It looks more like a setting for the Barnum & Bailey’s Circus than it does a pet clinic, but Missoula’s Western Montana Fairgrounds serves as a makeshift spay and neuter clinic from June 15-19. Behind the chain-link fence (posted to which is a well-ignored sign reading “No dogs”), Missoula area cat and dog owners take their pets to be de-sexed. On a table inside one of the fairgrounds’ buildings, a little black cat named Panther sleeps beneath a blanket after surgery, just one of the hundreds of cats that have been and will be neutered or spayed at this “demonstration clinic,” which has gathered volunteers and pro-bono veterinarians in an attempt to bring Missoula’s pet population under control.
Last year, the Missoula Humane Society and Animal Control received 6,072 animals, and 2,076 were destroyed. A majority of these animals were cats, which, according to Jean Atthowe, coordinator of the Montana Spay/Neuter Task Force, are harder to control than dogs, since they’re harder to find and breed more rapidly.
Atthowe moves briskly about the fairgrounds, overseeing opening day of her team’s five-day Missoula stint. She’s taken the task force on 48 community visits since 1996; this is their first clinic in Missoula.
With 2,076 animals euthanized last year, Lou Ann Crowley of the city’s Public Safety and Health Committee realized that Missoula needed help.
“I don’t know if the city’s really known what to do about [pet overpopulation] before,” says Crowley. “This is one of the options that came to our attention, so we took it.” Last October, the task force sterilized 1,167 animals in Bozeman, traveling the Montana countryside in a bright yellow S.P.O.T. (Stop Pet Overpopulation Today) bus filled with sterilization pads and surgical scissors. But even with five days, Atthowe says that her group won’t be able to meet the demand in Missoula, due to an unexpected kink in their resource supply, which is private foundation money. But Atthowe’s goal is not to fix every pet in the city whose owner could otherwise not afford the trip to the vet, but to educate the public that overpopulation needs to be dealt with. To Atthowe, such issues are critical not only to the health and dignity of the city’s pet population, but of the human population as well. “Accepting that the answer to pet overpopulation is the killing of healthy, adoptable animals can be looked on as a form of violence that is accepted by society,” she says. “It’s allowing a community to be uncivil. If we agree that a society, to be civil, provides museums and ballparks and music halls, and if humans have the same need for animals that they do for music, then it’s the job of the community to help people have animals responsibly. Providing that is no different than providing children with play parks.”