Mobile vet snips at pet population

Rainbow lolled on the counter as Katie Erickson inserted an IV line into her paw. Soon a fluffy gray feline, limp as a noodle, was lifted off a heated operating table to make room for Rainbow.

Rainbow lolled on the counter as Katie Erickson inserted an IV line into her paw. Soon a fluffy gray feline, limp as a noodle, was lifted off a heated operating table to make room for Rainbow.

Dr. Amanda Bruce closed the incision on another cat's belly before turning to the anesthetized black and white short-hair.

That was the scene in a van behind the Animal Rescue Federation animal shelter Thursday.

"It's truly an assembly line of alteration," said Linda Cadotte, adoption program manager for Animal Allies Humane Society in Duluth.

The mobile veterinary clinic -- the Animal Allies Neuter Commuter -- spays and neuters homeless pets for a fraction of the market cost. A typical shelter that adopts 400 pets per year will be able to alter all of them with an estimated savings of $20,000.


"This is a godsend for us," said Sheila Love, ARF manager. "The savings in the cost is phenomenal. It will allow us to do a lot of things we haven't been able to do in the past."

The van rolled out in August.

"I think we started up very smoothly," Erickson said, despite starting from scratch.

In two months, the staff -- Bruce, veterinarian technician Erickson and veterinarian assistant Shaina Nickila -- has altered more than 300 animals from seven area shelters, including 70 from ARF.

Even in the van's close quarters, there is room to care for animals as small as two pounds to, well, animals bigger than any of the staff.

"Our first day we did a 147-pound dog," Erickson said. "He basically filled this room up."

Currently, the van provides services two days a week to seven area shelters.

"The next step we're working on is going out to the Iron Range and Ashland," said Jim Williams, executive director of Animal Allies.


He estimated that regional shelters place 5,000 pets in adoptive homes each year. The goal behind the Neuter Commuter is to spay or neuter the animals before adoption.

"The effort to reduce pet overpopulation -- it's got to start somewhere," Cadotte said. "Shelters are often the ones left to deal with the problem yet we're the ones who love animals."

Last year, about 750 homeless animals from Duluth and Superior had to be euthanized, she said.

Each animal altered makes a difference.

In seven years, Cadotte said, one male and one female cat and their offspring will produce 420,000 more cats.

For many of them, the future is bleak.

Two mother cats came to ARF in June with their newborn kittens. The babies grew up at the shelter and in foster homes. Three of those kittens are still waiting for homes of their own.

"Some of them linger and linger," Love said.


The shelter currently adopts out cats and dogs that have not been altered. But it provides a certificate for a free spay or neuter with each pet. Too many owners never make use of them, Love said.

ARF took care of about 800 animals last year.

"Just in October we had 77 animals come in the door," Love said, but only 43 were adopted.

"Unfortunately, that's a nationwide problem," Cadotte said.

Bruce is a supporter of the high-volume spay/neuter program.

"I think it's going to, in the long term, really reduce the stray population," she said.

In the short term, shelters will save money. ARF members plan to increase staffing and begin temperament testing of homeless animals with the money. There is also talk of microchip implants and rabies shots for adopted pets.

The van was commissioned to serve the entire region.


"If we can get to the point where we can work ourselves out of a job, that would be a good day," Cadotte said.

Until then, the Neuter Commuter will roll on.

Maria Lockwood covers public safety. E-mail or call (715) 395-5025.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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