Are you interested in helping the cause of animal homelessness? In my continuing series about Lincoln Animal Ambassadors, I’ll profile a few members who dedicate their time and passions to changing the world of companion animals. Because spay/neuter is one of the cornerstones of combating pet overpopulation, I’ll start with the coordinator of LAA’s spay/neuter program, Pauline Balta.
In The Beginning
Adopted animals have long been part of Pauline’s adult life. Her first came in 1981, when the Balta family adopted a West Highland terrier blend from the San Gabriel Valley Humane Society. A second came in 1993, when she fell in love with a big orange kitten while she was at the same shelter “just looking”. The third came only one year later in 1994 when her family adopted a “brilliant, naughty Border Collie/Golden Retriever blend” from the Capital Humane Society.
During this time, Pauline had little awareness of pet homelessness. That changed when the family adopted a dog in 2002 from Hearts United for Animals, a large no-kill shelter in southeastern Nebraska. Her involvement with HUA, which now includes over fourteen years of volunteer work, opened her eyes to the “the outrageous number of homeless cats and dogs which exist in the United States”.
Wanting to actively do something about the over four million companion animals are killed at shelters annually, in 2008, Pauline joined a grass-roots group that was brainstorming ways to make lives better for companion animals. She felt then and now that there must be a better way to reduce the numbers of unwanted animal litters than euthanasia.
We decided to participate in the LAA program as it is a way of giving back to the pet community and reduces the overpopulation of unplanned kittens and puppies. We have participated since 2009, so about 7 years. Hence we are involved. Spaying and neutering as mentioned above reduces unplanned litters, mitigates future health and behavioral issues, and makes life easier for pet owners.
–Dr. Jim from Vintage Heights Veterinary
Out of those early meetings, Lincoln Animal Ambassadors was born. Pauline started out as LAA’s board secretary, then served as a member of the spay/neuter committee, and currently holds two positions: vice-president and coordinator of the spay/neuter committee.
From the start, Pauline believed that LAA would “grow into a highly successful organization recognized by the community for the work it does.” With her background in organization communication and computer skills, Pauline also felt she could contribute to the success of LAA. For these reasons, she stayed on with LAA when it officially became a nonprofit organization.
Pauline’s Role as Spay/Neuter Coordinator
When the previous spay/neuter coordinator left, Pauline accepted the responsibilities of this position. Pauline turned out to be the ideal fit, not just because of her passion for saving animals, but also because of her knowledge of Microsoft Access which allowed her to develop a database to track all spay/neuter clients. With this she’s able to “record and keep information for all clients ever associated with our spay/neuter program, print the vouchers, and produce reports on the progress of our program.”
Pauline’s duties as the spay/neuter coordinator involve working with vet clinics, clients, and a team of spay/neuter interviewers. I inquired of some of the participating vets about the reasons why their clinic works with LAA. Obviously, a main reason is they believe in the benefits of spaying/neutering animals. Along with this procedure, all of them also offer some kind of variation on other preventative care, again because they believe in its importance. Dr. Megan Elhers stated, “It is important to offer anything that is preventative. Vaccines, parasiticides, routine parastite screening, and spay/neuter options are all important to aid in prevention of diseases that are expensive and difficult to treat. Dr. Kimberly Ehlers noted, “Our involvement with LAA involves performing spays and neuters on these pets, as well as other procedures that may be necessary such as hernia repairs. We do require that the pets are vaccinated and that dogs over 6 months are tested for heartworm, but these requirements are good for proper health care of your pet anyway and should be done regardless of whether the pet is spayed or neutered.” A final reason given by the vets I talked with is the desire to give back to the community. In appreciation for their support to LAA, Pauline has on several occasions delivered baskets of cookies to each vet clinic in honor of World Spay/Neuter Day.
Calls to Pauline from vets involve everything from the clinic hasn’t “received a voucher for a pet parent who called to set an appointment” to the clinic that has “admitted a dog with pyrometra” (a life-threatening infection of the female reproductive tract). In this latter situation, the dog needs to be spayed as soon as possible and so, if the client doesn’t have a voucher and can’t afford the cost of a regular spay, the clinic wants to know if LAA will cover the cost.
We do spays and neuters for LAA to help the community in reducing the number of unwanted puppies and kittens. There are way too many animals looking for homes, and we do not need to add to that burden. If people in the community are educated about getting their pets spayed and neutered, there will be less stray animals, and less pets in shelters fighting for their right to a happy home.
–Kimberly Ehlers from Parkview Animal Care
Calls to Pauline from clients involve everything from they need spay/neuter vouchers reissued to they don’t want to have their pets altered in order to take advantage of LAA’s other services. Regarding the latter, as a prerequisite to using LAA’s pet food bank is having pets fixed. Therefore, Pauline must convince clients to agree to the spay/neuter procedure. She always has on hand a list of “things to think about” when this issue arises.
If you think this is already plenty of duties for a volunteer with a full-time job and a family, Pauline also spends many of her evenings on other coordinator duties. She adds clients and voucher information to the spay/neuter database. She prints and mails vouchers to clients and vet clinics. Finally, she answers any questions her team of volunteer spay/neuter interviewers might have about the clients they serve.
Since becoming involved with LAA, Pauline has experienced both sad and happy moments. Naturally, given her passion for saving animals, her biggest disappointment has come from learning a dog or cat has been surrendered to the pound because the family decided they just couldn’t/wouldn’t care for their pet any longer.
On the flip side, her greatest joy comes from realizing the efforts that pet guardians will go through to keep their beloved pets with them and make sure they’re healthy. “I think about the 19 year-old woman holding two/three jobs who rescued a dog running through her neighborhood. She was determined to keep the dog who turned out to be pregnant. This young woman called LAA to get help spaying the momma dog when the pups were weaned, then went on to spay the pups. Just recently the same young woman called because she had rescued a dog from a bad situation and needed to get him neutered. Stories like these keep me going.”
Currently, LAA’s low-cost spay/neuter services are available at select veterinary clinics and are obtained with vouchers. Pauline’s ultimate dream for LAA is to host a low cost spay/neuter program that is housed in its own building, with local veterinarians volunteering their time to perform the surgeries.
How You Can Help
If you’re interested in helping the cause of animal homelessness, LAA could use your assistance in both small and big ways. To start, Pauline advised, simply educate yourself about the need. You can follow-up on this by then talking to every pet owner who has unaltered dogs and/or cats. “Convince them to spay or neuter their pets.” Actually, when I talked with participating vets about what is needed in the community, all of them stressed education too. Dr. Kimberly Ehlers put forth the idea that, “Some adoption services such as shelters and rescues are necessary, but education of the community about the responsibilities and costs of caring for a pet as a big priority. With education, the need for other services becomes less in demand.”
Spaying and neutering pets helps decrease behavioral problems that can ultimately lead to surrender of an animal. Also, it helps to prevent some serious medical conditions. We know that pets neutered and spayed early have a much lower chance of developing prostate and mammary tumors. They also can avoid emergency surgery related to infection. By controlling their ability to reproduce, spaying and neutering also keeps the numbers of pets in shelters without homes.
–Megan Ehlers from Ehlers Animal Care
If you have the time, a third way is serve as a volunteer with one of LAA’s phone line shifts for returning spay/neuter inquiry calls. Phone calls can be picked up from the comfort of your own home, using your own telephone. Hours are flexible. You don’t need to pick up a call when it comes in, but can return a call from a voicemail message system when it’s convenient for you. Having access to a computer with an internet connection is required, so that you can communicate with the other LAA volunteers. Some experience in viewing and entering small amounts of data on a Google Docs spreadsheet is also be helpful, but training will be provided to anyone who needs it. Duties take up to two hours per week, depending on your shift. If interested, we’d love to hear from you through our volunteer application.
Pauline’s heart has remained solidly entrenched in animal welfare from the moment her eyes were opened in 2002 to the plight of pet homelessness. She continues to volunteer at HUA. She’s also taken on the responsibility of handling pre-adoption home visits for several local animal rescue groups. In addition, as you might expect, she cares for a house full of rescued animals.
If you too are passionate about finding a solution to pet homelessness (and we at Pet Talk hope you are!), please consider donating time and/or money to Lincoln Animal Ambassadors. Be part of making a difference in the lives animals!