The Star-Herald

Funding means cat clinics will continue

CARIBOU, Maine — A local cat rescue organization will continue its mission to provide feline spay or neuter surgery and meet the needs of pet owners in Aroostook County, thanks to $52,000 in grant funding.

Norma Milton, president of the Halfway Home Pet Rescue in Caribou, said the pet rescue received a total of $52,000 in funding for the continuation of their community spay/neuter clinics for cats throughout the region.

The Maine Community Foundation awarded the organization $10,000 and the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation provided $42,000 to ensure the continued feline sterilization programs, as well as the pet food pantry for disadvantaged families due to COVID issues and the Meals on Wheels Program through the Aroostook Area Agency of Aging located in Presque Isle. 

The Caribou Wellness Center provides space for the clinic team’s surgical unit. In addition, the Sewall Foundation grant provided for repair of the HHPR’s leaking warehouse roof on Broadway Street in Caribou. 

According to Milton, the sterilization of the stray, feral and unwanted feline population program has decreased the intake figures of at-risk animals by over 70 percent in area humane shelters, a figure she felt was conservative.  

“It has made a huge difference in the notorious ‘kitten session,’ which we [rescue staff] actually dread each year. Those kittens are cute, but they grow up fast and then they are joining the reproduction team in massive numbers,” Milton said.

Feline overpopulation causes problems not only due to space limitations, but added health expenses, she said. 

“In past years, the kitten season quickly overflowed most shelter populations and caused a lack of space for additional at-risk cats. Also, the larger the number of animals in the shelter, the more incidents of URI (upper respiratory disease) and other contagious illnesses,” Milton said.

The medical team of the Back Woods Vet, owned by Beth Sperry, DVM, travels to Caribou from Portland for three-day clinics four times each year.  The team sterilizes approximately 150 publicly owned, sheltered and feral cats per visit. Sperry’s team also travels to Houlton for several other spay/neuter clinics at the Houlton Humane Shelter. 

Halfway Home Pet Rescue, a volunteer-based pet rescue with 30 dedicated volunteers, networks with various other pet and human welfare agencies to provide support through several channels, including the Maine Animal Welfare Department through Aroostook County agent Chrissy MacFarland to help provide pet food to families in need. Additionally, the Animal Refuge League in Greater Portland provides a broader adoption platform for Aroostook County stray cats, and the Friends of Feral Felines in southern Maine provides a safe and warm environment for vetted feral cat colonies keeping bonded feline family units together. 

Various social agencies also contact HHPR for food supplies or boarding needs for at-risk clients with beloved pets, including the Battered Women’s Shelter, Homeless Shelter and veterans groups. 

HHPR partners with the Central Aroostook Humane Society in Presque Isle, inviting the sister shelter to participate in the free spay/neuter clinics. The Presque Isle shelter, in turn, provides any additional space when needed for at-risk cats that HHPR might not have room for. 

“Altogether, this networking of various humane agencies has been a huge success for Aroostook County cats, but most importantly, if it wasn’t for the generous grants from the Maine Community Foundation and the Elmina B. Foundation, none of this would be possible,” Milton said. 

“Just a few years ago this program seemed an impossible dream. Now the dream is our reality.”

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