hope (www.lasthopeanimalrescue.org), a non-profit organization, relies completely on donations. Pet Peeves gave a $1,000 grant this time; veterinary companies provided some donated supplies the first clinic, but we can't keep asking.

All involved agree that spay/neuter is the answer. However, Last Hope is starting to analyze costs and efforts to determine whether these free mass TNR days are really curtailing the feral cat problem. Are we servicing the right people; or are most of our "customers", seasoned cat caretakers who already use Last Hope's "Fix-A- Feral" program where certificates cut the price about 50 percent at a low cost hospital? One experienced trapper brought 10 cats to last week's free spaying. Do we leave enough slots for the general public who may be feeding unapproachable strays in their yard? How many people are sneaking through their pets (tame in fancy carriers) for a freebie spay? All eligible cats are supposed to be ferals who will be re-released by their guardians.

So far 2 suggestions have surfaced- the first from me, the spoiler. If Last Hope plans to continue with mass Spay Days which fill up faster than Billy Joel at Shea's farewell, they need not be free. Requesting $10 or even $20 a cat would help recoup some of the expenses and possibly leave some funds toward the next event. The small fee is still less than the cost with a "Fix-A-Feral" certificate, plus the cat benefits from additional services.

Global Idea #2: Managing feral cats is a municipal problem with humane municipal solutions. Cat colonies exist in every neighborhood; every strip mall. Each LI Town needs to start lending traps and offering

free spay vouchers to all residents who want to aid ferals. It's a win/ win proposition because shelter cat intake will drop too.

Last Hope and other rescues are already advising some Towns in the planning stages. (North Hempstead has a voucher program but it is counterbalanced because, for inexplicable reasons, this is the only

Town that refuses to accept any cats in their shelter.)Word is that Babylon, Oyster Bay, and Islip are poised to launch feral voucher programs. Babylon has a state grant. If the Towns offer ongoing, free vouchers, ultimately, Last Hope spayathons will no longer be needed.

Oyster Bay Town Shelter (677-5784) Miller Pl. Syosset is introducing "Seniors for Seniors" a new adoption incentive. When older pets- those 5 years or more- are matched with folks 62 or older, the cats are free; the dogs cost only $2.50 for the NYS license. All pets in this program will still receive free spay/ neuter, when necessary. The younger cat adoption fee is $59; dogs $67.50.

More good news- the 125 animals from the SPCA raid in Syosset are now available for permanent placement. Most were already being fostered but 7 dogsolder Chinese Cresteds and a Silky- and 2 lovable cats remain at the shelter. They also qualify for "Senior for Senior". An adorable hairless Crested #75 and the gray tabby #104, looking like a Sphinx in her haircut done by the hoarder, are shown here.

•Almost Home's "Animal Well-Fair"- Fabulous Chinese Auction: Almost Home (631-627- 3665) is the wonderful rescue that also provides Training Wheels. (Beacon "Pets"11/22/07). Almost Home is hosting a Chinese Auction Sat. 3/29 from 11:30 to 4 at the Elks Lodge in Smithtown. Prizes are amazing- tickets to John Stewart's Daily Show, Legally Blonde, Museum of Natural History, Empire State Bldg, Top of the Rock, Atlantis Aquarium, weekend at Danfords, and gift certificates to name a few. You don't have to stay for the whole auction to win.

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