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Laurel Cats gets state grant to help low-income pet owners

Laurel Cats received $20,000 through the state’s Spay Neuter Grant Program, which the Laurel group will use to help low-income pet owners spay or neuter their cats.
Laurel Cats received $20,000 through the state’s Spay Neuter Grant Program, which the Laurel group will use to help low-income pet owners spay or neuter their cats. (Staff photo by Jen Rynda)

A volunteer group whose mission is to reduce the feral cat population in Laurel has received state funds to help its effort to spay and neuter cats that have owners.

Laurel Cats received $20,000 through the state's Spay Neuter Grant Program, which the Laurel group will use to help low-income pet owners spay or neuter their cats, according to Laurel Cats member Helen Woods.

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The grant is specifically targeted for cats who are owned by low-income pet owners, and will not be used for the group's efforts to sterilize feral or un-owned cats. The group will use a second, $10,000 grant from County Councilwoman Mary Lehman to pay for spaying and neutering Laurel's feral cats, Woods said.

Low-income pet owners often have difficulty paying for spaying or neutering pets, according to findings in a 2012 report of the Task Force on the Establishment of a Statewide Spay/Neuter Fund, published by the Maryland Department of Legislative Services.

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According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Maryland is one of the lowest-ranking states in animal protection laws, 44th in 2013. Amy Hanigan, an attorney and animal rights advocate, said Maryland is not necessarily getting worse, but "other states are improving and Maryland is failing to catch up, just treading water."

About half of the cats and a third of the dogs in Maryland's shelter populations are euthanized for reasons other than the owner's request, the task force reported.

Woods said Laurel Cats will focus on pet owners who live along Route 197 in South Laurel, where Woods said there are many working poor. Working through apartment complex property managers, Laurel Cats volunteers will use fliers or email lists to let pet owners know the group can help with spaying or neutering their cats. A Laurel Cats volunteer, Woods said, would use their own vehicle to transport the cats to the Spay Now Animal Surgery on Van Dusen Road for the procedures, if necessary, and all costs associated with the spay or neuter would be covered by the group.

The state's Spay and Neuter Program grew out of the passage of 2013 legislation to fund low-cost sterilization of cats and dogs. The bills were sponsored by Del. Barbara Frush, who represents Laurel, and Prince George's Sen. Joanne C. Benson, both Democrats.

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"We want to get down to no-kill shelters," Frush said. "First and foremost, I am a huge animal rights advocate. I introduced this legislation, with the help of the speaker of the House and the chairman of the Environmental Matters Committee, because I was appalled at the number of animals that roamed freely throughout the state, that breed or starve and were subject to abuse, rabies and many other problems."

A Spay and Neuter Advisory Board, composed of veterinarians and other professionals, provides advice on how the state Department of Agriculture should evaluate competitive grants.

A fee on state registered dog and cat foods, which began in October 2013, generates revenue for the fund. In its first year, the state collected $393,300, according to the board coordinator, Jane Mallory. This year, based on invoices sent out, Mallory said, the board expects to collect around $720,000.

Stephen Berberich contributed to this story.

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