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Jackson County Animal Services is expanding via a 23-foot surgical suite on wheels.

The new “addition” is a donated trailer that shelter officials plan to renovate for use as an on-site surgical unit and an off-site mobile spay and neuter clinic for cats and dogs.

Shelter Manager Kim Casey said the addition will significantly increase shelter’s spay and neuter surgeries and could provide other opportunities as well.

With changes to shelter operations amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Casey said, thoughts turned toward finding creative ways to provide services and outreach in the community. The decades-old shelter is lacking in available square footage.

With “several generous donations” made by Friends of the Animal Shelter supporters toward purchase of a mobile clinic, Casey said she quickly learned demand for such trailers was at an all-time high.

“A lot of agencies around the country have created mobile services due to all the restrictions of the pandemic. We contacted the company who makes the trailers, and they said it would be eight months to a year before we could get one,” Casey said.

It turned out that a FOTAS board member had one from another community that was no longer being used. “It was originally used as a mobile, low-cost vaccination and microchipping clinic,” Casey said.

While the 23-foot trailer — now sitting at the shelter along Highway 99 awaiting renovation — could eventually be used for additional services such as vaccines and emergency response, Casey said the priority would be to meet demand for low-cost spay and neuter.

Since the Sept. 8, 2020, Almeda fire, the shelter went from having three local veterinarians to help provide low-cost spay and neuter surgeries to just one.

Phoenix Animal Hospital, a major provider, burned in the fire and reopened last week in a temporary Medford location.

“Demand is way up, and resources are stretched thin. The fire definitely didn’t help. Last year, we were doing 173 spay and neuters a month with three clinics helping,” said Casey.

“We are now down to doing about 125 surgeries a month with one main provider.”

Casey said she hoped to see the mobile unit ready to use in coming months. Donations originally earmarked for purchase of a new trailer will go toward setup of the mobile space, though renovation costs have not yet been determined.

Excited about the possibilities, Casey said she worked with an organization in Southern California which saw shelter intake drastically reduced when demand for spay and neuter service needs were met.

“There’s always more demand than there are resources, especially during summer when we’ve got umpteen-hundred kittens in foster care,” she said.

“I moved from Southern California, where we had a nonprofit who operated three mobile spay and neuter units. The first year that our area had access to low-cost spay and neuter, it dropped the intake at the shelter by 20%.”

Shelter officials will take a fluid approach to designing the mobile unit to best serve the community. Veterinary students, retired vets and other community members could volunteer services to help further reduce spay and neuter costs.

“This will just give us a lot of opportunity to serve the community in a lot of ways. When it’s parked here at the shelter, we can invite veterinarians to come and use our surgical suite. That way, we can help to recover the animals here in order to reduce demand on their own clinics,” added Casey.

“I’m a big believer in creating a resource and building the program around that resource, instead of the other way around. You can’t sustain something by just chasing your tail and doing the same thing over and over,” she said.

“I think we will find some really good ways to use this to better serve our community. Everyone involved is really excited for this.”

To donate to shelter spay and neuter efforts, see fotas.org.

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Fat Eddie, a 7-year-old domestic cat looking for a permanent home, looks through a cage at Jackson County Animal Control in Talent Thursday.{ }Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
Kim Casey opens a trailer that will be converted into a mobile spay and neuter unit at Jackson County Animal Control in Talent Thursday.{ }Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune