Hot Springs Village Animal Welfare League doesn’t need to provide spay and neuter services for Hot Springs Villagers. The Village is a gated community of retired middle-class people (mean income $51,502) who pamper their companion animals.
When Villagers die or must move into nursing homes, The League steps in to help rehome beloved animal companions. The League provides world-class care for animals who wander into the village as strays or are dumped off here in the middle of the night, sometimes injured or ill, and that happens more than you might think. The League manages a no-kill shelter with six runs, a beautiful play yard, and plenty of volunteers. A strong foster program is a mainstay of The League, and the foster families helped The League adopt out 301 animals in 2013.
What makes The League unique is that they focus on providing spay and neuter (S/N) mobile clinics for their good but poverty-stricken (approximately $13,000/year) neighbors who live in rural areas surrounding The Village. These good people rescue stray and abandoned animals, but they cannot afford to take the animals to veterinarians to have them spayed and neutered. The people pay the clinic what they can afford, but they can’t afford much.
Let me say that again: The League does not provide S/N clinics for The Village; they provide desperately-needed services for their non-Village neighbors who cannot afford to spay and neuter their rescued cats and dogs.
Yesterday I drove around one of the stunningly-poor unincorporated towns where a two-day clinic would begin today at the fire station. The town isn’t even on the census. The world has forgotten it. Even the stop signs are faded to white.
As I drove through the run-down, unpainted houses and the trailers with tape across the cracked windows, I waved to people sitting on their porches. A lot of people were sitting on their porches because nobody can afford air conditioners. The 90 degree heat outside was cooler than the 110 degree heat inside. But despite the oppressing heat, everyone I waved to waved back.
Many of the dogs in this hamlet live in desperate situations. My heart broke when I saw this heavy-coated husky mix chained to a tree with only rocks and dirt for comfort. Panting, he had plastered himself against the side of his owner’s mobile home trying to feel the little coolness that might remain in the corrugated tin. Today the heat will get to 90. He probably won’t die, but he might wish he could. When I saw the BEWARE OF THE DOG sign on the tree to which he was chained, I started to cry. The sign should have said BEWARE OF PEOPLE.
But most of these desperately poor people love their dogs and cats and want to take good care of them. I passed a young woman who was carrying a small Sheltie, pushing her baby in a carriage, leading a Westie, and ushering along her other two little girls. I stopped and asked whether she was headed to the clinic. She said she was. I asked whether I could take her picture. She said I could.
I explained that since Bob Barker died and the board closed his foundation, we had lost a significant part of our S/N funding, and I was trying to write grants to help continue the clinics. She said, “Thank you so much. I can’t afford to take these dogs to the vet. I rescued them this week from a lady who had rescued them from a puppy mill. They stunk and were covered in ticks that took me all evening to pick off after I bathed them. So now I have to get them fixed so they don’t have any more babies. I think this one’s already pregnant,” she said, nodding at the one she was carrying.
She’s the kind of good folks that The League is trying to help. But we need money to carry on the work.
After I left her walking down the road, I went to the clinic to see what I could see. The dogs were all ages and sizes, from a big, grown blue-eyed husky, to a nervous adult Chihuahua, to a frightened puppy, to a rambunctious bunch of year-old mixes of all colors and coats with one blue and one brown eye. I figured the husky was the source of all those youngsters and countless more.
My heart filled with pride as I watched our President Mary, a former nurse, listen to an unconscious kitty’s heartbeat; our Spay and Neuter Coordinator, Angela, comfort a kitty who was trying to awaken from the anesthesia; and a man I never saw before tag a cage for the next patient.
These wonderful people (and 96 more) could have been home savoring a second cup of coffee over a good book, playing a round of golf, or sleeping in. Instead, they were helping animals in need. Not their own animals, but the animals of a community who lacked the money- and often education- to take care of the needs of its own dear dogs and cats.
But volunteers can’t pick up scalpels and operate on dogs and cats. They can’t perform spay and neuter surgeries. For that we need vets, mobile clinics who will come to these poverty-ridden locations and provide the services that the animals so desperately need. For that, The League needs money: $5000 for each two-day spay and neuter clinic so young ladies who try to rescue neglected dogs can walk down the road to get help for them. So big blue-eyed huskies can stop multiplying endlessly. So maybe, just maybe, dogs chained to trees in the searing heat under signs that scream BEWARE OF THE DOG will become only a distant memory.