Veterinarian Christine Wilford was alarmed by the burgeoning feral cat population in Washington state. She and a group of dedicated volunteers decided to take action to reduce feline homelessness by performing free spay-neuter surgery for feral and free-roaming cats.
That led to the formation of a 501(c)(3) organization called the Feral Cat Spay/Neuter Project (FCSNP) in 1997. The FCSNP began with monthly clinics in a donated space at a medical assistant training school in Seattle. The first cat the organization altered was a young short-haired black male, and his surgery marked the official beginning of the Feral Cat Spay/Neuter Project. By the end of 1997, FCSNP had altered 114 cats and kittens, and was soon spaying and neutering up to 160 cats per clinic session. Individuals and caretakers lined up long before daylight to have their free-roaming cats altered, and reserved spots often filled within the first 15 minutes of opening.
In the summer of 2002, Dr. Wilford gave a lecture in New York about what FCSNP was doing. During that lecture, she was asked if she thought FCSNP was really making a difference with only one clinic session per month. The question nagged at her, and she realized that for any true progress in reducing the number of free-roaming cats, FCSNP had to make more surgeries available. The only way to do that was to add surgery days — with a dedicated facility and a part-time executive director to work on increased funding and logistics.
In 2003, FCSNP began operating weekly clinics, and then six clinics were being held each month. Demand continued to climb. Feral cat TNR organizations, rescue groups, individual rescuers and the general public were all clamoring for help. The organization’s leadership realized that there was a significant lack of accessible spay/neuter services in the region and that the homeless cat problem could not be solved until spay/neuter services were available to all cats, whether tame or feral. This led to the formation of the Feral Cat Prevention Program, where FCSNP focused on its spay/neuter mission so rescue groups could concentrate on adoption.
In 2006, PetSmart Charities recognized the significance of FCSNP’s accomplishments and gave the organization a grant that allowed it to become a National Mentoring Organization, spreading the word about how to create successful high-volume, high-quality spay/neuter programs to organizations all around the world.
Fast forward to today: Last year, FCSNP altered almost 7,500 cats at its facility in Lynnwood, Washington, about 15 miles north of Seattle. As of May 8, 2019, FCSNP had altered 121,502 cats since its inception, and the organization is well on track to hit 125,000 spay/neuter surgeries by this summer.
People come from near and far to use FCSNP’s services. The organization regularly sees cats from Chehalis, Washington, more than 100 miles from its facility.
“We are a one-of-a-kind organization in that we are embedded into the feral cat community and work closely with local trappers and cat groups like the Community Cat Coalition to make sure the ferals are getting the services they need in order to thrive,” says FCSNP executive director Amy Ferguson. “While there are other spay/neuter groups in Washington state doing amazing work, our feline-only focus makes us unique.”
FCSNP hosts clinics four days a week, and most of those days also include spay/neuter surgeries for the general public. They also have transportation clinics that go to underserved communities and pick up both owned and feral cats for spay/neuter services.
Of course, none of this could be done without veterinarians willing to help. FCSNP has one full-time vet — Dr. Jennifer Buchanan — a handful of relief and volunteer vets, and is planning to hire another part-time vet soon. “We also host veterinary students as interns, which is a great way to teach new graduates about high-quality, high-volume spay/neuter and get them interested in shelter medicine,” Amy says.
FCSNP’s mentoring program has grown and morphed into direct services, working directly with community organizations by packing up a “clinic in a box” and teaching them how to run their own spay/neuter services.
“This kind of mentorship is highly involved and can take up to two years for a group to have fully functioning spay/neuter services,” Amy says.
Volunteers are the backbone of the Feral Cat Spay/Neuter Project, and the organization has more than 100 active volunteers. “They help with all aspects of our organization: On the operations front, they assist with check-in, prepping the cats for surgery, monitoring the cats as they recover, wrapping surgical packs, and check-out and appointment scheduling,” Amy says. “Volunteers also help with outreach efforts, special events, coin can donations, craft making and more.”
JaneA Kelley is the author of the award-winning cat advice blog Paws and Effect. She is a professional member of the Cat Writers’ Association and an advocate for all cats, whether they live with people or in the community.