Starr Lucius attends to some of the 12 stray cats that she feeds twice a day on the porch of her east side home. The nonprofit group Humane Ohio wants to reduce the number of strays in East Toledo and is offering free and reduced-cost spay/neuter services to residents of the 43605 ZIP Code.
When Starr Lucius moved into her home in East Toledo last year, she inherited an unusual responsibility from the previous residents: looking after six stray cats that turned up on her doorstep every morning and night demanding to be fed.
Now, those six cats have become 12, as new strays have joined the group.
"I'm sure they come from homes where people didn't want them anymore," Ms. Lucius said. "It's very depressing. I mean, if you're going to take an animal in to begin with, you shouldn't abandon it."
Ms. Lucius isn't the only one bearing witness to East Toledo's stray cat problem.
Humane Ohio, a nonprofit organization that runs a spay/neuter clinic for shelters, pet owners, and animal rescue groups, has launched a concentrated campaign in East Toledo. With a $38,000 grant from the city of Toledo, the organization is working to spay or neuter 1,400 cats in the 43605 ZIP Code area.
Under the program, pet owners can get cats spayed or neutered for $25, just under half the regular price at the clinic. The organization also will fix stray cats for free if they are unowned, arrive in a humane trap, and receive an ear tip to denote sterilization.
Humane Ohio chose to focus on the east side because figures from the Toledo Area Humane Society show that their shelter takes in more cats from the area than any other.
This year, 9 percent of the approximately 4,000 cats surrendered to the society from all over northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan came from the 43605 ZIP Code, said Natasha Bailey, the society's director of operations.
"That might be an area where the cat owners aren't spaying and neutering, and where people perhaps aren't taking responsibility for the cats to get them to the vet," Ms. Bailey concluded. "When you've got two unaltered cats, a male and a female, they're going to reproduce."
Female cats produce an average of three litters a year, and cats as young as 4 months old can become pregnant.
The result is pet overpopulation. According to the Humane Society of the United States, between six and eight million dogs and cats enter U.S. shelters every year. Because there aren't enough homes for them, three to four million are euthanized.
"We really felt that spay/neuter is the key to helping eliminate and cut down on pet overpopulation," Jill Borkowski, marketing manager for Humane Ohio, said. "We felt that if we could help reduce pet overpopulation, that means there should be less homeless animals in the long run and less strain on animal shelters."
Getting pets fixed can cost money and time, and be difficult for people without easy access to transportation, Ms. Borkowski said. Besides lowering the cost, Humane Ohio will transport cats for free to and from the East Toledo Family Center and their clinic on Secor Road throughout December.
"What we aim to do is take away all the barriers that prevent people from getting their pets fixed," Ms. Borkowski said. Financial assistance also is available for low-income pet owners from any area, Ms. Borkowski said.
That was good news for Ms. Lucius, whose budget is under strain. She spends $40 monthly on cat food, a significant chunk of the $75 a week she is paid as a dishwasher and busser at Bob Evans.
Ms. Lucius already has trapped two stray cats and taken them to Humane Ohio to be neutered. She hopes to take another four. "If I can catch them and get them spayed and neutered, they'll be more likely to get a home."
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