“This is your clean area,” said Dr. Jeanne Olson, motioning in a square around an unconscious cat. “It doesn’t matter if you do it in a cabin or in a vet clinic, as long as this area’s clean.”
In this case, she was in the basement of the Salvation Army Worship Center on Forest Drive in Kenai. She turned back to the job at hand, confidently shaving the hair from the belly of the female cat and preparing to make a small cut.
“For me, it’s more about each individual cat,” she said.
“Some people will brag that they can do a spaying in ten minutes. It doesn’t matter to me how fast you can do it.”
Olson, a veterinarian in Fairbanks, spays a lot of cats every year through the Alaska Spay/Neuter Assistance Program, a free and low-cost clinic where cats and dogs can be spayed and neutered and microchipped. The program has been running for 10 years in Fairbanks and visits other communities in the interior, including Delta Junction and Tok.
Olson, who owns a solo practice and works independently with the program, said they have been able to reach some towns off the road system as well, such as Tyonek. It made its first stop in Kenai on Friday and Saturday.
Stacie Mallette, the acting chief animal control officer at the Kenai Animal Control Department, said spaying and neutering is a continual issue, especially for cats. Cats can breed more often and begin having litters younger than dogs, and the shelter is already overwhelmed with kittens it cannot place, she said.
“Working (at the shelter), I’ve seen what’s going on,” Mallette said. “People are still not bringing their cats in (to be spayed). For us, our take on it is that cats are what we’re inundated with.”
The clinic was offered through a new rescue and foster program called the Cat Tree and the Barkery, Mallette said. Although the new organization does not have a building or set schedule yet, she said she hopes it will help alleviate some of the pressure on the animal shelter.
Approximately 2.4 million healthy animals are euthanized each year because there is nowhere for them to go outside the pound, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Spaying and neutering helps control the population and may help some of the adults pets be adopted as well, she said.
The Kenai Animal Shelter has about 20 cats at the moment waiting to be adopted. However, although many owners come looking for their lost dogs at the animal shelter, very few cats are ever returned to their owners from the shelter, Mallette said.
“I’m not sure why — maybe people think the cat’s just out on walkabout, he’ll come back in a week or two,” Mallette said. “Statistically, if you do a report, you’ll see that a huge percentage of dogs will be claimed. But for cats, it’s very rare.”
Kenai’s shelter took in 652 dogs and 508 cats last year. Of those, 156 of the dogs were claimed and 272 were adopted. Of the cats, eight were claimed and 243 were adopted.
The shelter euthanized 51 dogs and 81 cats last year. However, that is an 82 percent decrease from 2011, when the shelter euthanized 730 animals total. Part of it is increasing public education, foster homes and transfers to rescue organizations, according to the Kenai Animal Control Department’s annual report.
Kittens without homes are nearly unheard of in Fairbanks, said Emily Machos, the coordinator for the spay/neuter program. There are even wait lists for kittens to be adopted, she said.
Moving some of the pets between the two cities is one solution. Since July 1, the Kenai Animal Shelter has sent 100 cats and kittens to Fairbanks, which have been adopted, Machos said. Ravn Alaska offers the animal shelters free shipping space for the cats when it is available, which helps with the transportation costs, Machos said.
“When the shelter gets too full in town, they say, ‘Can you take some?’” Machos said. “It’s a win-win. We’re saving lives here, and we’re filling a need in our town. Because we spay and neuter so many cats, we’re providing kittens for people.”
The clinic in Kenai was only for cats, and between Olson and Dr. Debbie Mersch, a Kenai-based veterinarian at Twin Cities Veterinary Clinic on Kalifornsky Beach Road, they planned to spay and neuter 100 cats between the two days, Mallette said.
For $50, owners could get a female cat spayed and neutering males cost $35, significantly less than a regular appointment in a clinic, Machos said. By contrast, spaying a female cat through the Kenai Animal Shelter costs $102 and neutering costs $76.50.
The regular clinics in Fairbanks are able to offer spaying and neutering for cats free of charge by offsetting the cost with donations and the cost of performing the operation on dogs, she said. The program is offered once a month in Fairbanks and is regularly extremely busy, she said.
“It’s such a win on all levels,” Machos said. “That’s why we’re here (in Kenai), so these cats will not add to that problem.”