Neuter Scooter shut down by Humane Society shortfall

February 11, 2005|By Michael Hoffman | Michael Hoffman,SUN STAFF

A Humane Society program responsible for neutering and spaying thousands of city pets has been canceled because of budget shortfalls.

For four years, the Neuter Scooter traveled the city, making the surgeries available for free to dog and cat owners. Now the brightly painted, 36-foot bus sits in the parking lot of the Maryland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

"No one wanted to cut Neuter Scooter, but we just couldn't afford not to anymore," said Randy Brinton, president of the society's board of directors.

FOR THE RECORD - Because of an editing error, an article in some of yesterday's editions on the Neuter Scooter operated by the Maryland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals incorrectly made reference to the Humane Society. The Baltimore-based SPCA and the Humane Society of Baltimore County are separate organizations.
The Sun regrets the error.

The bus stopped making its rounds last month, and Brinton said he hoped the service could be restored if a new funding source was found. Since 2000, more than 10,000 pets have been spayed or neutered during the bus's stops at city parks, including Patterson, Carroll and Lake Montebello.

The program was intended to give pet owners unable to bring their dogs or cats to clinics or unable to afford the veterinarian fees access to the veterinary surgery. The overall benefit was stemming the population of unwanted puppies and kittens.

Some local animal welfare activists disagree with the Humane Society's decision to park the Neuter Scooter, saying the end of the program will cause a serious pet population boom.

The now-disbanded Animal Welfare League of Greater Baltimore gave a $250,000 grant in 2000 to help launch the Neuter Scooter program, and Elizabeth Kirk, the league's former president, is upset that the program was cut.

Kirk argues that with its $15 million endowment and $1.2 million in annual donations, the Human Society should continue to fund the Neuter Scooter.

"I think if they really felt it was important ... they could find the money for it," she said.

Humane Society officials said that if the organization didn't cut expenses, the endowment would be endangered in the poor economy, especially since the group's shelter was expanded.

Jim Rose, who drove the Neuter Scooter since its inception, said the traveling program was a hit, especially among disabled people who were without transportation and elderly people who lived on fixed incomes.

He said the bus became a celebrity and that he will miss the way people blew their horns and waved.

"I can't believe the bus became as popular as it did in a city as big as Baltimore," Rose said. "We're kind of like the moving Washington Monument of Baltimore."

The recognition the bus brought the local SPCA was a factor in encouraging people to bring pets to the group's kennels, said Aileen Gabbey, the organization's executive director.

Each Neuter Scooter surgery cost the Maryland SPCA $80 to $100. About 2,500 animals went under the knife each year, costing the organization about $245,000 annually.

Even though the grant money, donations and vaccination fees defrayed the cost, the organization still lost about $600,000 during the program's four-year run.

The group's board of directors was faced with suspending the Neuter Scooter program or reducing the hours the shelter remained open, Brinton said. After about two months of debate, the board voted to park the Neuter Scooter until more money became available.

An extra $10,000 a month is needed to put the Neuter Scooter back on the road, Humane Society officials said.

To save the program, the Maryland SPCA is exploring ways to make Neuter Scooter more cost-effective, such as charging a discounted fee for the surgery. The organization offers coupons that people can pick up and take to their local veterinarian for a discount on the spaying-neutering operation, but the SPCA leaders want to keep the mobile service for people without transportation for their pets.

"We really didn't want to stop the program," Gabbey said, "but it's sort of like you can't spend more money than you have."

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