By Nancy Carlson • Columnist • 

Clinic helps cats, community

How would you feel about driving to Tigard in a van with 30 to 50 cats who had made other plans and were not at all pleased by that turn of events? Yeah, me either.

I can barely stand to transport my own cat across town to our vet on those rare occasions when I can actually find him after I’ve made the appointment. It’s amazing that so much noise can emanate from one relatively small, if unhappy, creature.

But there are people in our community willing to endure and, yes, even enjoy such a ride once a month (I’m told they actually sing to the cats and tell them it’s their lucky day), and I want to introduce you to them. They are the dedicated volunteers for the Homeward Bound Spay/Neuter Clinic for Cats, and what they manage to accomplish is pretty darn amazing.

I’ll start by saying that I have been largely oblivious to the serious problems of cat overpopulation for most of my time in McMinnville. I would like to think this is because I’ve made enlightened choices, but it’s much more likely just dumb luck.

Our house is near the college, and it seems like we average about one cat or fewer per block. We have ours, there’s a gray-and-white fella one block over and a Siamese on the block between us and the highway. It may be that we have many more cats in the neighborhood, but their owners are responsible enough to keep them indoors, which is very commendable.

Indoor cats have fewer injuries, small risk of becoming ill from contagious diseases and virtually no chance of decimating the songbird population. So kudos to you who keep your cats indoors. Mine discovered the dog door within about 10 minutes of arriving home with us from the shelter, and that was the end of that.

But back to the spay/neuter clinic and the very real problems of cat overpopulation in Yamhill County. Cats left intact produce more cats at an alarming rate, which will, in turn, produce still more cats at an even more alarming rate. Those who care about the welfare of animals in our county are all too familiar with these facts. Shelters that take in homeless cats are always stuffed full to capacity, with many more on a waiting list, and many, many more feral or abandoned cats they don’t have room to help, who may never know the comfort of being fed, warm and parasite- and disease-free in their almost always too-short lives.

But thanks to the hard-working volunteers in the Homeward Bound clinic, 50 to 100 fewer cats are out there making more cats every month. In the history of this relatively new program, some1,800 cats have been spayed or neutered. Pretty impressive, yes?

Here’s how it works: One volunteer takes all the phone calls from people wanting to have their cats altered. Owners can’t just show up; they must register ahead. (The number is 971-267-2567.)

Beginning at 6:30 a.m. on the second Thursday of every month, in the parking lot of the Homeward Bound Thrift Shop on Northeast Lafayette Avenue, two other volunteers organize the transportation, making sure the cats are in secure carriers, covered with clean towels to help them feel safer, and carefully labeled so the right cat comes back. Other volunteers on site record basic information from the owners, collect the fee of $30 or whatever part of that the cat owner can afford, and, if the cat has other health care needs, make note them for the vet.

Cats in crates are stacked up like cordwood in the back of vans. The vehicles’ doors slam shut promptly at 7:15, the engines start, and the journey to Tigard Animal Hospital and a better future begins. Cats, most of them much sleepier due to the anesthesia, are back in the thrift shop parking lot at 7 p.m. the same day, where they will be reunited with their owners.

Let’s talk about the details. As I mentioned, the co-pay for both spaying and neutering is $30, but if you don’t have the money, call anyway. The motto is, “No cat turned away.”

All cats are eligible — young and old (kittens can be altered as young as 8 weeks), pregnant or not, feral, strays, pets. Additional veterinary services such as worming, vaccinations and flea treatments are available at a very low cost, should the owner wish. If during the procedure a cat is found to need additional treatment — for an abscess, as an example — it will be treated, and the owner will pay whatever part of the fee he or she can. Nothing is done without the owner’s permission.

A few more kudos for the behind-the-scenes heroes of this project. Hooray for the apparently tireless staff at Tigard Animal Hospital. Can you just imagine facing the task of operating on and treating 50 cats in one day? And yet the staff at this incredibly generous facility does this every month, and it’s not for the money.

Also, praise for our own Petco and the corporation behind it. It’s got to be obvious to anyone familiar with the costs of veterinary medicine that this is a financially costly endeavor, even with donated services. Petco has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to this effort, covering both the difference between what the cat’s owner pays and the actual cost, plus the cost of fuel for the drive each month. I’m going to make a point to say thank you next time I’m in the store.

And one of the farms in our very own annual Lavender Festival donates a portion of all its profits to the local cat clinic. That makes me feel all the more justified in buying an extra bottle of heavenly vanilla-lavender hand lotion next time the festival comes around.

A few details I haven’t covered yet: Your cat doesn’t have to wait for the second Thursday of every month. If you want to avail yourself of this service and transport the cat yourself, you can call the Spay/Neuter line and make an appointment in Tigard or at the Newberg Veterinary Clinic anytime.

In fact, if you are concerned about a feral cat, the volunteers would prefer you do this. Those little fellows are notorious for not cooperating the morning of the transport. But you do still have to call and make an appointment through the program. Also, if you can afford the full cost of having your cat spayed or neutered, please don’t use the Homeward Bound program. It’s not meant to take away business from our local vets.

Want to help? Let Homeward Bound Pets know. There’s plenty of work to go around in an undertaking like this. Of course, financial contributions are always greatly appreciated and tax deductible.

One story before I close: While I was at the site on the second Thursday in April, watching the cats being loaded, a man drove up with a huge crate containing five female cats. A certain amount of controlled chaos ensued, but within a relatively short time, the cats were all sorted and put into separate labeled carriers, covered with towels and loaded in the van. The cats did not belong to the man.

They had been abandoned near his home in Willamina and left to starve or die of disease, but probably not before they reproduced more kittens to face the same fate. But thanks to this man, that wasn’t going to happen. He took the trouble — and it looked like quite a lot of trouble — to load them and drive them into McMinnville early on a cold morning to make sure he did his part to prevent the suffering of innocent creatures.

You have to admire the guy. And he’s not done yet. Those were just the female cats. He’s bringing in a crateful of male cats next month. Kind of gives you hope, doesn’t it?

Nancy Carlson can be reached at

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