Thank you to Karn Myers of FixNation for doing this interview.
1. What is your background with feral cats?
I first learned about feral cats in 1998 while working in Northridge for a firm doing work on the movie “Titanic.” After sharing the new discovery with my husband (Mark Dodge), an animal lover and cat owner just like me, we started investigating. This led us, having both been volunteers for and donors to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary (now “Society”, not “Sanctuary”), to start Best Friends Catnippers (“Catnippers”) in October of 1999, which is a free, all-volunteer program conducting monthly high-volume spay-neuter clinics on homeless cats in furtherance of the humane community-based population control method known as Trap-Neuter-Return, or TNR. Enjoying our work and moving forward, in 2006 we launched FixNation – a separate new non-profit corporation. This seven year experience fully immersed me in the world of feral cats, TNR, caregivers and the community need for a service like FixNation. Of course, this has been expanded measurably, working full-time since July 2007.
2. What made you want to start FixNation?
Mark and I have always treated Catnippers like a business, even though it’s only a volunteer program. In 2006, we realized that we would never really make a difference by doing only 2,600 cats per year. We started dreaming about having enough funding to start our own clinic and offer the community all the resources to maximize the potential of TNR – and all under one roof. This never became a reality until we discovered that PetSmart Charities (“PSC”) wanted to start and fund up to eight new clinics in Los Angeles to spay and neuter cats and dogs. After learning of their plans and acquainting them with the feral cat problem in L.A. (1 million+ estimated in the County), and what a solution FixNation represented, they agreed to fund a significant portion of our startup for the first two and a half years.
3. Where has the funding for FixNation come from so far?
As noted, the launch came from PSC, which made a five year commitment in 2006. The bulk of our funding otherwise has come from other animal welfare foundations, Best Friends Animal Society, Found Animals Foundation and ASPCA. Beyond that, donations have come from multiple sources including major gift donors, grant sources, special events, caregivers, the public and limited extent paid-for (tame cat) services (tame cats amounting to about 15% of our volume). Through the end of 2009 we also received payments from City of Los Angeles Spay-Neuter Vouchers, but that program has ended.
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4. Why do you think the feral cat population exists? Are the problems the same throughout the country?
It all started in the 1950s when Americans across the country started focusing on families, suburbia, new cars, new jobs, economic growth and prosperity – and took their collective eye off of responsible pet ownership. This led to cats being abandoned, surrendered to shelters, or simply ignored in ever increasing numbers, starting the homeless cat problem everywhere the weather, environment, and absence of predators permitted.
Cats are one of nature’s most prolific breeders, as well as one of the most adept survivors when faced with danger and uncertainty. This combination led to a massive, unchecked expansion of the feral cat population. It wasn’t until the 1990s when TNR was dubbed as the only humane solution due to the paucity of sanctuaries as compared with the volume at hand. Warm weather and urban/suburban locales remain the most problematic along with large communities.
5. You spay over 70 cats per day? How do you keep track of who you have spayed and/or neutered?
Our volume potential with two vets on staff every day is 40 surgeries each per day – 80 in total, although our record for a single day is 109. Given the vagaries of trapping homeless cats, it is rare to achieve 80 consistently, so 70 is more realistic. We maintain a clinic database that helps us track all of our surgeries and we are gathering and working with this data to help prove the effectiveness of TNR.
As for tracking cats who have been spayed/neutered “in the field,” each homeless cat that comes through the FixNation clinic is “eartipped” after surgery. This is where the tip of the right ear is docked off. The small cut is made while the cat is under anesthesia and we provide pain medication. The flattened or “tipped” appearance of a cats right ear is the universal sign that a free roaming cat has been fixed.
6. Why do you think FixNation is important for the cat lover and the non-cat lover?
Unchecked homeless cat proliferation taxes our society by making more and more cats become intrusive, annoying nuisances, and increases the burden on taxpayers due to the demands it places on animal control and services. It costs way more to capture, hold and euthanize a cat than it does to have the community fix them and send them back to be cared for as non-breeding, calm felines.
7. How can we help financially?
“Charity needs Charity.” Having TNR embraced and implemented on a large scale is the only way to make a difference in Los Angeles, and the only way to generate such a community response is to offer all that we do and do it at no cost to caregivers of homeless cats. Doing this makes us significantly dependent on philanthropy to sustain operations, since very little of our $1.5 million annual operating budget can be offset by paid-for services (pets, extra services, occasional City vouchers for tame cats only). So, financial help – donations – are always most appreciated, especially at this time, faced, as we are, with expiration (as of 12-31-11) of the commitment by PSC to serve as our main anchor donor.
8. How can we help if we cannot donate money? Is there another way to donate?
Providing exposure to potential donors and stimulating them to appreciate what we do and make cash contributions of scale. Also, volunteers are needed for various purposes all the time.