If you see a stray dog, there’s a 99% possibility they’ve either been abandoned or are lost. See a stray feline meanwhile, and there’s a very good possibility it was born, raised and will probably die on the streets. Feline homelessness is a huge problem across both America and other countries, an issue compounded by the fact most stray cats haven’t been neutered. With each animal (stray or otherwise) capable of producing up to 15 litters in its lifetime, the potential for generation after generation to never to see a warm home, eat a proper meal or experience a loving stroke is huge. Fortunately for those stray cats (and residents) of Washington DC, there’s a team of kind-hearted folks who are doing all they can to bring those homelessness numbers down and eradicate Washington’s problem once and for all.
In 1997, veterinarian Christine Wilford decided to take action against an increasing number of stray cats roaming the streets of Washington state by founding the Feral Cat Spay/Neuter Project (FCSNP). The organization is based on a central premise that neutering stray cats is a quick and easy solution to an otherwise never-ending problem. The venture began its activities by offering free monthly clinics at a Seattle based medical assistant training school. On its very first day, it neutered 11 cats, the first being a young, short haired, black haired, male cat, whose surgery, as FSCNP website notes, marked the very first step in FSCNP’s history and the start of a success story which continues to unfold today. By the end of 1997, Wilford and her team had neutered 114 kittens and older cats in total. As word spread, more and more people began to visit Wilford’s clinic with scores of free-roaming cats and kittens they’d found; before long, Wilford’s team was regularly altering up to 160 cats per session, with each session requiring a team of 8 veterinarians and 50-60 volunteers to assist.
Within just a couple of years of the campaign launching, demand had become too much for its once-monthly clinics to keep up with. In 2002 (a year after FCSNP moved from a purely volunteer-led organization to one which compensated its helpers for their efforts, thereby increasing its pool of available assistance substantially), Wilford decided to increase operations by opening a 836 square foot, dedicated facility in Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle. She also managed to get FSCNP’s board of directors to agree to hire a part-time executive director to manage funding and logistics. Fundraising efforts were stepped up further thanks to a newly created development committee, which focused on securing funding by arranging charity events and establishing a network of coin donation boxes. Wilford also increased the scope of FCSNP’s services to include a basic health exam, rabies vaccination, ear tip (a useful means of identifying which stray cats have been neutered to avoid unnecessary future trapping/ transport for cats which aren’t in need of surgery), FVRCP (distemper vaccine) and flea control for any feline receiving Spaying/Neutering surgery.
By 2003, FCSNP was operating 6 clinics per month, with surgery numbers increasing by 75% over the previous six months. But even the increased number of clinics seemed insufficient in countering the massive problem of feline homelessness on Washington’s streets. Realizing a need to extend services once again (this time by extending the foundation’s services to include all cats, not just stray ones), Wilford orchestrated the creation of the Feral Cat Prevention Program. 3 years later in 2006, PetSmart Charities recognized Wilford’s pioneering work by selecting FCSNP to become a National Mentoring Organization. The recognition was accompanied by a grant to help the organization build a mentoring website to spread word on all its good works, as well as help others to do something similar. The website has since grown into an all-encompassing mentoring program which works alongside community organizations, providing the kind of support and direction they need to set up their own Spaying/ Neutering service.
These days, the organisation hosts four surgeries a week from its new clinic in Lynnwood (an upgrade on its old premise on Roosevelt Way NE, with plenty of parking, a reception area, air conditioning, storage, a meeting space and larger, more up-to-date surgical and prep areas). Those living in areas unserved by similar Spaying/ Neutering programs, meanwhile, can avail of its transportation clinics. Wilford has also increased her bank of staff on regular duty, and her clinic now boasts one full time vet, Dr. Jennifer Buchanan (who will shortly be joined by another part-time veterinarian), along with a clutch of relief and volunteer vets. The clinic also regularly invites interns to join them, as executive director Amy Ferguson told Catster. “It’s a great way to teach new graduates about high-quality, high-volume Spaying/Neutering and get them interested in shelter medicine”, she enthused. Working alongside the vets are a team of more than 100 volunteers assisting with activities such as appointment scheduling, aftercare, craft making, special events, coin can donations and more besides.
Since its inception, the foundation’s activities have increased exponentially, and as of August 2019, it’s performed over 121,502 surgeries. “We are a one-of-a-kind organization. We are embedded into the community and we work closely alongside local trappers and groups to make sure the stray cats are getting the services they need to thrive,” Amy Ferguson has said. “While there are other similar groups in Washington doing amazing work, our feline-only focus makes us unique.”
Multiple animal welfare organizations clearly agree, and the organization has received multiple , glowing letters of commendation from such bodies as ASPCA, The Best Friends Animal Society and The Federation of Animal Control and Care Agencies (not to mention one from Washington state Governor Christine Gregoire). It just goes to show what one bright idea, relentless dedication, and a load of hard work can achieve. Here’s to many more years of success for the team and their four-legged friends.