CANTON — The newly formed River Valley Animal Advocates group has secured its nonprofit status in the past year and has had 79 cats neutered or spayed.

President Becky McDonald of Canton said  it’s all thanks to the group of about 20 members, the help of Norway veterinarian Dr. Don McLean, and the generosity of people in Canton, Mexico, Rumford, Peru and Dixfield. The group’s goal a year ago was $1,500 to spay/neuter about 25 cats, she said.

“Pets are very important to people physically, emotionally and spiritually,” she said while holding her therapy dog, Sophie, and an unnamed kitten ready to find a home.

The group began informally in October 2009 and has three major goals:

* To spay and neuter as many feral cats as possible in the area’s cat colonies.

* To continue with and expand its therapy dog program.

* To help elderly and disabled people keep their pets.

During the past 12 months, cans to accept people’s change have been placed at nearly 20 stories, town offices and other sites. The group has also held yard sales, sold catnip toys and conducted other fundraisers. The donation cans are still in place.

Dr. McLean said Thursday afternoon that taking part in the River Valley Animal Advocates program, as well as providing spaying and neutering for other pets, is something that must be done.

“Nature wants to fill every possible niche,” he said. “People sometimes get themselves into a pickle when they pick up a stray and find that she is pregnant. (The number of kittens) is an exploding exponential problem.”

He said he has neutered more than 5,000 cats in the past 15 years.

“I hope to help people with their animals, and spaying or neutering helps reduce the number of unwanted,” he said.

“There’s a schizophrenic attitude toward cats,” he said, with some people thinking they are disposable while others value them.

McDonald said the group has several therapy dogs that people bring to area nursing homes for residents to pet and interact with each month. The group also carries out animal rescues, and does all that it can to provide food or care for the animals of the elderly and disabled.

McDonald said the River Valley Animal Advocates works with area animal control officers and can often help find homes for unwanted animals. She now has 13 cats or kittens that need homes, she said.

Future plans include setting up a mobile spaying and neutering trailer, which is being donated by McLean. Eventually, she hopes the group will be able to set up a no-kill animal shelter.

McDonald said she is grateful for all the help, including from businesses and individuals who have donated pet food, money and other items. The organization receives no municipal or state funding.

Because the group is now nonprofit, all donations are tax deductible.

New members are always welcome. The group meets at 6 p.m. the second Thursday of each month in the Dixfield Fire Station.

For more information River Valley Animal Advocates may be found on Facebook. McDonald may be reached at 597-2323, or at P.O. Box 628, Canton, ME 04221.

[email protected]

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