The Neuter Scooter reaches a landmark

August 05, 2004|By Vera Eidelman | Vera Eidelman,SUN STAFF

Roger Bryant wasn't expecting to become a celebrity, albeit a minor one, yesterday.

But as he stood outside a brightly painted school bus in Carroll Park, his cats Giz and Snowy tucked under his arms, he learned it was, in fact, his moment in the sun. Or rather, Snowy's.

Three-month-old Snowy, the people in the Maryland SPCA's "Neuter Scooter" bus told him, was their 10,000th "customer"; that is, the 10,000th pet to be neutered or spayed as a result of their 4-year-old mobile outreach program.

Bryant, with hair as white as Snowy's fur, seemed nonplussed, even after he'd been handed a lovely gift basket containing pet goodies. It wasn't like he'd showed up hoping to win something.

"Today was just a convenient day," he explained. "We didn't want no kittens." We includes his wife Nettie, who hadn't accompanied him because she "loves animals, and something like this bothers her. I'm the bad person," he said with a smile.

Bryant was among about 20 Southwest Baltimore residents to turn out yesterday for one of the Neuter Scooter's regular stops at the park. The Scooter, which got on the road in 2000 and has logged nearly 8,000 miles, is out four days a week and stops at Carroll, Patterson Park, Druid Hill Park and Lake Montebello, offering its services for free to city pet owners (though donations are gratefully accepted). It does require that each animal has had certain vaccinations. If it hasn't, the Scooter staff provides them for $25.

The program's purpose is to reduce the number of unwanted pets. As a consequence of the operations it performs, it also makes more pets suitable for adoption. And sometimes, it even makes the animals nicer. According to the Humane Society, a neutered dog is three times less likely to bite than an unneutered one.

"Dr. [Toni] Price has done extra things for the pets," the Scooter's coordinator, Mary Ann Domowski, says of the Scooter's veterinarian. Like doing some grooming and performing extra surgeries. Sometimes, the staff even helps keep pets with their owners. Domowksi recalls one elderly customer who had to have her dog neutered in order to keep it with her in her new nursing home.

"We kept the family together," says Domowski.

While its business and intent are serious, the small staff of Neuter Scooter has had many lighter moments over the years.

For instance, the 36-foot-long bus has a paint job that features its name and pictures of a cartoon dog and cat riding a scooter. But that hasn't stopped many people from mistaking it for public transportation.

"When we first got on the road, people would mistake us for an MTA bus," says Sandy Carrigan, the Neuter Scooter's clinical administrator. "They'd step out onto the street" ready to board before realizing their mistake, she said.

The staff -- driver Jim Rose, veterinary technician Steven Topper, Dr. Price and Domowski -- has seen "a lot of different kinds" of animals, and people, says Domowksi.

In Patterson Park, they have a regular visitor: Audrey, an Airedale terrier, who "loves to come by and check the cats out -- you can see it in her eyes," says Domowski. She's become such a regular that last Halloween, Domowski gave her a stuffed cat that meows.

Then there was the cat named G, brought in by its new owner, who had just found her while driving home from a friend's funeral.

The late friend "always said he hoped he'd come back as a cat," Domowski and the staff were told. And so the cat found a new home -- and got its new name, G, after the owner's friend.

As the program rolls toward its fifth year, says Sandy Carrigan, the Neuter Scooter's clinical administrator, its next goal is to expand into Baltimore County and increase the number of operations it provides.

But for now, the Scooter staff will take a little time to celebrate those first four years, and a little milestone named Snowy.

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