Walk into Paws for Thought Boutique for Pets and at first glance it looks like a charming pet shop. The three resident cats and dog are happy to show you around the shop filled with locally made pet items and art. But the building in Winnipeg’s North End is much more. It’s a hub for pet support and provides a service that is almost unheard of in Canada: cat spay and neuter surgeries for five dollars.
Jessica Thompson, the shop owner, receives different reactions when she offers these surgeries – which can cost hundreds of dollars – for the price of two cups of coffee. Some people think it’s a swindle. Others believe it’s too good to be true and anticipate hidden fees. But Thompson just wants to help as many cats and their owners as possible through the We Are Here for the Animals. We Are Here for You. program.
The Winnipeg Humane Society (WHS) started the initiative. It combines its spay and neuter services with Thompson’s non-profit group CARE Cat Community Outreach. But none of the work is possible without grant support from the City of Winnipeg and The Winnipeg Foundation.
Funds from City of Winnipeg cat licencing fees fuels the program that spayed and neutered 711 cats from April – December 2017. The WHS provided an additional 701 low-cost spay and neuter surgeries with the funding during that time.
“We are thrilled to be able to provide support to help reduce the cat overpopulation problem in Winnipeg and provide positive outcomes for these pets,” says Leland Gordon COO of City of Winnipeg Animal Services.
The We Are Here for the Animals. We Are Here for You. program started in April 2017 and has a direct impact on both the cats and people in the community.
“We are a no judgement program, meaning that if you need help we’re going to do everything we can to help you,” Thompson says.
The community-based program is for cat owners on low or fixed incomes in Winnipeg’s North End, an area greatly impacted by cat overpopulation. These overlooked cats are fixed, receive a tattoo ID, City of Winnipeg licence and vaccinations, if needed, are available for an additional cost. Thompson’s volunteer team provides transportation for the cat to and from the clinic when needed. Surgeries are performed at the WHS Clinic, Machray Animal Hospital, Tuxedo Animal Hospital and Centennial Animal Hospital.
Thompson says these pet owners need a true low-cost spay or neuter solution that considers and addresses the logistical trials some individuals encounter. The response from the community is overwhelmingly positive; for many cat owners, a monumental weight is being lifted from their shoulders.
“People can have a huge problem on their hands in a very short amount of time,” Thompson says about unplanned litters. “But we’re able to fix that very quickly and very efficiently. The amount of stress that you alleviate from that person’s life is monumental.”
Thompson has seen people cry tears of joy upon getting their cat back from the surgery. They know the best thing to do for their cat is have them fixed, but simply don’t have the money to do it. But the low-cost program fills the gaps in terms of cost, transportation, compassion and understanding.
When WHS CEO Javier Schwersensky attended a national conference and told other animal welfare organizations about the program they were intrigued. Nowhere else in Canada is a shelter collaborating with a grassroots organization to provide proactive, low-cost spay and neuter services with government pet licensing fees.
“We had an idea the need for a program like this was there,” says Schwersensky. “But we didn’t know how big and how critical the issue was until we started the program. It’s a truly innovative way to provide support for cats that will not otherwise receive help.”
Schwersensky believes the key breakthrough in the program is providing transportation for an animal to the spay or neuter appointment. A low-cost surgery can be offered, but if the person does not have access to a vehicle they must rely on a taxi or public transit and possibly take time off work. These barriers add to the expense of what was initially supposed to be low-cost endeavor.
Thompson’s role involves not only booking the surgeries, but also going into the community and finding people in need of the program. The latter was quite easy to do, considering word about the program spread like wildfire in the community. In the first seven months of the program 41 per cent of people booked for a surgery were referred by family or friends.
“What it comes down to is if you treat people with respect and you follow through on what you say you can do for them, they will refer their friends and family,” says Thompson.
Her compassion and determination to help set forth a domino effect within Winnipeg’s North End. Cat owners that take part in the program are receiving help and becoming part of the solution. When they refer others to the program, they are directly impacting Winnipeg’s cat overpopulation program.
It’s creating a network of cat lovers who want to make a difference in overpopulation and when they work together as a community, the potential is limitless.
By the numbers: We Are Here For the Animals. We Are Here For You.
- The WHS received over $201,000 in grant funding from the City of Winnipeg and The Winnipeg Foundation for the one-year trial community outreach project.
- The WHS and CARE Cat Community Outreach program use the funding to operate the ‘We Are Here For the Animals. We Are Here For You.’ Project.
- The City of Winnipeg FIXIT cat licensing grant funded 1,412 surgeries in 2017.
- 711 were booked through the new outreach project.
- 600 surgeries were completed during a spay and neuter blitz event in February 2017
- 101 surgeries occurred during a weekend clinic event
- To learn more about City of Winnipeg cat licensing visit: www.winnipeg.ca/animalservices
- The program is growing largely through word of mouth. After the first seven months (April – October 2017) 41 per cent of people booking surgeries were referred by family or friends.