Sunday, September 26, 2010

Speutering in Lamont

There seem to be a couple of schools of thought when it comes to the effectiveness of spaying and neutering in reducing the pet population of Kern County. On one side of the equation is the idea that the overall cost of the service needs to be lowered to a point where the average pet-loving working person can afford it, while the flip-side is the argument that people are just too lazy to do the responsible thing and do what it takes to get their pet altered.

Which is why Lamont was darn-near the perfect place for Friends of the Kern County Animal Shelters Foundation (of which I’m a board member), with assistance from AngelDogs Foundation, to hold our first low-cost spay/neuter event on September 25.

With an unemployment rate of over 20 percent and neighbor Arvin’s at nearly 38 percent, Lamont is the quintessential poor Kern County town. The average salary in Lamont is around $16,000, with the majority of those jobs in the agriculture sector, and nearly half of the households have incomes below $25,000.

We pulled into town before dawn, expecting our mobile clinic to be there waiting for us. As it turned out, the folks from AngelDogs got lost in the pre-dawn light and were delayed in reaching our location by nearly an hour.

Our clients for the morning round of surgeries had no such issue. The first car arrived at 6:45 a.m., with others coming close behind until the parking lot was nearly full with people and their pets when the mobile clinic arrived just before 7 a.m.

It took some time to gather, hand out, explain, complete, check and accept that paperwork that needed to be assembled before the dogs and cats could be loaded into the clinic for the surgery that would end their ability to further reproduce. I suspect that I wasn’t the only person in our group to wonder if we were going to lose some of our appointments over the delay in getting their pets settled in, or if the people we came to help would become angry or impatient with us.

It didn’t happen. Some folks waited in their cars, easing the seat back to relax with their pups sharing the front seat, while those who walked to our location found spaces along the curb to sit, dog leash in hand. We were told stories of dogs who had given birth three, four or five times, dogs who were dumped on front porches or found on the street and given a place within a family. And slowly, we got everyone processed and their pets secured within the clinic with nary a cross or impatient word from anyone in attendance.

Still more people came. Some were told by friends, some saw the activity at the school and wondered what was happening, and some saw the clinic in the parking lot and swung in, hoping we’d have room for one more. We gathered names and phone numbers, knowing another organization was holding a similar clinic the following weekend. We passed out information about lower cost options that were available from other organizations and we expressed our regret that we couldn’t take more.

At the end of the day, more than four dozen dogs and cats were spayed and neutered. While we at Friends are undoubtedly proud of our accomplishment, we could hold that clinic every week for the next six months and still not fit everyone in who desires the service. Even if we ask them to be there at dawn, fill out pages of paperwork and wait for us to get everyone checked in, people will be there, pets in hand, asking us to help them stop the cycle of litter upon litter.

On Saturday it wasn’t about “lazy”, or culture, or lack of understanding about the importance of the procedure. It was about the only two things we were able to provide that mattered: availability and cost. When we’re able to find the sweet spot between those two terms, great things happen.

Friends can’t wait to make it happen again.

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