Every day, homeless community cats and free-roaming felines whose owners haven’t gotten them fixed give birth to hundreds of unwanted kittens. This troubles and frustrates animal rescuers.

“Too often, kittens die out there, or they flood into shelters that are unable to provide resources that newborn kittens need, and their lives end there,” said Helen Sanders CatPAWS cofounder Deborah Felin-Magaldi. “The harsh reality is, so many kittens are born to die.”

CatPAWS pulls at-risk kittens from shelters, gives them any needed medical care, and fosters them until they’re ready for adoption. But although adoption is the best outcome for any unwanted pet, Felin-Magaldi said that the supply of kittens far outpaces the demand, at least in Southern California. CatPAWS, she knew, could proactively help mitigate the number of unwanted cats, and so she came up with the idea of a mobile spay/neuter clinic.

“Spay/neuter has always been stronger than a goal—passion seems kind of weird—but it’s been so foundational to me to stop the suffering and death of underage kittens,” she said. “Having a mobile clinic in a trailer was the most immediately achievable vehicle—no pun intended—to provide additional affordable spay/neuter access to our communities.”

CatPAWS began raising funds in 2022 for a custom-built trailer. That was the relatively easy part, Felin-Magaldi said, compared with the challenges of finding the right veterinarian and veterinary technician, obtaining the required licensing, signing the necessary paperwork and ironing out policies and procedures. It was like opening a brand-new clinic, she said.

CatPAWS located a veterinarian and a registered vet tech who had years of experience in shelter-volume spay/neuter. The CatPAWS Spay/Neuter Clinic is now fully staffed and equipped and is literally ready to roll wherever the need is.

Here’s CatPAWS’ database manager, logistics coordinator and all-around kitty stalwart Lance Smith giving a tour of the new clinic. Video by me.

The team is conducting several beta-test clinics involving TNVR cats (animals that have been trapped, neutered and spayed, vaccinated and returned to their pawing grounds). The testing process helps to see what’s working and to identify additional needs.

“We need to smooth out the bumps,” Felin-Magaldi said. “When we finally do open to the public, we want this to be as smooth as possible. We want everything to be solidly in place to take care of both people and cats safely and efficiently.”

Felin-Magaldi said that the initial focus of the clinic will be on TNVR and community cats. She hopes to alter 20 to 30 cats per clinic.

“This a wonderful thing to have in Long Beach as far as an avenue for independent trappers because appointments are so difficult to get,” said John Crouch, treasurer for the Long Beach Community Cat Foundation. “People that do TNR need to have a stable source of appointments.”

two women in medical clothes and face masks operate on a cat lying on its back
From left, Mary Coder, RVT; supine feline patient; Sandra Park, DVM in mobile clinic. Photo courtesy of Long Beach Animal Care Services

The frequency of the clinics will depend on how much money CatPAWS can raise through grants, sponsorships and donations—each clinic operation costs around $4,500. Felin-Magaldi hopes to keep costs to individuals under $150, hopefully much less with grants or sponsorships.

“It’s just one piece of the solution, but it’s big for us,” Felin-Magaldi said. “Our namesake, Helen Sanders, did trap/neuter/return before people knew what it was, before it became the standard for human feral-cat management. Now, people have taken the initiative to do TNR themselves, so we want to provide a more affordable, accessible avenue to get those cats altered.”

The CatPAWS Spay and Neuter Clinic will also be used by Long Beach Animal Care Services to help with their backlog of cats and kittens and a few rabbits. In return, the shelter will allow CatPAWS to store the clinic on its grounds.

“We are pleased to let LBACS use our trailer as extra space to get pets in the shelter spayed and neutered more quickly, get them ready for adoption, out of the shelter and off to homes,” Felin-Magaldi said.

Felin-Magaldi is confident that the CatPAWS Spay and Neuter Clinic will contribute to a better future for pets, cats in particular.

“You know the starfish parable—all the starfish washed up on shore, dying in the sun, and a passerby saves one, then another,” she said. “Someone scoffs that there are thousands, not all can be saved, and the first person says, ‘Yes, but I saved that one.’

“Yes, we can save some of the individuals, and we should,” she continued. “But maybe we should try changing the current—the conditions that caused those hapless starfish to be washed ashore to die in the first place.”

Read about the CatPAWS spay/neuter fund here.