BY MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Patti Goudey snatches dogs from the jaws of death.
Goudey, co-founder of the area pet welfare organization H.A.N.D.S.S. to the Rescue, saves dogs scheduled to be euthanized at shelters and animal control facilities — sometimes hours before their sentence — because of lack of space, medical conditions or severe injuries.
It’s a job she and about 20 volunteers wish they didn’t have to do, but one made necessary by rampant pet overpopulation. Every year 3 million to 4 million dogs and cats are euthanized nationwide simply because there aren’t enough homes for them, she said. In Michigan, more than 800 cats are euthanized every hour.
And while groups like Goudey’s try to make a difference, their efforts are barely making a dent.
“We deal with, on a daily basis, such traumatic stories on people and their pets. It’s heartbreak,” said June McGrath, co-founder and director of AC PAW, which has been rescuing homeless dogs and cats in the Grand Traverse region for more than 18 years. “We all know that spaying and neutering is the answer. We prevent them from being born and we prevent the pain and suffering that go along with being a stray and abused.
“But it has become very, very expensive and most people don’t have the money to spend $300 to spay their cat and dog. They don’t grasp the real issue with letting them reproduce and giving them out to people, which contributes to pet overpopulation. They don’t understand the force behind why they should do it,” she said.
To help stop the cycle of unwanted pets in the greater Grand Traverse area, the two animal welfare groups recently joined forces with a third — UN-Cats, which provides food, shelter, medical care, and adoptive homes for cats, especially those with feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus.
Together they formed No Unwanted Pets: Spay/Neuter Coalition of Grand Traverse Area. Their slogan: 1 spayed female + 1 neutered male = 0 unwanted pets.
The groups say the coalition will combine resources and clout to spread the spay/neuter message and, eventually, to offer affordable spaying and neutering through low-cost vouchers and other assistance.
“We’re already doing that on a small scale,” said McGrath, noting that the vouchers are low-cost and not no-cost to encourage pet owner accountability. “We’re working with vets and letting them know that the three of us want to do more of that.”
The coalition plans to pay for its work through fundraising projects and already has applied to this year’s SwingShift and the Stars Dance-Off for Charity. The annual event helps raise money for area charities through audience pledges during dance competitions featuring local celebrities and their professional dance partners.
A portion of the coalition’s work will be directed toward spaying and neutering feral cat populations in a program known as Trap-Neuter-Return. Feral cats are humanely trapped, altered, then returned to where they were collected to prevent the birth of new cats in the colony.
“Anywhere there are trailer parks and apartments there are feral cats,” McGrath said. “People come, they move away, they leave their cats. Cats can have litters three times a year, so it goes on and on and on.
"The stray and feral cat population is estimated to be in the tens of millions. Those are the ones that go unnoticed. They’re hit by cars, they’re starving to death. It’s not even being addressed,” she said.
Goudey, whose organization took in 294 pets in 2012 alone, said the coalition’s campaign may not be able to prevent situations like the recent one in Lake City, where more than 150 small-breed dogs were rescued by the Roscommon County Animal Shelter from what authorities called a large, substandard, unlicensed breeding facility.
“The females we took from that shelter had been so over-bred that everything in their reproductive systems was deteriorating. It was just mush,” she said.
But the coalition's work may prevent ordinary pet owners from allowing their pets to breed, only for their offspring to wind up in shelters or, worse, "tossed out to survive," she said.
"I think people think, 'Oh, somebody’s going to want this puppy' or 'That kitten is so cute somebody’s going to take it,' and what they don’t realize is that maybe they gave two kittens away and now they have three," she said. "Or they think, 'I'll just take them and dump them at the shelter and somebody will want them.' But only one in every 12 cats and one in nine dogs gets sheltered. The rest get euthanized because there’s not room in the shelters, because everybody’s doing the same thing."
While all three groups have distinct missions, spaying and neutering is a common objective, making their union for the cause overdue, they say.
“This is kind of something that should have been done a while ago, the groups coming together as a force and working with veterinarians and others in the community,” said McGrath, whose group has rescued 7,500 pets and makes sure every one is spayed and neutered before they’re adopted out. “We all do it in our own niches. It’s such an important issue for us because we rescue, we help the sick and the stray and the injured. But it's a balancing act. We each have to do our own work and now we're asking people to give more."