Humane hope

Clinic takes aim at animal overpopulation

Madeleine Laird, photography by Ellie Bogue

Madeleine Laird used to hunt heads for corporate America. Now she hunts heads of a furry kind.

As one of the founders of HOPE for Animals, a nonprofit low-cost spay and neuter clinic off Lake Avenue, Laird spends her days finding ways to fund and spread the word about the clinic. The long-time animal welfare warrior once wanted to be a veterinarian, but “this is perfect because I can help as many people and animals as possible.” (That Laird is allergic to cats makes her job that much more challenging.)

HOPE for Animals focuses its main attention on sterilizing stray or feral cats and dogs with the goal of reducing the overall population of such animals in the region, with its vets operating on 30 to 50 animals per day. It also offers low-cost wellness checks on pets. Laird said that statistics show that seven dogs and cats are born for every one human – every day. Most of these animals will end up being euthanized in shelters. In Allen County, that means euthanasia at Fort Wayne Animal Care & Control if they can’t be adopted out or claimed by owners.

Which is why the city shelter joined forces with HOPE for Animals and the Allen County SPCA to sponsor changes to the Fort Wayne ordinances regarding feral cats. Feral or stray cats can be brought to HOPE for Animals without the person bringing the animal in having to claim ownership. If owners can’t be found via a microchip, the animals will be deemed “community cats,” then spayed or neutered, receive three-year rabies vaccinations, be microchipped and have their ears notched for visual identification before being returned to the area where they were trapped. Community cats with behavior issues can still be removed from the area if they are causing problems.

Part of the problem with stray cats is “kind-hearted folks” who put food out for the wild cats in the neighborhood. That encourages cats to come to an area, rather than “letting nature take its course,” Laird noted.

And while it may seem counterintuitive to return a feral animal to the wild, it should have the effect of reducing wild populations, Laird said. Spayed females won’t be able to have any more kittens, while neutered males won’t be able to impregnate un-neutered females, thus reducing the overall birth rates. The neutered males will still control their territories, driving off un-neutered males, Laird said.

Indeed, in the three years since HOPE for Animals began its program, the number of animals euthanized at the city shelter has dropped from more than 8,000 in a year to 5,500, a drop of 31 percent since 2010. And while a stronger effort to adopt out animals by the ACSPCA and the city shelter’s $10 “feline frenzy” cat adoption program has led to more pets finding homes, that doesn’t account for all of the drop in euthanasia, Laird noted.

“This is a humane alternative,” Laird said. “They have a better chance. The biggest cause of death for feral cats is euthanasia. We don’t euthanize squirrels or raccoons. The population will balance themselves naturally.”

First appeared in the August 2014 issue of Fort Wayne Monthly.

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