IT ALL started with one underfed cat, and now 12 cats and kittens livearound Ron and Carole Hardesty's home in Sykesville.
In the winter of 1998, their son, Ryan noticed a cat had taken up residence under a backyard shed. Ryan started feeding the cat occasionally. That spring, Ryan noticed kittens around the shed.
"The two kittens were so cute," said Carole, "and we kept feeding the mother, and now the kittens. In hindsight, we should have taken action to resolve the situation then. We just didn't realize what this would lead to."
Then, this past spring, the original mother had two more kittens, and her original two kittens each had a litter of their own.
"At this point, we came to the realization that something must be done immediately," Carole said.
But she ran into problems.
"I made several calls and found I could obtain certificates to have these cats spayed for $35 each. That appeared to be a reasonable fee. I was given the names of several vets in this area and called to get additional information. I found that these vets required an initial examination plus a series of shots. That would bring the cost to $60 or more for each cat, plus the original $35 fee for each spaying operation."
That brought the potential cost to about $300, which was a shock to a family that had never set out to be cat owners. That didn't include the three litters of kittens that resided outside their home.
Spay/Neuter All Pets (SNAP) is an organization that issues discount certificates for such services. SNAP (410-885-5783) was founded 20 years ago by Ben Small to give pet owners a reduced fee for spaying and neutering their dogs and cats, while matching them to a participating vet. He retired in 1998 but left a dedicated group of volunteers to answer phones and inform people how to get their certificates.
One volunteer, Alice Spaskiel, spends her time fielding about 50 phone calls a day.
"We really have a problem with unwanted pets in this area, especially cats," Spaskiel said. "Every shelter that takes in animals is overflowing. A lot of people are unaware that cats can get pregnant while they're nursing. And female cats will breed with their brothers and their sons, so you can see how the problem gets out of hand."
SNAP charges $50 to spay a female dog and $35 to neuter a male dog. Spaying a female cat is $35, while a male cat can be neutered for $20. Spaskiel urges pet owners to call the individual vet they plan to use to find out about any additional charges.
Several other low-cost spay and neuter programs are available to Howard County residents, and prices will vary slightly. The Maryland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (410-235-8826) offers similar low-cost spay and neuter certificates that can be used at participating vets.
The Humane Society of Baltimore County (410-833-4480) sponsors discount clinics for the procedures. Closest to home, the Animal Welfare Society of Howard County (410-465-4350) sponsors discount clinics at its low-cost spay and neuter center.
But the Hardestys were dealing with many cats and couldn't find a vet that would spay them without charging for a physical and additional shots and tests. Despite the drawbacks encountered, Ron wanted to help the cats. He hoped to find homes for the kittens.
"The kittens are very friendly, and we believe [they] would make great pets," Carole said. "We would love to find homes for them and keep the original mother and her two offspring."
But when Carole contacted several animal support groups, she found they were overwhelmed with kittens and couldn't accept anymore.
A friend urged Carole to contact Animal Advocates of Howard County, an all-volunteer group of county residents. The organization was founded 10 years ago by Dr. Martha Gagnon.
Animal Advocates led them to the Animal Welfare Society. They plan to get the three oldest females spayed and keep them at their home.
The remaining kittens will be placed for adoption. Volunteers from the Howard County Cat Club (410-730-3679) have offered to show them at Petco in Ellicott City.
As for the male cat that started this problem? Well, the Hardestys think they know who he is, and he is alive and well, roaming the fields in Sykesville.
If you live in Sykesville and you have an unaltered orange, male cat, have him neutered.
If you have cats or dogs that go outside, have them spayed or neutered. The Hardestys, and many others, will thank you.
Eric Buchner, a recent River Hill High School graduate, is the local winner of a scholarship from Padgett Business Services Foundation.
To qualify for the scholarship, applicants must be the child of an independent business owner. Eric's mother, Susan, owns and operates Siegel & Associates.
Eric plans to attend Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
Book on over to the grand opening of the Glenwood branch of the Howard County Library from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Aug. 13.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony, light refreshments and tours of the facility are planned.
The library, at 2350 Roxbury Mills Road in Glenwood, opens to the public at 9:30 a.m. Aug. 14.