Spay Waggin’ fixes Island pets at a bargain price

Kittens at the Martha's Vineyard Animal Shelter. — Martha's Vineyard Times File Pho

A mobile spay/neuter clinic will make its second trip to Martha’s Vineyard this month as part of a concerted effort by Island animal control officers (ACOs), in conjunction with local shelters, to “fix” animals owned by low-income families, and to encourage adoption by those who might not otherwise be able to afford the often costly surgeries.

Startup costs for someone who adopts a pet can be prohibitively expensive. Spay and neuter procedures on top of preliminary vaccines can cost upwards of $500, which means that families and individuals who might otherwise be capable of footing the day-to-day expenses associated with a pet choose not to adopt.

Island animal control officers and local shelters are working to offer a solution in the form of a mobile spay/neuter clinic, staffed by the Animal Rescue League of Boston, dubbed the Spay Waggin’.

“Some of the people here just barely make a living,” Edgartown animal control officer (ACO) Barbara Prada said in a phone conversation with The Times. “This is a way to help those people who love their animals, and can get them their shots and stuff, but they just can’t quite afford to get them spayed and neutered.”

A group that included Island ACOs, Lisa Hayes and Gordon Healey of the Animal Shelter of Martha’s Vineyard, Kim Cyr of Second Chance Rescue, and Kerri Scott of Good Dog Goods, as well as other volunteers, has been meeting since February to coordinate the effort. Originally, the team took cats and dogs off-Island to meet the Spay Waggin’ in Falmouth.

“Last May we went off with nine dogs, and they all belonged to people who fit the requirements for the Massachusetts Animal Fund vouchers, so it didn’t cost them a dime. And we got donations to cover the cost of the boat,” Ms. Prada said.

The Massachusetts Animal Fund is funded through a voluntary tax donation that taxpayers may make when filing their annual taxes. Part of the Massachusetts Animal Fund is allocated for spay/neuter procedures for pets who belong to low-income families. The Spay Waggin’ is a provider. Only ACOs may apply for vouchers from the fund to cover the cost of surgeries. However, that fund has run dry, Ms. Prada said.

Subsidies not covered by the Spay Waggin’ are currently available on a by-need basis, funded by donations to the animal shelter for the program.

After making trips to Falmouth periodically throughout the summer, Cheryl Traversi, shelter and community medicine program coordinator at the Animal Rescue League, offered to make an Island trip. On top of simplifying the planning, this also shortened the time that pets had to be away from their owners.

“That’s a lot easier for us,” Ms. Prada said.

On its inaugural Island trip, the Spay Waggin’ serviced four dogs and approximately nine cats. A handful of these animals came from the Island shelters, which could potentially make them more attractive to adoptive families.

‘It’s better for them’

Spaying and neutering cats and dogs can prevent not only unwanted, unmanageable litters, but can also serve to calm down pets and keep them from getting sick.

“It’s better for them,” Ms. Prada said. “Females dogs and cats can get really awful mammary tumors.”

In addition, a large number of animals can be difficult to watch out for. Ms. Prada described one particularly gruesome instance of a family of what she said were “indiscriminate breeders” in Edgartown who lived on a busy road. A group of kittens were hit by a car.

“I really hate having to scrape kittens or dead cats off the road,” she said.

When she first started as ACO, Ms. Prada said that nearly every dog she picked up was an “intact” or unneutered male. That’s not the case any more.

“The people are getting much better about making sure their animals are fixed,” she said.

For more information about getting involved in the Spay Waggin’, or for obtaining financial assistance getting a pet fixed, contact your local ACO.