By Audra Distifeno for TCAJOB
A nonprofit organization hopes to slow the growing trend of homeless, stray pets with its trap-neuter-release program will open a permanent spay and neuter clinic in Benton City in February.
Lee McPeak of Pasco and Harriet Johnson of Richland joined forces to launch Prevent Homeless Pets, which once operated under the umbrella of the former Animal Welfare Alliance League. Once AWAL changed its focus, however, the two local women decided to start PHP.
“We wanted to focus on un-owned animals,” McPeak said.
After its start, the two women hauled 50 animals by van every week or two to Seattle, where they were served through The Feral Spay/Neuter Project. This continued for nearly six years.
“I started getting involved because I lived in east Pasco on a dump-belt for animals. I didn’t care if the animals lived around me as long as they didn’t overpopulate,” McPeak said.
But she couldn’t afford to pay between $300 and $400 to get each animal spayed/neutered.
“If strays stuck around my house, they got spayed or neutered,” she said.
Since PHP’s inception, McPeak has had about 50 animals from her neighborhood spayed/neutered. The full-time bus driver serves PHP as a veterinary assistant and performs a variety of tasks to lessen the burden on vets and vet techs.
“Without the techs and volunteers, we couldn’t do the job we’re doing. It’s really needed,” McPeak said.
The group’s mission is to collaborate with individuals and humane rescue groups to save the lives of homeless dogs and cats by promoting and facilitating access to high volume/high quality spay/neuter surgery in a professional clinic environment.
Cat spay prices are $40 for an owned cat and $20 for each feral cat; the cost to neuter male animals are $30 and $20 respectively. The actual costs of the feral cat surgeries are $40, so cash donations are what keep the subsidized program possible.
Since 2009, PHP has operated in three area clinics with the dedication of their respective veterinarians – Dr. Rebecca Drew of The Ahtanum Veterinary Clinic in Union Gap; Dr. Carole Mylius of Sunrise Veterinary Clinic in Benton City; and the Mid-Columbia Pet Emergency service. Dr. Tanja Menks of Dr. Menks Mobile Vet Care and Dr. Jamie Lovaglio of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have also performed surgeries. The veterinarians have been “invaluable” said Johnson.
Johnson, a retired schoolteacher, spearheaded PHP after volunteering at the Benton-Franklin Humane Society and witnessing the loss of a number of animals.
“Seventeen cats had come in from Finley and over time, those that didn’t get adopted and were there the longest had to go,” Johnson said. “I was very sad; it showed me the importance of spaying and neutering.”
Shortly thereafter, Johnson assisted with a program under AWAL but eventually, she and McPeak collaborated to create Prevent Homeless Pets. Johnson sought volunteers, clinic locations, veterinarians, and coordinated the process, said McPeak.
All volunteers are strongly committed to ending the trend of animal overpopulation.
Of particular importance to local business is keeping properties and buildings clear of feral animals, said LeeAnna WhisperingHorse, website manager for PHP.
“Trap-neuter-release is the most successful way to fight the epidemic of feral animals running around,” she said. “If you kill the animals, the rebound effect actually makes the population grow exponentially. They sense danger and begin to overpopulate.”
WhisperingHorse became involved after hearing about the organization “accidentally” and having experienced a high number of feral cats at her Prosser farm.
“After I contacted PHP, I was tutored from the ground up and now have a group of spayed and neutered cats on my farm,” WhisperingHorse said. “My goal is to help educate people and get the word out about its importance.”
Her future goal is to also have a Spanish PHP website since the area has a large percentage of Spanish speakers.
“This organization really needs to get grounded in the community and it takes the community to do it,” she said.
In 2006, PHP spayed and neutered 500 cats. That number more than doubled in 2007 to 1,264. And in 2008, the number of cats spayed or neutered reached 1,680 cats. Since 2009, Prevent Homeless Pets has spayed or neutered 5,740 cats and 441 dogs.
Fifty-five percent of those cats were females, which translates into many preventing literally thousands of unwanted pregnancies.
The nonprofit will open a permanent clinic at 812 Della Ave. in Benton City, allowing it to reach a goal of spaying or neutering 5,000 and 6,000 animals a year, Johnson said. Expected opening is Feb. 1.
“The new clinic will help us be much more organized and efficient,” McPeak said. “Harriet will be able to organize her time and won’t need to be autoclaving at midnight.”
The central location will eliminate transport and set-up time as well.
“If we serve an average of 25 animals three to four days a week, I think we can reach our goal,” McPeak said.
The organization received $15,000 in donations during an end-of-the-year campaign, and has an additional $14,000 in savings. PHP received a major contribution by way of a very low price on veterinary and surgical equipment – anesthesia machine, surgical table, microscope, centrifuge and more – from a veterinarian in Kent. It has hired a full-time veterinarian to serve area animals.
The clinic will be open three to four days each week, depending on the season.
“We are working to prove we are a viable entity and worthy of regular donations,” Johnson said. “Eventually, a full-time technician would be hired and double as manager.”
She said the immediate goal is to be careful and “not compromise quality by overextending ourselves” once the new PHP clinic opens.
“We try to make a difference one cat at a time,” Johnson said. “After each clinic, it’s gratifying that those cats won’t be contributing to overpopulation.”
The nonprofit’s ultimate goal, however, is to not be needed.
“We’d love to be at a point someday where we’re out of a job because we don’t have to worry about overpopulation of animals,” said McPeak.
Contribute to Prevent Homeless Pets though the website, www.preventhomelesspets.org via Paypal by calling (509) 375-4024, or by mailing them to PHP, P.O. Box 3011, Richland, Wash. 99354. In addition to tax-deductible donations, people may contribute laundry detergent, bleach, paper towels, fleece fabric and other items listed on the website.