LEWISTON – The Greater Androscoggin Humane Society has seen a dramatic drop in the number of cats brought into the shelter, which the director credits to a low-cost spay-neuter program offered over the past year.

For the first few months of this year, the shelter took in 22 percent fewer cats than during the same time last year. It also saw a 50 percent drop in sick cats.

Executive director Steve Dostie called the decrease “amazing.”

Open to the public, the clinics allow people to have their female cats spayed for $55 and their male cats neutered for $25, a steep discount from the state average of $200 or more.

Although the program is only open to people on fixed incomes, the shelter does not require pet owners to show proof.

“We talk to them on the phone,” Dostie said. “We’re very trusting. We believe that if they say they’re on some type of (state) assistance, we’re sure that it’s true.”

Local veterinarian Stephen Kinney performs the surgeries at the shelter twice a month. He can operate on 30 to 40 cats per clinic.

His appointments fill up fast.

“We usually have a lot of people call us the day of the clinic to set up an appointment for the next one,” Dostie said.

By fixing area cats that would otherwise keep breeding, Dostie hoped the clinics might result in fewer cats coming into the shelter. He was shocked to see the 22 percent drop.

“We’ve had people bring in six or seven cats (for the clinic),” he said. “They could not get them neutered because they couldn’t afford it. We’re breaking the cycle of breeding.”

Experts say such shelter clinics don’t take away business from private veterinarians because low-income pet owners can’t afford them. The choice, they say, isn’t between a clinic and a private vet, it’s between a clinic and no surgery at all.

Other animal shelters offer cat spay-neuter programs for low-income pet owners. Some have seen a drop in cats; others have not.

The Franklin County Animal Shelter in Farmington started its program about two years ago, spaying female cats for $55 each and neutering male cats for $30. A local vet does the surgeries about once a month, seeing about 30 cats on the day of the clinic. The vet tries to fit in additional cats when fixing the shelter’s animals on Fridays. Last year, the shelter took in 168 fewer cats than the year before, about a 13 percent drop.

“Some of the faces that come in for the low-income spay-neuter clinics are people we’ve seen before dropping off kittens,” said Jessie Geis, a vet tech and a supervisor at the shelter. “It’s like, ‘Why didn’t we do this before?'”

Harvest Hills Animal Shelter, which is based in Fryeburg and serves western Maine, runs spay-neuter clinics once a month. It does not set a fee for surgery – owners donate what they can – and the shelter provides free rabies shots at the same time.

But Harvest Hills has 24 more cats now than it did last year, including two litters of kittens that have been up for adoption for nearly a month.

Part of the reason might be in the numbers of cats fixed at each clinic. While the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society spays and neuters 60 to 80 cats a month, Harvest Hills is able to do only 14 a month.

“You need to have volume. You have to do a lot,” said Susan Hall, who helped found Spay ME, an organization of shelters, rescue groups and others who advocate for Help Fix ME, the state’s spay-neuter program.

Help Fix ME provides vouchers to very low-income Mainers who want to get their cats or dogs fixed. With a voucher, they pay $20 to get a dog fixed and $10 to get a cat fixed.

Help Fix ME is funded through grants, donations and other sources that can be sporadic. The program often runs out of money.

Hall lauded shelters with spay-neuter programs for working to cut cat overpopulation.

“Greater Androscoggin has a model that I just wish every shelter in the state would adopt,” she said.

At the Lewiston shelter, Dostie wasn’t sure whether the 22 percent decrease would hold for the rest of the year. The shelter took in 3,800 cats last year. Dostie would be happy to see even a 10 percent drop in that number.

“That’s an additional 300, almost 400 cats that don’t walk through our door,” he said. “That’s a huge thing.”


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