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H.O.P.E. for Animals making a difference one animal at a time

Friday, February 28, 2014 - 8:52 am

H.O.P.E. for animals is making a difference. Three and a half years after the low-cost spay and neuter nonprofit clinic opened at 1333 Maycrest Drive, the intake numbers of cats at Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control has dropped.

Madeleine Laird, H.O.P.E.'s director, said the numbers are significant. In 2012 the number of cats brought into Animal Care and Control dropped by around 1,000 felines. In 2013 the agency was down another 1,000 or so from the year before.

According to Animal Care and Control's annual report its rate of euthanasia for all cats (feral and owned) there has dropped by 20 percent while the intake number of cats has been reduced to what it was in 1970.

"We attribute the drop to spaying and neutering," said Belinda Lewis, director of Animal Care and Control.

For the past three years Animal Care and Control has entered in a coalition with H.O.P.E. for Animals to decrease the number of unwanted litters in the community, while the Allen County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has been helping to find homes for the shelter's animals.

Since H.O.P.E. for Animals' opening it has spayed and neutered more than 30,000 animals. Monthly it handles 1,100 animals. What started as a staff of six, including the director, is now a staff of 18 people, with two full-time veterinarians. They are currently interviewing for a third to run the wellness clinic.

Laird said they are not here to give local veterinarians competition, but to provide a low-cost option for spaying and neutering to animals of owners who have few resources. As they got into the practice they discovered they were frequently turning owners away because their pet had a low-level health issue that needed to be treated before surgery. What they found were many of the people never returned because they could not afford to take their animal to a regular veterinarian for treatment.

Over time they started a low-cost, part-time wellness clinic to treat minor ailments and provide low-cost vaccinations and medications. They are looking to make this a full time part of their operation once Laird can find a veterinarian to work there. They have had look out of state because most local veterinarians want nothing to do with their low-cost nonprofit clinic, she said.

Laird said they spay and neuter a very high volume of animals every year, but their mortality rates have been very low, .01 percent. She attributes that to sterile conditions, and a well-trained staff caring staff.

Laird has a dream, and although it could take a change in the current Fort Wayne ordinances, she would like shelters to use a trap, spay and neuter, and release policy for feral cat colonies. The shelter would assess the health of the cat, sterilize the animal if it is healthy, and release it back into the feral cat population. Studies in other parts of the country have shown this to be a very effective way of cutting back on the feral cat populations.

If the animal is healthy when it is caught, it obviously is taking care of itself. The idea is to stop it from reproducing. After the surgery it would be released into the same area where it was captured. Because the animal was healthy when captured this shows it has resources in that area. Studies have shown this has reduced the number of feline feral colonies. Otherwise, Laird said you can keep killing the cats you catch, but in the meantime the other cats in the colony are reproducing. When you put the sterile cats back into their territory they will defend them from other cats trying to move. This chases away potential breeding cats. Over time as the sterile cats die off; the number of feral cats is reduced through attrition.

Laird said at their clinic, they have come up with a conservative number when estimating the numbers of animals their surgeries prevent.

“We said it takes two animals to have a litter. On an average, cats have four, dogs have six… Our estimate is 2.5 animals are not born due to our surgery,” Laird said.

H.O.P.E. for Animals services seven counties in northeast Indiana: LaGrange, Steuben, Kosciusko, Blackford, DeKalb, Jay, and Allen, and two in Ohio. Staff are working toward serving Noble, Whitley, Wabash, Grant, Wells and Adams in Indiana. It is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.