Twenty-seven dogs and seven cats were euthanized in 2012 because the Casper city shelter ran out of space. Another 253 cats were killed because they were feral and less likely to be adopted.
Animal care and service workers want those numbers at zero. They are working to make it happen, but it all begins with a comprehensive spay and neuter program.
“Our overpopulation problem in Casper is insane,” said Lindsey Tempest, founder of Tempest Critter Rescue.
She coordinates low-cost clinics in Casper to treat the problem, but she said a few visits a year are hardly enough. The Jackson-based Spay/Neuter Wyoming Program serves people who earn less than $30,000 per year, and the mobile Spay Doc clinic out of Colorado is open to anyone.
Both fill fast. Spay/Neuter Wyoming founder Heather Carlton said that in February, 80 people had already registered for the next Casper clinic in May. She usually takes 160 animals per visit.
Tempest has stopped advertising because of the overwhelming response. In February, she posted a notice on Facebook and had the Spay Doc clinic filled in 48 hours. The resulting wait list amounted to about 40 people.
“I could probably book them every day for a month and would still have a wait list,” she said.
Cost of critter care
The low-cost clinics offer spays or neuters for $15 to $60 depending on animal type and size.
By comparison, a spay or neuter at a private animal hospital can cost anywhere from $59 to $300. Most operations average between $100 and $200, according to local vet rates.
Shye Virgilio, who helps raise funds for area rescue groups, said the low-cost clinics provide a much-needed service because the animals may not see a vet otherwise.
“I think that’s probably going to be what saves Casper from becoming all cats and dogs,” she said. “Because it’s outrageous, the prices to get your animal spayed and neutered.”
Richard Schwahn, a doctor at Altitude Veterinary Hospital, said procedures at his clinic average about $300 and include physical exams, medications and anesthesia. Prices differ by clinic, as do services.
Schwahn said he urges people to consider animal health care costs before buying or adopting a pet.
“I know we like to have responsible pet owners, but sometimes people can’t afford it,” he said.
For those who need assistance, Schwann said he recommends the Central Wyoming Spay/Neuter Foundation. The nonprofit generally provides $50 to $80 vouchers to anyone who qualifies as low- to moderate-income.
Mobile clinic and rescue workers reported a less-than-ideal relationship with local veterinarians, but Schwahn said his center regularly helps other animal service groups such as Paws2Help and can’t assist clinics.
“We’re just busy enough the way we are,” he said. “We’re not able to help.”
Schwann admitted the low-cost clinics could be considered competition.
Kate Gies, with the Spay Doc mobile clinic, and Tempest said their goal is not to take business but treat animals, many advanced in age, whose owners can’t afford a private animal hospital.
“It’s just not happening,” Gies said. “So we try to fill that need.”
Aside from adding to the population and overcrowding shelters, letting unaltered animals abound spreads disease and increases the risk of reproductive cancers.
Animal-to-animal reproductive diseases and rabies could potentially spread from unvaccinated feral animals to domestic pets. Animals in heat also tend to wander, mark their territory and exhibit destructive behavior more often than spayed or neutered animals.
For those reasons, Gies said fixed animals are less likely to be abandoned.
“They’re much better pets,” she said. “They’re much less likely to end up in the shelter.”
Feral animals can be an annoyance to the neighborhoods they frequent, as well. In Casper, Tempest said she targets areas northeast of the city where she knows overpopulation is at its worst, and Schwahn said he sees cats living under trailers and inside barns.
“When it comes to the pet population situation, we just know that there’s pockets of cats out there,” Schwahn said. “Feral cats.”
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Animals that end up at a shelter stand a better chance if they are domesticated and spayed/neutered, two things feral felines are not. Justine Tuma, a kennel technician at Metro, said wild cats are often put down because they are not adoptable.
“They’re usually a high rate of euthanasia compared to dogs,” she said.
Metro killed more than 200 feral cats last year. It’s one solution to the problem, but animal advocates are convinced a less objectionable option exists.
“Those cats end up euthanized in huge numbers because they’re feral when it could all just be prevented,” Gies said.
Attacking the source
In an effort to prevent the unnecessary deaths of unwanted animals, rescue groups and clinic staff members are fighting to contain the existing population and prevent further growth.
The low-cost clinics have immense support from local rescues in Casper, but there’s room to grow when it comes to local practices. Carlton said veterinarians help out in Rock Springs, Star Valley, Jackson, Riverton and Lander. One Casper vet, who Carlton didn't want to name because of the potential backlash, does assist with extra clinic clients. In Gillette, Green River and Lyman, animal shelters create a list for the clinic and suggest the services to pet owners who need it.
“In my mind, that’s ideal because the shelters know who has money and who doesn’t have the money,” Carlton said. “They know the people who keep bringing in puppies every year, kittens every year because they’re not spaying their animals.”
It costs her about $5,000 for each clinic. In the future, she hopes to put the money into vouchers instead of a physical surgery center. With funding from the city of Rock Springs, she is testing that format.
“If this works, it’s a whole lot easier for me to send the town money to match them, motivate them to do a voucher program, than it is to haul equipment around,” she said.
The Central Wyoming Spay/Neuter Foundation currently provides vouchers to low-income individuals, and applications are available at Metro. Interim Director Scott Schell said the shelter does not spay or neuter animals before they are adopted but requires the procedure. The shelter checks with the family and their veterinarian after about 30 days to confirm the surgery was performed.
Schell said it would be easier to spay and neuter animals before releasing them, but it might affect current adoption prices.
“Right now, it’s not in our budget,” he said.
To deal with the population of feral animals already prowling the city, Spay Doc is seeking funding for a Trap/Neuter/Release (TNR) program. A PetSmart grant made TNR possible in Douglas, and Gies said she would like to start the program in Casper.
By trapping wild cats, fixing and releasing them, it controls the population. Tempest said she’s already used live traps on a few occasions for the same purpose. Cats are territorial and will keep other strays from moving in.
“You have your community cat,” she said. “It’s going to keep your mouse problem down. They’re not going to be reproducing, and then you’re not going to have unaltered ones moving in.”
In the fall of 2009, Carlton’s clinic began visiting Casper. She tracks kill-shelter rates across the state and said that since then, the city shelter has decreased its euthanasia rate by about 45 percent.
Carlton said the clinics also benefit local shelters by saving them money and the emotional distress of euthanizing otherwise healthy animals.
“I’m hoping that we can make a difference,” she said. “And we can stop using euthanasia as a form of animal control.”
Although euthanasia statistics for years prior to 2012 were unavailable, Schell agreed that there has been a general decrease in the practice at Metro.
“With the help that we get from the rescue groups, it’s not a massive euthanasia like it used to be when I first started years ago,” he said.
Schell has spent 14 years at the shelter and said in recent years, animals might be euthanized a few times per month during the busy season of spring and summer when Metro runs out of room.
Even that could be avoided.
Gies said she’s witnessed similar cities such as Chadron, Neb., fix the pet population in less than five years with comprehensive spay and neuter efforts. The result is fewer animals in shelters and fewer killed for lack of space.
“Casper could be a no-kill community,” she said.
“We definitely could,” Tempest agreed.