A pregnant cat, which came from a family friend, soon led to a full house for Lee Mitchell.
Mitchell, 50, of Cedar Rapids, was able to find homes for five of seven kittens, but kept two, along with “Mama,” the stray that showed up at her friend’s house.
“No more babies, I promised her,” Mitchell said with a smile, as she brought Mama and the two kittens to opening day of the Iowa Humane Alliance Regional Spay/Neuter Clinic.
At $40 per cat, the surgeries were affordable, Mitchell said, adding that she will take the cats to the veterinarian her dog sees for other needs.
That’s the point of the clinic, which opened its doors Monday at 6540 Sixth St. SW.
Development Director Kathleen Schoon said specializing in high-volume spaying and neutering of cats, dogs and rabbits keeps costs low, making the surgery affordable for more pet owners in hopes of making a difference in the pet overpopulation problem.
The clinic is not a shelter, but works with animal rescue groups as needed, Schoon said.
A dozen cats and dogs awaited surgery Monday morning in the 2,400-square-foot building the Iowa Humane Alliance is purchasing with help from grants, fund-raisers and donations.
Executive Director Mary Blount Mincey said the goal is to sterilize 35 animals per day, or about 8,000 annually.
Blount Mincey co-founded the non-profit in 2008 after realizing the need: each year, 4 million cats and dogs are euthanized in United States shelters alone.
The Floods of 2008 brought the problem to the forefront, as stray cats began breeding in vacant flooded homes.
Estimates of 22,000 cats roaming the streets of Cedar Rapids were probably low, Blount Mincey said.
“Pet overpopulation is a problem across the nation,” said Diane Webber, manager of Cedar Rapids Animal Care and Control. “Our cat numbers just keeping going up and up every year, with no homes for them.”
Webber said 120 cats are at the shelter currently, with a peak of 184 last summer.
Litters are starting earlier in the year, moving from the norm of May to April, she noted, which makes now a prime time to have animals sterilized.
The cost to euthanize one animal is more than $60, Webber said. In 2011, 80 percent of dogs, but only 49 percent of cats, were adopted or returned to owners.
Cat numbers are also high at the Cedar Valley Humane Society, which handles animal control duties for much of Linn County outside of Cedar Rapids.
Executive director Chuck Tourtillott said through November, the group took in 1,617 animals, with a “save rate” of 83 percent, or 1,150.
“We’re pretty much always full on cats,” he said, citing about 50 at the shelter at 7411 Mount Vernon Rd. SE, along with at least 15 dogs.
Although the groups may compete for the same philanthropic dollars, Tourtillott applauded the Iowa Humane Alliance's efforts.
“There will be fewer unwanted animals, so that’s a good thing,” he said.
Tom Colvin, executive director of the Des Moines-based Animal Rescue League of Iowa, said high-volume programs can be effective.
He cited an effort that targeted three areas of Des Moines where cat overpopulation was a particular problem. Providing free spaying and neutering cut the number of strays in half, he said.
Iowa Humane Alliance will offer subsidies for low-income pet owners as funds are available. The group’s staff of eight includes veterinarian Dr. Jennifer Doll, the clinic’s medical director.
Staff trained with a mentoring program in Asheville, N.C. to prepare for the opening; part of the Asheville team is assisting at the clinic this week.
The clinic could be perceived as competition for established sites, but veterinarians pointed to differences between their practices and the Iowa Humane Alliance.
For example, Dr. Leigh Ennen, co-owner of Edgewood Animal Hospital in Cedar Rapids, recommends pre-anesthetic blood work as an added safety measure.
Dr. Ryan Steen, owner of Frey Pet Hospital in Cedar Rapids, said his clinic offers laparoscopic surgery, which allows for quicker recovery times.
Both also noted the importance of continuity of care.
“I think there is a lot of benefit in your doctor knowing your pet,” Steen said.