Whisker Rescue is calling rural cat owners to bring in their kitties for a free spay or neuter procedure.
“I think we did really good, considering we didn’t advertise at first. I didn’t honestly know if we were going to get flooded by people or not,” says Co-Founder of Whisker Rescue Amy Lockhart.
“For the first three or four months the program ran, we really only had a few posters around town in vet clinics, and word of mouth. To get almost 160 cats done just through that way has been awesome. But we have to get 200 cats done total by this summer.”
A grant of $26,590 was provided by PetSmart Charities to fund the program on the grounds that 50% of a designated population be spayed or neutered.
“We had a lot of farmers, and people with acreages calling Whisker Rescue over the years and saying things like ‘These cats showed up on my property, or these cats got dumped on my property and now they’re multiplying’,” explained Lockhart.
“It gets out of hand so quickly,”
Whisker Rescue is a small group of volunteers who do not have a facility to house the animals and so a spaying and neutering assistance program came into focus. Lockhart applied for what is called a high impact grant, meaning she had to prove that her organization could spay or neuter 50% of animals in a designated area.
“I think the biggest inspiration I’ve had from this program is that we’re helping people who literally have 10, 15 or 20 cats. We even had one farm that had 35 cats to be spayed and neutered,” said Lockhart.
“I think it’s such a positive thing to stop these cases from getting too out of control. It’s better for the animals, it’s better for the people who own the farms, and it’s just a win-win situation.”
Lockhart says that Whisker Rescue is looking to a licensing program within Red Deer. Some of the proceeds derived from license fees would go to help fund a future program that could assist those in financial need with spaying and neutering their pets at little or no cost.
The licensing program would offer pet owners some perks, and eliminate fees for having an animal returned or picked up by Animal Services. The licensing also helps return cats to their owners, as they can be matched with registration. The proposal is being modelled after Calgary’s successful license program.
Stacy Worobetz, executive director and co-founder of Whisker Rescue, has joined with members of Red Deer SPCA and Alberta Animal Services staff to form a committee to bring along the introduction of licensing.
“The cat round-up program has really helped out the rural area of Red Deer, and now we’d really like to get this licensing program going so that we can start helping out cat owners within the City,” said Lockhart.
Currently, there are no free spay or neuter programs in Central Alberta. The only similar organization is the Alberta Task Force, which performs mass spay and neutering sessions on reservations. That program was initially created just for dogs, but due to an obvious need, was extended to cover cats in the areas.
Owners who may qualify for the free treatment should contact Whisker Rescue to set up an application. If they are accepted, Lockhart’s job is to put them in contact with a veterinary clinic that then handles the paperwork and actual procedures.
Lockhart says that the vet clinics operating with the program have been a huge help in managing papers, education and client relations.
“For this program, we have a little panel of people who go through applications and make sure everything sounds okay. We’re trying to help people who are taking really good care of the cats – giving them warm shelters in the winter, leaving out food and water and taking cats into the vet if they require a visit.”
For future procedures after the grant runs out, a fund has been started at Whisker Rescue that uses 100% of the donations to perform procedures for those in financial need.
“We definitely concentrate on helping people who are low-income, or have a large, large number of cats, which is difficult to get a handle on. It would cost that person thousands of dollars for those procedures,” says Lockhart.
Worobetz has worked at Deer Park Pet Hospital for 25 years now. She and Lockhart began working together eight years ago.
Worobetz had been attempting to rescue as many animals as she could in her house, and with that spirit, her and Lockhart came together to form Whisker Rescue.
The women realized that as a registered charity they could collect donations to help with their vision, and Whisker Rescue became a charitable non-profit in 2008.
“We’re pretty small – we operate on close to a $150,000 budget a year, compared to the SPCA, which works with millions of dollars each year. From a rescue that was operating on $500 a year, what we’re at is amazing. We’re pretty proud of it.
“For Whisker Rescue, even though we’re small and we can’t necessarily take in all these cats and re-home them, I think it’s important that we are working towards that and looking for solutions to the problem in other ways.”