ONTARIO — Susan Burkhart does not run an animal shelter. But that doesn’t stop people from calling her veterinary practice to ask if they take stray cats.
“The cat problem around here is really bad,” said Burkhart, a veterinarian and the founder of the Animal Medical Center of Ontario.
“We have people calling all the time asking ‘Will you take these stray cats? Will you take these kittens?’ The humane society is full, there’s nowhere to take them.”
Burkhart can’t take in stray cats and unwanted litters, so she decided to help another way.
Her non-profit, 4 Leaf Rover, will be hosting an affordable spay and neuter clinic on Nov. 6 to help combat cat overpopulation at the Animal Medical Center on 2211 Village Mall Drive.
The clinic is open to feral, stray and homeless cats. Burkhart suggests anyone who wishes to capture a stray or feral cat start putting food in live trap covered with an old blanket or otherwise tucked away, since cats don’t like to be out in the open.
“Cats are not that easy to capture,” she said. “You would kind of wire the door so it doesn’t shut on them and put food out every day for a week. When it’s time to truly capture the cat, take the wire off.”
Low-income pet owners can also bring their cats, but must present proof that they receive some type of government assistance.
“I don’t want to take business from a regular veterinarian because that’s how local veterinarians survive,” Burkhart said. “I just want to take care of the cats that are never going to get to a vet in the first place.”
Just five days after posting the event information on Facebook, Burkhart booked 150 reservations. Some calls came from as far away as Cleveland and Zanesville.
“It’s going to be a madhouse,” she said. “We had to stop taking reservations because, frankly, there’s only so many surgeries you can do in one day.”
Burkhart said the clinic will accept some walk-ins, since it’s unlikely that every person who made a reservation will show up.
For $25, cats will be spayed or neutered, receive a rabies shot, receive a dose of flea and tick medication and be tested for feline AIDS, leukemia and heartworm diseases. The fee will also help cover the cost of anesthesia for the procedure and a dose of feline pain medication to take home.
Burkhart said the services cats will receive would normally cost between $200 and $300 at a local vet’s office.
Burkhart founded 4 Leaf Rover in response to the overpopulation of stray dogs she witnessed on a trip to Turks and Caicos in 2020.
Until recently, the organization’s focus has been on hosting clinics and finding homes for strays in high poverty areas of the Caribbean, but Burkhart said the overwhelming response to the cat clinic has inspired her to do more in the Mansfield area.
She hopes to hold low cost spay and neuter clinics quarterly and eventually to purchase a mobile spay and neuter unit.
“I think my biggest hope would be if after doing it several times we didn’t need to do it anymore,” Burkhart said.
“If 4LeafRover went out of business, that would make my day.”
Linda Chambers, managing director of the Humane Society of Richland County, praised 4 Leaf Rover for housing the low cost clinic.
“I think more veterinarians in this community should take notice,” she said. “It’s a major issue, and it is going to take the efforts of more than one small-non profit to solve this problem.