Wednesday, December 6, 2023
animal rescuecat photographsfeline healthfrankie's friendshealth and safetyHomeless Cat Management Teamspay and neuter

Spaying By Candlelight

veterinarian spaying cat
Dr. Morrow spaying by window light.

That’s not quite the way it was—there were two windows and a skylight for Dr. Becky Morrow to work by in her Frankie’s Friends mobile veterinary van, and that was good enough for the smiling veterinarian as she finished up a spay on a lovely black kitty.

Dr. Morrow had her van on hand for canine spays and neuters at The South Side Dog Festival this afternoon. A few extra openings were available so cats were included as well.

wet sidewalks
Puddles on the sidewalk in a break between the storms.

Neighbors of mine had spoken to me about needing to get their three male cats neutered. They are young with children, in school and trying to work between it all, having inherited a house from her father with pets in place but no car this was difficult and expensive to arrange; they were a little overwhelmed. I told them I’d find the next best deal for them which turned out to be this clinic, and I’d drive them there and back, which we did this afternoon.

As we left with the three cats in carriers in my little pink Ford Escort wagon, raindrops were just beginning to fall, which turned to showers on the six-mile drive. As we arrive on the South Side the rain began coming down in buckets—really, it seemed as if I was driving through a car wash. Once we found the site for the outdoor festival it was raining so hard we had to keep the cats in the car; I ran to the van and got the paperwork while I saw crowds of people and vendors scurrying around to try to get things undercover.

veterinarian with cat
Dr. Morrow finishes up as she explains how she can work with no power.

About an inch of rain fell in a half hour in one storm, then another. Finally we ran with cats in carriers and one umbrella, stacked the carriers in the doorway and handed over the paperwork thinking it looked pretty dark inside there. And it was! The power lines ran along the street where a river of rainwater was running next to the sidewalk and the festival had shut off the power for the safety of all the vendors.

veterinarian and technician with cat
Dr. Morrow hands off the black cat to Lindsay Joyce.

“That’s okay, I can work with ambient light,” said Dr. Morrow as she removed the anesthetic gas mask from the black cat she’d just spayed. “That’s why I like this van, it has windows that let in a lot of light, and the room where I’d learned to do surgery had big windows so I’m accustomed to it.” She handed the sleeping black cat off to Lindsay Joyce, her constant veterinary technician with Frankie’s Friends clinics.

I asked if she could work without power and she explained that nearly everything in the van was battery operated except the water tanks, which she’d pumped full before she began and felt she’d have enough to finish with, and her clippers.

“I can only do neuters for now since I can’t shave the girls,” she said. “We’re glad those are boys you brought!” I had wondered why they cheered a little when I announced we had three boy cats to be neutered—I thought it was because neuters were a little easier and less time-consuming!

cats in carriers.
Several cats are recovering from surgery in the back of the van.

As it turns out, they did have to quit completely by the time we picked up the boys two hours later, but took the remaining cats to the Homeless Cat Management Team (HCMT) clinic in Tarentum to do the spays and neuters. Those cats were a group of seven out of ten for which a person had asked for help in trapping and spay/neuter for cats she’d been caring for outdoors. Several people offered traps and helped her trap as many as they could get so there was not taking them back home without the surgery.

mobile veterinary van
The Frankie’s Friends van.

Dr. Morrow is the president of the board of Homeless Cat Management Team (HCMT) and the founder of Frankie’s Friends Cat Rescue, and frequently volunteers for HCMT clinics as well as holding mobile clinics around the Pittsburgh area. I frequently describe her as cheerful and smiling because even at the end of a clinic serving 100 or more cats she is smiling and cheerful. Her mission is to reduce the number of homeless cats and the number of cats who die in shelters and the best way to do that is simply to prevent their birth; I think the thought of all the births she is preventing makes her very happy and I’m sure it’s what carries her through some very long days.

cats in carriers.
My neighbor with two of her cats as they are ready to go home.

The low-cost clinics offered by HCMT and Frankie’s Friends give people with a limited income the chance to get basic health care for a pet, especially a cat they may have rescued, or to help with a number of animals at one time. At today’s clinic a neuter with a rabies vaccine included was $35, a spay with rabies vaccine included was $50, and other basic vaccines and tests were also available at very lost cost, such as a distemper vaccine for $8 and FeLV and FIV tests and vaccines. This meant that someone who had rescued two female kittens could have them spayed and get rabies and distemper vaccines for $116, which  keeps them from producing more unwanted kittens along with the health risks of reproduction, and protects them from two common and typically fatal illnesses. That’s not perfect feline health care, but it’s the basics and often that’s all a pet owner can afford.

The surgery cycle is also possible in the van because Dr. Morrow uses isoflurane gas as an anesthetic along with a sedative so that cats especially awaken much more quickly and easily after surgery, spending only an hour or two under observation in their carrier and can safely go home for the remainder of their recovery time where they are much more relaxed and less frightened. You can read more about the use of isoflurane gas in my article on the TNR clinic in February.

When I mention these clinics people often question if it’s safe or if their cat will be treated like just another body to have surgery and then be passed along. But at both the HCMT clinics and today I always see each cat, awake or asleep, treated gently and with respect, and often hear remarks about how pretty a cat is or noting interesting characteristics like extra toes.

Even though the photo below is blurry, I like the familiar way Dr. Morrow is holding that lovely black cat and looking down at her with tenderness, as if the cat is her own, and the gentle way Lindsay is reaching to receive her. I have to think along with saving lives, they just like cats too, and will always treat them with love and respect.

two women with cat
Each cat is treated gently and with respect.

Find a low-cost spay and neuter organization or clinic and support it. Offer to volunteer if they permit volunteers, or actively seek out people who you feel could benefit from low-cost spay and neuter; many people have no idea such clinics exist and just asking may open a door, as it did for my neighbors. Offer to drive someone who doesn’t have adequate transportation. It all saves lives, and helps increase the respect for cats in our society.

. . . . . . .

And many thanks to the person who found the courage to ask for help with spay and neuter for the ten stray cats she cared for outdoors, and all those who immediately stepped up and offered to pay for a spay or two, and showed up with traps helped to trap the cats and transport them for today’s clinic. You’re all incredible people. You saved a lot of lives.

Thanks to everyone who nominated us for this year’s Pettie Awards!

No matter who wins which award, several shelters, rescues and lots of animals are the ones who will win with cash donations. And anything that brings people together to benefit animals is a good thing!

Browse some rescued cats and kittens!

cats for adoption

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From health and welfare to rescue and adoption stories, advocacy and art, factual articles and fictional stories, "The Creative Cat" offers both visual and verbal education and entertainment about cats for people who love cats, pets and animals of all species.

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