Angela RodriguezPEABODY, MA – When Cheryl Walsh’s cat “Salem” began scratching and playing a little too rough with her daughter, she knew it was time to neuter her cat. Walsh and her daughter Breanna, 21, live in Somerville, and found the Catmobile parked at the Peabody Petco. The Catmobile is owned and operated by the Merrimack River Feline Rescue Society (MRFRS), and had expanded their visits to Peabody, which was good timing for Walsh.
“He’s getting aggressive, and I was afraid he would scratch my daughter and infect her,” said Walsh, whose daughter has a spinal cord injury and is susceptible to blood diseases due to Addison’s disease. “Since Breanna is in bed all the time, Salem (who Breanna named because he is all black) has been a good companion,” Walsh said.
The Catmobile—which was designed and retro fitted specifically for cats—began operation in October of 2008, according to Stacy Lebaron, president of the MRFRS. “We’ve seen about 16,000 cats and kittens since opening, which is about 5,600 cats a year that we help through this program,” Lebaron said.
The Catmobile parks in the Petco parking lot of Peabody every other Thursday. Their next stop there will be Thursday, November 3rd, after visits in Lowell, Methuen, southern New Hampshire, and other areas across the North Shore.
The MRFRS started the Catmobile after hearing about the idea from another program in Connecticut, and received a grant from PetSmart Charities to start the program. “Dr. Deborah Bradey (the shelter’s vet) was very interested in it, so she took things from there and made the program our own,” said Lebaron.
Cats can be dropped off in the mornings and picked up at the end of the day. Services include brief exams, spay/neuter, rabies vaccination, flea treatments, and nail trims. Dissolvable stitches are used in female cats and gone within four weeks, whereas male cats that are neutered do not have any stitches after the operation. The Catmobile uses all state of the art new equipment while operating on the cats, and the cost is $100 for spay and $75 for neuter.
Located in Salisbury, the MRFRS has many cats available for adoption since they work exclusively with felines. But the program has also recently expanded and is the only Catmobile service on the North Shore. Similar programs such as the South Shore Spay Wagon operate on the Cape and South Shore. But the MRFRS is only one who operates and sees the cats of the North Shore, Merrimack River Valley, Boston areas and Southern NH. Lebaron said the Catmobile’s main purpose is to help reduce the intake of cats in shelters.
“It’s a real problem. We have a huge overpopulation, and we have people who don’t get their cats fixed so when a mother has kittens, they give them away for free,” said Heidi Roberts, President of Friends of Beverly Animals located in Beverly. “I get calls two or three times a day and emails from desperate people wanting to get rid of the cats. Shelters are full, there’s nothing (else) that can be done.”
The Catmobile has the capacity to operate on 40 cats a day. “We want to stop the intake of cats into shelters, which is now lower by 50 percent,” said Lebaron. “Ninety nine percent of people who bring their cats to the Catmobile have never seen a vet, so we are their opportunity to get what the cat needs without having them spend lots of money at the vet.”
According to Roberts, the problem is in every town, and not everyone has access to shelters. “What we need is people to help foster and care and raise money,” she said. “Otherwise, we will have colonies of cats running around, and it will become worse than what it is now.”
For more information on the Catmobile’s schedule, visit http://www.mrfrs.org/subpg/about/contact.php