Earlier this spring I received an e-mail requesting that I inform readers about the Help Fix ME spay-neuter program for low-income pet owners.
Being unfamiliar with it, I did some digging and had a very enlightening conversation with Susan Hall of Falmouth, who founded the program with Sharon Secovich.
Help Fix ME was started by Spay Maine, Hall explained of the “consortium of Maine’s animal shelters, rescue groups, animal control officers and animal welfare advocates who are working together to decrease animal shelter intakes and euthanasia by working to secure funding for Maine’s statewide spay-neuter program,” and is “designed to assist low-income pet owners with spaying-neutering their pets,” according to its fact sheet.
They’ve been working with the Maine Legislature since 2001 to get the program going, “because of the overpopulation of cats in Maine,” Hall said, adding she is proud of the fact that “we don’t get anything from income tax revenue or the sales tax.
“All of our funding comes from things like the tax check-off, animal welfare license plates, dog and cat food sales, from pet stores selling neutered animals and donations.”
The program has great support from Maine shelter managers “because they are desperate to get animals spayed and neutered,” Hall said.
While dog owners who qualify are encouraged to participate, it is really “people with cat problems we want to call us. That’s our primary focus,” Hall stressed.
Hall said Help Fix ME volunteers receive “anywhere from a low of about 50 to a high of maybe 70 calls a day,” handled by 10 to 15 volunteers who answer the toll-free line from their homes.
Hall rattled off times of calls she received the morning we spoke: “9:13, 9:14, 9:19, 9:22 and then I got a little break and didn’t take another until 9:43.”
One paid employee administers the program through the state of Maine Animal Welfare Program, Hall said, but her responsibility is processing the vouchers.
Volunteers do the rest.
“We screen for eligibility, give advice, and spend a lot of time trying to clear up population explosions,” Hall said.
The cost to spay or neuter animals in Maine can range “from a low of $180 to a high of $330 to get a female cat spayed,” Hall said, “and if you’re on food stamps, it’s not going to happen.”
“What those people need to do is to apply for a voucher, and then go to a vet near [them] and have the surgery done.”
Hall stressed the need to educate the public to call for information, especially to learn whether they qualify for the program.
“You have to be low-income, but you don’t have to be on any government program,” she said.
“We’ll explain the qualifications,” and if it turns out the caller doesn’t qualify, “we’ll try to help them find a place where they can go for a lower fee,” she said.
From what I learned, this is a much-needed program.
I’ll be sure my husband and I check that box on our next tax form, and I would hope that people who purchase dogs and cats will, if they possibly can, include in their budget the cost of having that animal spayed or neutered.
If you are unable to pay for that service, call Help Fix ME at 800-367-1317.
Joni Averill, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402; 990-8288.