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McCallum: Feline Facts Of Life

05/07/12 7:55AM By Mary McCallum
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(Host) At the end of April, just before the build-up to Mothers Day, educator, writer, and commentator Mary McCallum gave the gift of non-motherhood to her community by volunteering at a low-cost spay and neuter clinic hosted by the Springfield Humane Society.

(McCallum) In a church basement that had been transformed into an operating room, I got a crash course in spaying and neutering, vaccine injections and kitty reproductive systems. I saw that a feline's uterus is shaped like the letter Y, and along its two extended arms a pregnant cat's tiny developing kittens are lined up like strings of pearls. Peering over the vet's shoulder, I observed that neutering males required on average a simple ninety-second procedure, while the small army of females took closer to eight minutes each and needed respiration support.

I was part of the Recovery Table team, an assembly line of volunteers working over limp cats still zonked out from anesthesia. We monitored breathing, cleaned ears, clipped claws, checked for fleas and parasites, administered rabies and distemper vaccines, and brought them back to wakefulness before transferring them to cat carriers. With the ferals that had been trapped on a local farm we had to work quickly to avoid the sudden fury of claws if they awakened too soon.

In just one morning, 28 cats were either spayed or neutered and removed from the reproductive stream by a crack team of seven volunteers and one dedicated vet. If that doesn't seem like much of a dent in the soaring feline population, consider this: one unspayed cat averages four litters a year of perhaps five babies each, and she can have kittens for as long as she lives. In a dozen years that mom can launch 240 lives, a conservative estimate. With more than half of our patients that day being female, it's possible that the births of more than 3,800 kittens were prevented. And that doesn't take into account the numbers their offspring would have produced in their own extended reproductive lives - estimates quickly reach the hundreds of thousands. And sadly, most of them would not have found homes.

Owners of the cats brought in that day were taking advantage of a bargain-priced service developed to reduce out-of-control feline populations. Every year, 6 to 8 million homeless animals nationwide enter shelters, and hundreds of thousands are euthanized. Throughout Vermont, organizations offer low cost spay neuter clinics, financial assistance, and "Spay the Mom" programs that encourage families surrendering unwanted puppies and kittens to have the mom spayed at no cost. Dedicated volunteers run Trap Neuter and Release programs for feral cats, and groups like Green Mountain Animal Defenders and the Vermont Spay Neuter Incentive Program work tirelessly to spread the word.

In just three years, the Springfield Humane Society has taken nearly a thousand fertile cats off the birthing train. My stint at the clinic, surrounded by yowling, virile and fertile kitties, redefined some of my assumptions about the miracle of birth - at least when it comes to cats.

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