LaRue: Tacoma clinic on front lines in war against pet overpopulation

Spay and neuter clinic services its 50,000th pet, looks to raise funds to continue its work

Staff writerMarch 21, 2014 

One morning early this month, Snarf the cat awakened to find himself a bit groggy, still orange but missing his testicles.

Then his day got better.

As it happened, Snarf became the 50,000th client of the Northwest Spay & Neuter Center, and when his owner, Amy Halom, came to pick him up, the staff threw a celebration.

“I was in line, and they asked if Snarf’s owner was here, and I thought he’d gotten into something,” Halom said. “They started bringing out balloons and a big basket of goodies.”

The goodies were treats and toys, a new collar and some wet food. And though Snarf appeared a bit loopy from his surgery, he managed to pose for photos.

“Snarf was a really cool orange cat, just a nice kitty,” said Dr. Erin Donovan, the surgeon who neutered him. “He wanted to snuggle, even in a very strange situation. He was our ‘Cat of the Day’ that day, too.” (The center has a cat, a dog and a rabbit of the day on its Facebook page.)

Snarf may not be all that pleased with the circumstances that led to the honor. But he doesn’t lack for company. The clinic does an average of 70 surgeries a day, including dogs and cats brought in by the Humane Society for Tacoma & Pierce County.

Northwest Spay & Neuter Center deals with low-income pet owners, charging on a sliding scale dependent on income. Many families qualify for free services.

The center has had a significant impact.

“In 2007, the year before they opened, we euthanized 1,981 cats for space,” said Marguerite Richmond of the Humane Society. “Last year, it was down to 122. We credit the clinic with a lot of the decline in the rate.”

The two veterinarians on staff, Donovan and Dr. Bethany Faulkner, begin surgeries at 9 a.m. and finish about 5 p.m. daily.

“I dream about doing surgeries and not finding the right parts,” Faulkner joked.

“We take separate lunch breaks so that one of us is always in surgery,” Donovan said.

The staff helps the operations run efficiently, checking in dogs and cats between 8 and 9 a.m. Dogs go into surgery in the morning, cats in the afternoon. Dogs go home the same day, cats stay overnight.

“We handle dogs, cats, feral cats and rabbits,” Donovan said. “They’re examined before surgery. They’re medicated to relax them, then sedated for surgery. After surgery, they’re wrapped in a cozy blanket and taken to a recovery area.”

The center has a complicated history that started in Gig Harbor.

“In 2001, we were the Peninsula Spay and Neuter Project,” executive director Lorrie Kalmbach-Ehlers said. “In 2008, we became the Humane Coalition and moved to Tacoma. Last year, we moved to our new building on Pacific Avenue, and in January, we changed our name so people would know at a glance what we do.”

When Snarf became the 50,000th animal handled in early March, he was the 30,410th cat. There have been 19,128 dogs and 462 rabbits spayed or neutered.

What’s the difference?

“Females are spayed, and we remove their ovaries and uterus,” Donovan said. “When we neuter males, we just remove their testicles.”

“Just?” Yikes!

One of the cat clients was Ninja Bob, a three-legged brown tabby adopted by the center three years ago. He’s become a popular mascot of sorts; he even has a blog on the center’s website.

He’s also a staple of the center’s fundraising efforts.

On Saturday, the center will throw its 10th annual Whiskers Wine & Dine dinner and auction, from 5-9 p.m. at the McGavick Conference Center at Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood.

“It’s our main fundraiser each year, and Ninja Bob will be there in his tuxedo,” Kalmbach-Ehlers said. “The auction this year will include a cruise, a getaway at a Wyoming resort …”

… And bottles of wine with Ninja Bob’s own label.

Tickets for the vegetarian dinner and auction are $60 (tax-deductible) and available at the door.

Meanwhile, you can make appointments online or by telephone for a cat, dog or rabbit. And if you know of colonies of feral cats, the center will even lend you a trap.

“We had an older couple that owned acreage in Bonney Lake who kept finding feral cats that had been dropped off on their property,” said Jayme Woodman, a vet technician. “They caught and caged them, and over a two-month period brought in 37 cats. They took all of them back home, and say now the cats are much happier and healthier.”

As for Snarf, he’s back in his Tacoma home with Halom’s year-old son, Henry.

“He’s a sweet cat. Snarf lets Henry pull his tail and will sit in Henry’s playpen without ever using his claws,” Halom said. “He’s been just fine since his surgery, playful as ever.”

Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638

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