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Spay station helping to reduce pet overpopulation in Valley

One unaltered female cat - with all of her kittens breeding - can add up to about 420,000 kittens in her lifetime, according to Susan Michaels, the co-founder of Pasado's Safe Haven, a nonprofit animal sanctuary located in Sultan.

Every unaltered dog, with all her puppies breeding, adds up to about 62,000 puppies.

Many go unwanted or uncared for and may be taken to animal shelters or given to someone who may or may not provide the animal a good home. They may also be disposed of through inhumane means, such as being wrapped up in newspaper and put in the trash, thrown out of car windows or abandoned to fend for themselves.

"Over 60,000 [healthy] animals in Washington are euthanized every year," Michaels said.

For Pasado's Safe Haven, which has been around for more than 14 years, the mission was to do what other animal shelters did not do, Michaels said.

"A huge void was fixing pets and stopping pet overpopulation," Michaels said. "We don't duplicate services; we help the animals who fall through the cracks."

So, for the past four-and-a-half years, Pasado's has offered no- or low-cost spay and neuter services through a mobile spay station that travels through King, Snohomish and Skagit counties. The station is the first of its kind in Washington state.

So far, the station has fixed 17,000 animals.

The spay station makes about 18 stops per month working four days a week, with licensed veterinarians and technicians working up to 10-hour days to meet the needs, Michaels said. Pasado's is in the process of developing a weekend schedule to accommodate up to 40 pets.

The station is able to accommodate about 24 animals at each stop because of the cage space inside the station, Michaels said.

"We hate having to turn people away," Michaels said.

The mobile station, which stopped in Snoqualmie on Friday, Jan. 20, and will stop again on Feb. 17 at the city's parking lot next to the Adventure Bowling Center, 7940 Railroad Ave. S.E., makes its stops mostly in low-income areas, typically near the outlying and/or unincorporated areas.

Area economic status is based on police and animal control statistics, Michaels said.

"The majority of pets that are euthanized come from low-income areas," Michaels explained, noting that veterinary hospitals charge a ballpark fee of about $80-$200 or more for alterations, a price many with limited resources may not be able to afford. "How many people can or will pay that?"

The result is that the animals don't get fixed, she said.

The spay station services are free for those with proof of low-income assistance. Those not on assistance are charged reduced fees: cat neuters for $20, cat spays for $30, dog neuters are $40 and dog spays are $50.

North Bend resident Kim Case brought her two female cats to the spay station on Jan. 20 after calling around to veterinary hospitals for alteration prices and finding a minimum of $130.

"This service is wonderful," Case said.

Michaels noted that the station's intention is not to take away business from veterinary clinics and she encourages people who can afford the fees to go to their local vet.

She said that by assisting those who might have difficulty paying vet fees for alterations, "[we're] assisting people in limiting the number of animals [they have] so that they [the animals they do have] can get better treatment."

"I think it's easier to do [getting an animal fixed] since the station is mobile," said Shawn Kuchynka, a Snoqualmie resident who was also at the Snoqualmie stop having his father's 2-year-old cat named Rugrat neutered.

Former Snoqualmie mayor Fuzzy Fletcher was also at the scene with his 5-month-old dog Sasha, an "exotic blend."

According to Fletcher, this [station] is a good thing as the area has so many animals that aren't cared for or are just dumped.

It costs a quarter of a million dollars to put the station on the road each year, Michaels said. It is the largest budgeted item for Pasado's, which supports itself through grants and donations.

The station has licensed veterinary technicians and vet assistants on hand, in addition to a licensed vet, who has been doing spay and neuter surgeries for more than 10 years.

"We pay top people," Michaels said. "All of our equipment is state of the art ... There is no difference [between the spay station and an animal hospital]."

Interested participants are advised to bring their pets to the station location by 7 a.m., as the services are on a first-come, first-served basis.

The station van arrives at 8 a.m. for animal check-in and the vet arrives at 9 a.m. Animals are operated on during the day and owners pick up their pets at the end of the day. More detailed requirements may be found in the information box accompanying this article.

"It's best if they are home with their owners [after the surgery]," Michaels said, noting that a veterinary technician carries a cell phone for emergency calls and, should an animal have an emergency as a result of the surgery, Pasado's will pay for the trip to an animal clinic.

It is suggested that older animals have blood work done in advance and the vet has final say about whether to perform each surgery, especially in the case of a very old pet or one that is sick or compromised in some way.

"Most people bring in the females first because they bring home the problem [kittens]," Michaels said, noting that males may also face problems if not fixed.

Animals that are not fixed contribute to overpopulation and males, in particular, face a host of health problems such as testicular cancer, injuries and roaming issues.

As such, Pasado's also offers "Neuter Scooter for a Nickel Day" where male dogs and cats can be neutered for 5 cents. There is also a spring kitten special (spring has the highest rate for animal drop-offs) where if the mother is brought in with her kittens, the kittens will be fixed at no charge, making them much more adoptable, Michaels said.

Those who don't see the need for alterations don't see the animals that die each year, Michaels said. "They can't visualize how bad it is. If they took a day and walked into the euthanasia room and saw those lifeless bodies tossed into the incinerators ... that's the reality [of overpopulation]."

Alternative shelters that offer no-kill options don't always fare much better, Michaels added.

"It means that when they are full, they are full," she said, noting that means that people wanting to give up an animal will find something else to do with it or some place else to get rid of it.

"There are no 'good' options," Michaels said. "People either fail to see the reality or turn their head because they want to ... [Getting fixed] is a safe procedure if done by an experienced vet team [and] it increases potential adoptability. There's no excuse to not get it done."

Pasado's was organized in 1992 after Michaels learned of the brutal death of Pasado, a donkey living on Kelsey Creek Farm in Bellevue. Three teenagers had beaten him with club-sized tree branches, tied a noose around his neck and hanged him from a tree, strangling him to death.

The sanctuary differs from a shelter because dogs, cats and farm animals are not kept in cages (except upon arrival). Instead, they are free-roaming within secure and specifically designated areas. Some spend the rest of their lives at the sanctuary, though animals are available for adoption and Pasado's is eager to place animals in good homes.

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