Volunteers, local clinic continue cat neutering efforts

Sixteen felines had no idea what they were in for Monday evening as they went about their business doing what barn cats do on a lovely late summer's eve.

Their owners, Don and Sherri Weisman, of North Laurel, were planning to catch them.


Assisted by a team of Laurel Cats volunteers — Katina and Jim Brandt, Bethany Penoyer and Garry Fitzgerald led by Helen Woods — Don Weisman set traps provided by the nonprofit spay and neuter organization to capture his barn cats for transport to the Spay Now Animal Surgery Clinic on Sept. 8.

"They're comfortable with you being around," he said, "but they're not lap kittens."

Weisman, who has been taking in and sheltering abandoned cats on his rural property on Old Columbia Road for the past four to five years, said the 16 barn cats are the most he's ever owned.

"People just dropped them off on the road," he said. "I've seen them do it; and when they come here, I'm soft-hearted and I feed them."

The cats sleep in the hayloft in his barn. Weisman said it broke his heart not to feed his "critters" as usual the night before or the morning of the trapping, but they needed to be hungry to go after the bait.

Sherri Weisman said she was excited and relieved that "Don's cats" were going to get fixed with the help of Laurel Cats. The nonprofit took care of the cost and arranged transport for the neutering and spaying.

Don Weisman said he went to Howard County Animal Control asking for help and had taken a couple of cats there in the past but was told that if he took any more, they would likely be euthanized.

"I love all kinds of animals," he said.

The Weismans also own two rescue dogs, five garage cats (which they paid $100 each to have spayed and neutered) and a 27-year-old horse named April; the retired couple said they could not afford to pay to spay and neuter 16 more cats.

State funding

Sherri Weisman was purchasing cat food recently at a local supermarket and commenting on the cost, only to find the cashier volunteered at Laurel Cats.

The all-volunteer community group provides no-cost spay and neuter services to Laurel owners. Woods, the Laurel Cats president, said the organization helped the Weismans through a recent extension of a $20,000 grant awarded by the state's Spay Neuter Grant Program last year.

The state program grew from 2013 legislation funding low-cost sterilization of cats and dogs — bills sponsored by Del. Barbara Frush, representing Laurel, and Prince George's County State Sen. Joanne Benson, both Democrats.

"We completed a number of apartment complexes [along Route 197] over the winter and spring and had some phenomenal successes including a 'zero kitten' report in the Fox Fire apartments, which had a very large number of unfixed cats," Woods said.


But, she said, locating and providing the spay and neuter services to all of the cat owners living in apartments along Route 197 in South Laurel — the main target area — had yet to be completed; the effort had been more labor-intensive than expected.

Laurel Cats, one of four current Prince George's County-based recipients of the program's grant money, had spent a third of its share by this summer, and applied for an extension through the end of 2016. Laurel Cats also requested to use its grant funds to assist low-income cat owners throughout Laurel in Anne Arundel, Howard and Prince George's counties.

The state granted the extension and clarified that the funds could be used throughout Laurel to spay and neuter outdoor cats as well as indoor cats, as long as they were owned.

"People often think that Laurel Cats is a cat program; but, in fact, it is a people program," Woods said. "This grant provides us the resources we need to help people in need in our community."

Brad Howard, co-owner of the Spay Now Animal Surgery clinic, said Laurel Cats is the reason the clinic opened on Van Dusen Road in Laurel in October 2012.

Howard and his wife, veterinarian Kate Howard, of Graysonville, also own a Spay Now Animal Surgery clinic on the Eastern Shore, where Woods had been driving cats from Laurel.

The clinic charges a modest $55-65 for cat spaying and neutering services with a $5 discount for low-income owners at both locations.

Howard said the for-profit clinic barely breaks even on its spay and neuter services, but is able to subsidize the discounts by charging standard fees for other veterinary and surgical services.

Woods said she persistently lobbied for the Howards — who occasionally adopt animals out of their clinics — to open a low-cost clinic in Laurel.

"Laurel has a large feral population," said Woods, who described herself as "being owned by four cats."

On the day the Laurel Spay Now Animal Surgery Clinic opened, Howard said it spayed and neutered 30 cats. The clinic now spays and neuters about 4,000 cats a year including hundreds brought to the clinic by Laurel Cats volunteers. Woods said her organization has taken about 150 cats there, so far, in 2015.

"I see Laurel Cats as providing an essential community service," Howard said.