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Natural Awakenings Fairfield Cty/Housatonic Valley, CT

Nutmeg Spay/Neuter Clinic: The Unglamorous but Necessary Side of Animal Rescue

Apr 01, 2014 03:55AM ● By Natasha Michaels

There was an uproar across the United States during the Olympics when the plight of the Sochi stray dog population was exposed, but our nation has a tremendous problem of its own. According to the ASPCA, millions of cats and dogs of all ages and breeds – including purebreds - are euthanized each year or suffer short, difficult lives as strays. These high numbers are the unfortunate result of unwanted and unplanned litters that put tremendous strain on the active shelter/rescue/adoption system.

Clara Nolan, executive director of Stratford’s Nutmeg Spay/Neuter Clinic, says it was the sheer scope of the problem that led her from working rescue as a foster parent to opening the clinic. “I started in rescue 10 years ago,” she says. “I started to realize there was just no way we were ever going to adopt ourselves out of the overpopulation crisis.” She attended a one-day seminar on spay/neuter clinics and became convinced it was an important path for her to take.

“Spay and neuter is the unglamorous side of animal rescue,” she says. “We love cats and dogs. We just know there are way too many of them. It keeps me up at night, thinking about how many are out there simply because people do not understand the gravity of this issue.”

Nolan formed FeralCare in Stratford in November 2006, her first foray into the spay/neuter side of animal rescue. FeralCare, which still operates today, is a “Trap, Neuter, Return” (TNR) operation, which returns sterilized and vaccinated feral cats back into their colonies. Doing this eases stress on shelters and adoption agencies and slows the rampant growth of feral cat colonies, which are prone to disease, suffering and very short life spans. FeralCare held its first Sunday spay/neuter clinic in 2007 and, as of 2013, more than 3,000 cats had been altered.

The practice was like a MASH unit at first, with monthly Sunday clinics being held at various host organizations in Bridgeport and Norwalk (Beardsley Zoo and PAWS). In 2010, Nolan worked with a national organization called Humane Alliance, following their model and protocols to build the clinic. In August 2012, Nutmeg Spay/Neuter Clinic opened the doors at its fixed location at 25 Charles Street in Stratford. Now the clinic receives an average of 50 calls per day and full- and part-time veterinarians perform surgeries four days a week, sometimes as many as 35 per day. Nolan has begun to more actively promote the clinic and its services.

“I want to raise awareness that these services are available and our clinic makes it affordable.” she says. “Spaying and neutering is better for the animals’ long term health while reducing overpopulation.”

There are some in the community who disagree with this approach. There are heated debates in animal care circles – especially “natural” animal care circles – about whether so many sterilizations are necessary and what the long-term physical effects may be to animals who lose their primary sources of hormone production at a very young age.

Nolan is well aware of the criticism but firmly believes the potential for surgical health consequences is not outweighed by the animal overpopulation issue and the benefits of spay/neuter. Some of those benefits include preventing certain cancers of the reproductive organs, reducing hormone-related behavioral issues in both males and females and inbreeding, among others. It is indefensible, she says, for critics to assert there are enough homes for stray animals and that rescuers just aren’t doing enough. Stray animals reproduce far too quickly for the rescue/adoption model to be the only answer.

“For too long the problem was that spay/neuter was so expensive that people simply couldn’t afford it,” she says. “If someone has to choose between spay/neuter or buying groceries, then obviously their choice is made. But for many others, accessibility was the key issue. We think these services should be available to everyone who wants them. That’s why we’re here.”

Nolan says 80% of the clinic’s business is from individuals either bringing in their own pets or strays they have found and wish to keep, whereas only 20% of the clinic business is now shelter/rescue. That ratio was different when the clinic began, signaling that the clinic’s attempts to reach the public are being noticed and – perhaps – more of the animals coming into shelters are already sterilized. Customers come from all over Connecticut and New York; a caller can expect to wait approximately two weeks between the call and the surgery date.

Nutmeg Spay/Neuter Clinic, like many non-profit organizations, is dependent on the skills and dedication of small permanent staffs and many volunteers. Their busiest season is approaching, as spring is when new puppies and kittens are born. Nolan is actively seeking applications to support their work in a variety of capacities including clinical (vet and vet tech) and administrative. Please email or call if interested to volunteer and help reduce animal overpopulation.

Natasha Michaels is a contributing writer to Natural Awakenings Fairfield County.

Nutmeg Spay/Neuter Clinic is located at 25 Charles St, Stratford. Call 203-690-1550 for an appointment. For more information about the clinic’s services and hours of operation, visit NutmegClinic.com. See ad, page 50.