"“Fixer-Upper” takes to the streets for animal welfare

The patchwork of Indianapolis-based animal advocacy projects just got bolder and brighter. Side-by-side with standouts IndyFeral and FACE Low-Cost Spay/Neuter Clinic, a new program in Indianapolis has been introduced to address pet overpopulation and its corollary issues of neglect and abuse, strays and dog bites. And this time the focus is on taking a spay/neuter clinic directly to the community.

Under the auspices of a charitable foundation called Friends of Indianapolis Animal Care and Control, spay/neuter services are hitting the streets in the “Fixer-Upper.” This 32-foot trailer, complete with surgery suite, takes these critical procedures to neighborhoods that need them most.

According to Program Manager Cyndi Portteus, the mobile unit will focus on Indianapolis areas marked not only by low income, but also by high numbers of pets surrendered to shelters, cases of neglect and abuse, strays and dog bites. The Friends Foundation is partnering with Indianapolis Animal Care and Control, the Humane Society of Indianapolis and IndyFeral for support.

Martha Boden, HSI CEO and IACC board member, stated by e-mail, “HSI and IACC take in approximately 30,000 animals a year. While more than 10,000 of those animals are adopted or returned to their owners, adoptable animals are still being euthanized because there are not enough homes for them all. Through the creativity and dedication of animal welfare workers, euthanasia of adoptable animals in Central Indiana is decreasing every year. Efforts like the Fixer-Upper can help reduce those numbers even further.”

The Fixer-Upper’s workspace is small — Portteus jokes that veterinarians working in the mobile clinic must be short — but the project goals are big. The objectives are reductions in the number of 1) owned animals turned over to shelters; 2) incidences of dog bites; 3) calls to investigate mistreatment or neglect; and 4) strays.

“It’s going to take 10 years to get there,” admits Catherine Parker, Friends Foundation board chair. “The goal is to make this a sustainable project that never goes away. Our ultimate goal is responsible pet ownership.”

She adds that the program is starting small in two ways: For now, they are limiting both the number of surgeries and the type. By starting out performing only cat neuters, the organization hopes to iron out any kinks before taking on dogs — and the more complicated spay procedure.

Clients will be recruited from community centers and non-profits. “We’re definitely not concerned about having enough pets to work on,” Parker says, adding that upcoming events are completely booked.

Even aside from the fact that the procedures will be offered free of charge to qualifying residents, the advantages of a mobile spay/neuter unit are obvious. Typically there are no vet clinics in the targeted communities, or the closest is 5 to 10 miles away. “That’s a big deal when you don’t have transportation,” Portteus says.

Additionally, a similar organization in Montana has seen an unexpected benefit to the service. “What they’ve found is that the animals increase in value to the owner after they’ve been spayed or neutered,” Portteus says. “They’re not as disposable as before.”

The Fixer-Upper’s dog-and-pony show — or, more accurately, cat neutering show — will be in full force Nov. 18 and Dec. 6 at Hawthorne Community Center. The mobile unit will take a break during the colder months and return to its target communities in the spring.

Plans are also in the works for a winter outreach program to talk with schoolchildren about dog bite prevention. For now, though, the focus is on smoothing out the logistics of doing surgeries in a former camper. Portteus says that the group is taking all precautions to ensure success. Veterinary technicians will examine animals before they enter the unit, and will determine if any pets are unsuitable for the tight quarters.

“We have the correct equipment to handle frightened animals,” she says. “But if an animal is aggressive or just too frightened to handle, we won’t hesitate to refer the owner to a stationary clinic.”

Another potential concern is the same-day release. Returning pets to the owner on the day of surgery has pros and cons. Unlike in many vet clinics, where staffers go home for the night, dogs and cats can be monitored more closely at home.

“One potential problem,” Portteus says, “is that people tend to not be as compliant as they should be with keeping the animal confined.” To minimize risk, the vets will use surgical glue on outer incisions. Inner stitches will be absorbable. This means there are no stitches to tear or require removal later. Post-surgical instructions will include emergency contact information, in case of a crisis.

Portteus is the Fixer-Upper’s lone staff member, though there are plans to hire a veterinarian in the spring. Volunteers are needed for both educational outreach and spring spay/neuter events. For details, check the Web site, http://friendsofindyacc.org/index.html, or call Cyndi Portteus at 317-292-4678.



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