Low cost spaying and neutering may help curb feral cat problem

OKEECHOBEE — Operation SOS, a non-profit that offers low-cost spay and neutering, will be offering its services at an even lower price thanks to a generous donation from former Okeechobee Humane Society/Pet Rescue CEO Belinda Forlifer.

From April 1 through the end of September, feline surgery will cost $25 and canine surgery will cost $50.

Dr. Julie Kittams, president and lead veterinarian of Operation SOS, explained why spaying and neutering pets is so important.

A puppy named Russell wakes up shortly after his surgery performed by Dr. Julie Kittams of Operation SOS on March 28 in Okeechobee. Photo by Richard Marion.

“For us, part of our mission is to decrease shelter euthanasia,” said Dr. Kittams. “People don’t really understand how many animals actually have to be euthanized. Animal control is challenged because they only have so many kennels to put animals in.”

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), early spaying of female dogs and cats can help protect them from some serious health problems later in life such as uterine infections and breast cancer. Neutering your male pet can also lessen its risk of developing benign prostatic hyperplasia and testicular cancer.

Removing a female dog or cat’s ovaries also eliminates heat cycles and generally reduces the unwanted behaviors that may lead to owner frustration. And removing the testes from male dogs and cats reduces the breeding instinct, making them less inclined to roam and more content to stay at home.

Operation SOS is a mobile veterinary clinic that travels to locations in the City of Fort Pierce, St. Lucie County and Okeechobee County. When they’re in Okeechobee, the clinic can be found in front of the Tractor Supply on U.S. 441. Operation SOS plans to be in Okeechobee at Tractor Supply on April 12.

If you would like to bring your pet to the mobile vet clinic to be spayed or neutered, you will need to make an appointment with Operation SOS on their website, www.operationsos.net, or by phone at 772-222-7717. Pet owners must show income-qualifying documents, such as WIC, food stamps, disability, W-2s, Medicare, or Medicaid, and they must also show they are residents of Okeechobee County.

“Belinda Forlifer has generously given us a grant that pays for Okeechobee residents to have half the surgery fee paid for,” Dr. Kittams said. “And the Okeechobee Sheriffs Office has hired us to sterilize their shelter animals and provide us with consistent work that keeps us coming back. In all, Okeechobee has been a real blessing to our start-up nonprofit.”

Upon her retirement from the Okeechobee Humane Society/Pet Rescue FL back in October 2017, Mrs. Forlifer stated that her first goal post retirement would be to help get affordable spay and neuter in Okeechobee County. Now, only five months later, that goal is a reality.

A cat and her five kittens await surgery in the Operation SOS mobile clinic in Okeechobee on March 28. Photo by Richard Marion.

If you’re caring for a feral or “community” cat, Operation SOS will also spay and neuter them at a very low cost. Okeechobee residents are encouraged call Operation SOS to discuss your specific needs.

Community cats cost $40, which includes the surgery, rabies vaccine and ear tipping. There are no exceptions, meaning all cats will have all services. If you are unable to afford this rate due to the large volume of cats you are caring for, call Operation SOS as they may have donor-based funding on a case-by-case basis.

“We service eight small shelters that don’t have full time vets,” Dr. Kittams said. “We get to see the fun part where the animals get to go to new homes, but we also have to see the tragedy that when there’s too many, there’s just too many. So for us there is a kind of civic duty that we don’t let animals just reproduce without putting some thought into it.”

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