Really, they are saving lives in here

DAVID BERGELAND/ Durango Herald

Veterinarian Patrick Goddard says he can spay or neuter about 30 to 40 cats per day in the trailer run by D-SNiP, Dogster’s Spay & Neuter Program. The mobile clinic is driven around Southwest Colorado. On this day it was parked at the J-Bar-J Ranch along County Road 203 north of Durango.

If you had no warning and didn’t understand English and were plopped into the mobile trailer, what you encountered might be alarming:

A fidgeting cat to your left, being stuck with a needle through the bars of a trap.

A dazed cat to your right on a countertop, the tip of its left ear being clipped off.

Straight ahead, a cat on an operating table in the very back of the room, a plastic cup-like contraption covering its upturned face. A man in a green surgical smock adeptly snips off its testicles.

Before you react, you should take a deep breath. Take a few minutes to understand. You may soon agree that what these cats are being put through is not only out of respect and love, but it’s saving their little kitty lives.

The column in this space last week talked about Padgie Kimmick, her organization Cat Care TNR of Southwest Colorado, and how she traps feral cats. Today’s story is about what happens next to those cats.

Kimmick brings them, still in their cages, to this mobile unit parked at J-Bar-J Ranch in the Animas Valley north of Durango. The unit is run by D-SNiP – Dogster’s Spay & Neuter Program.

While Dogster’s operates a voucher program to make spaying/neutering affordable to the general public, D-SNiP’s main concern is feral cats. There are an estimated 22,000 in La Plata County and, at least from a human perspective, there is no need for more.

Last year, D-SNiP bought a camper and had it retrofitted as a mobile clinic. Madera Construction owner Clark Behner and Gary Truax did several thousand dollars’ worth of work for no charge, says Aimee Henneman, executive director of D-SNiP.

The clinics are held nearly weekly in various places around La Plata and Archuleta counties. About 40 cats are “treated” at each clinic.

If you’re a trapped feral cat, this is your experience:

First, you’re numbered and briefly inspected. Then, you’re lugged inside and laid gently on the floor. Next, you’re injected with a sedative. If you’re smart you hold still for the shot; if not, you may bend a needle and have to go through the process again, as one cat does.

“They’re wild animals,” emphasizes Marcy Eckhardt, a veterinary technician and coordinator of D-SNiP’s mobile program.

This underlines why, if you’re a feral cat, you are so lucky to have Dogster’s around. In many communities, feral cats are trapped and promptly euthanized. There is no room at a humane society for a cat that is not suitable as a pet. Under the TNR philosophy, feral cats are trapped, neutered (or spayed) and returned.

“Five is sedated,” a relieved Eckhardt finally calls out.

When you’re groggy, you’re taken out of your trap and prepped. Your belly is shaved (female) or the hairs on your scrotum plucked (male – shaving has been found to be less sanitary).

Then you’re carried down the short hallway, through a bulkhead into the surgery room. That’s where veterinarian Patrick Goddard takes over.

Goddard, who also serves as vet at the La Plata County Humane Society, estimates it takes him 2 minutes to perform a neutering and less than 10 for a spaying. In total, he does about 2,500 cats in a year.

“We try to do as many as we can with the time and the funding that we have,” he says of D-SNiP.

The 2-minute neutering, he estimates, keeps 50 kittens from being born. It also makes the male less aggressive toward other cats.

Goddard is fully aware that this is not the most lucrative use of his time. A 1987 Durango High School graduate, he went to veterinary school to study aquatic life, particularly the whirling disease that has ravaged the local trout population. Somehow that morphed into dealing with animal populations. Ironically, while he artificially inseminates fish for his pond, he assures that the feral cats he touches do not breed.

Funding for the clinics comes mainly from the Foundation for Protection of Animals, run by Durangoan Wendy Haugen. A fundraiser – “Prevent a litter, save a critter” – is 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at the Lost Dog Bar & Lounge. It will benefit spay-neuter efforts of D-SNiP and the La Plata County Humane Society.

We already mentioned what happens to the males on the operating table. Females get a complete hysterectomy, the ovaries and uterus taken out.

Now that you can no longer reproduce, you’re stitched up and laid at waist level on a recovery table. There, you’re given four shots – a painkiller, antibiotics, a rabies vaccine and what a vet would refer to as an “annual” vaccine.

Oh, yes. A quarter-inch of your left ear is clipped and cauterized. You might not be keen on having your ear clipped. Well, consider this: Say you’re unlucky enough (I didn’t say stupid enough) to be trapped again. Someone sees the clipped ear and – presto – you’re out of jail! After all, nobody needs to be spayed or neutered twice.

After a half-hour under sedation you wake up, and you’re provided with water and food and a shady spot, such as an unused horse stall at the J-Bar-J. A few hours later Kimmick takes you back to your “home,” where you can return to your job as mouse policeman.

D-SNiP’s goal for 2012 is to spay and neuter 1,000 cats.

It’s a lot of time and effort over animals, but statistics show the huge impact that similar low-cost, high-volume clinics have had nationally, says Chris Nelson, director of animal services at the La Plata County Humane Society.

The national Humane Society says around 12 million to 20 million cats and dogs were euthanized annually in 1970. That number has since dropped to around 3 million to 4 million. Nelson says that in La Plata County, no dog has been euthanized in 3 years (for lack of space), and no cat in 2 years.

“They’re filling a need that’s out there in the community,” Nelson says of D-SNiP. “Due to their efforts and ours we’ve seen a significant decrease in the intake of local animals.”

There’s been a 10 percent drop in the last 18 months, he says.

So, now that you’ve had the tour, take another look around the inside of the mobile trailer. Does it look any different?

johnp@durangoherald.com

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