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Animal shelter hopes surgical van will ease spay and neuter backlog

With adoptable animals waiting weeks for their spay and neuter surgeries, the Jackson County Animal Shelter is hoping a surgical van will ease the backlog.

The shelter will soon launch fundraising for a $250,000 custom-made van manufactured by a company in Ohio that specializes in mobile medical vehicles.

“It’s exciting. It’s a little daunting. $250,000 is a lot of money, but we’re doing it for the animals and the community,” said Tilly Gibbs, president of Friends of the Animal Shelter, the volunteer arm of Jackson County Animal Services.

The FOTAS board decided this week to pursue the surgical van project.

The shelter requires that all cats and dogs undergo spay or neuter surgery before they’re adopted out into the community. That prevents unwanted litters from contributing to the pet overpopulation problem and straining local shelters.

Gov. Kate Brown banned elective surgeries for people and animals this spring to save medical supplies for a possible COVID-19 hospital surge. Once surgeries resumed, surgeons and veterinarians faced a wave of pent-up demand. Spay and neuter surgeries are considered elective.

The Jackson County Animal Shelter has long relied on agreements with local vets to provide spay and neuter surgeries at a reduced cost. The shelter is able to keep adoption fees more affordable thanks to the vets offering lower-priced care.

But now veterinarians have their hands full.

“The veterinarians are overloaded with their own full-paying clients. It’s not that they don’t want to help. They don’t have time to help,” Gibbs said.

The tiny Spay/Neuter Your Pet clinic in Talent — another place the shelter has used for reduced-cost surgeries — is also feeling the strain. It’s open part-time in August and September, but is only making appointments for cats due to high demand.

Gibbs said the shelter’s problems with finding low-cost spay and neuter options predates the COVID-19 pandemic. The surgical van will be a way for the shelter to tackle the problem itself.

“We’ve circled around the problem of the availability of low-cost spay and neuter surgeries for years,” Gibbs said. “COVID-19 just threw a monkey wrench into the whole business.”

The animal shelter is exploring options for staffing the surgical van, such as forging a relationship with a retired veterinarian or someone newly graduated from vet school, said Kim Casey, shelter manager.

She said the community has stepped up to help animals during the pandemic, otherwise the shelter would be in even worse straits.

People who are working from home and those who’ve lost their jobs are relying on their pets more than ever for companionship. They’re prioritizing keeping their dogs and cats. Intakes at the shelter are down 23% compared to last year, Casey said.

“An animal can make your day so much better,” Gibbs said.

The shelter has very few dogs available for adoption, although it still has plenty of kittens and cats. The public can visit the shelter by appointment, Casey said.

“We haven’t seen a lot of people turning in their animals,” she said. “But if all the economic problems continue, it could affect people’s ability to afford veterinary care, food and other needs for their animals. We’ll see more animals come into the shelter.”

Ultimately, the shelter hopes to use the surgical van to help animals throughout the community, not just those that wind up at the shelter.

The shelter wants to partner with local nonprofit animal welfare groups to offer reduced-cost mobile spay and neuter services. Animals at shelters, feral cats and low-income pet owners could all benefit, Casey said.

Failing to tackle the need for low-cost spay and neuter surgeries could undo years of community efforts to dampen pet overpopulation, she said.

The shelter has already fielded calls from people whose dogs had puppies before they could get into a vet clinic to be spayed, Casey said.

Cats can get pregnant when they are 4 months old and produce two or three litters each year. Kittens in those litters can then reproduce at 4 months old, Gibbs said.

“The problem escalates very quickly,” she said.

Although fundraising hasn’t officially kicked off for the surgical van, a local woman has already donated $50,000 to FOTAS for the project.

“She’s an angel, an absolutely wonderful lady who loves animals,” Gibbs said. “She’s excited about this and thinks this will be a very helpful tool for the community — and long overdue.”

Those who want to donate can send checks to Friends of the Animal Shelter, P.O. Box 1013, Phoenix, OR 97535. Write “mobile unit” on the memo line if you wish to support the surgery van project.

Donations can also be made online using a credit card at fotas.org.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Elsie will be ready for adoption Aug. 26 at the Jackson County Animal Shelter.