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Suwannee Paws Achieves 5,000 surgery milestone and expands rescue outreach

Suwannee Paws celebrates their 5,000th surgery on a dog named Pandora. -Courtesy Photo: Suwannee Paws


Suwannee PAWS, Inc. in Live Oak is pleased to announce that as of December 31, 2017 the clinic has performed 5,121 surgeries since opening in June 2014. Seventy percent were privately owned dogs and cats, with the remainder comprised of surgeries on feral/community cats and post-adoption shelter or rescue animals. Surgery is currently performed three days a week at the clinic, with an average of two to three surgery hours per day.

However, the clinic does not just perform reduced-cost surgery; community outreach is part of the overall mission. Currently there is a small grant available to assist low-income individuals with basic pet medical care such as vaccination, testing, and deworming. In September when Hurricane Irma came through the county, clinic staff was present to help.

PAWS also began the Feline Shelter Diversion Initiative (FSDI) in 2016, which to date has helped save and rehome 284 cats. While a Maddie’s Fund Innovation Grant helped kickstart this program into high gear in April 2017, PAWS is asking all feline enthusiasts to please help them continue the program with donations. Many are pulled directly from the shelter system, and others are taken in privately through a foster-based rescue network. Until now, these cats were primarily transferred to adoption partners throughout the state, but starting in February, PAWS will also partner with PetSmart in Lake City to present cats and kittens for adoption locally. The next major quarterly adoption event is the weekend February 16-18th.

While PAWS will need volunteers to help care for the kitties at the Lake City PetSmart location, they also need transporters, people to do kitty laundry, and financial sponsorship whenever possible to continue the program. One of the most crucial needs is adding more foster homes for the cats while they are being prepared for adoption. To date the clinic has donated more than $20,000 in services to strays and shelter animals since opening. It is not just the spay/neuter surgery--it’s all the things that get a cat ready including the costly FeLV/FIV test, vaccines, ear mite and parasite treatment, deworming, bloodwork when needed, and medications to treat the upper respiratory disease complex or intestinal disturbances.

Cats overwhelmingly populate the animal shelters in the Southeast due to year-round breeding and numbers of kittens per litter. In 2016, the informal “waiting list” of stray cats and kittens at Suwannee PAWS topped 1,000. “This is when we had to do something,” said clinic veterinarian Dr. Tracie Daniels. “We are not a shelter, but through a handful of foster homes we started a rescue outreach with zero funding. Zero.” Rescues often take in dogs and puppies with little to no preparatory vet care, but cat rescue is a whole different story. To add to this, cats can develop complicated life-threatening diseases when they are overcrowded and stressed, which often take weeks or months to properly treat.

PAWS was founded in 2014 to help with the pet overpopulation problem in the Suwannee Valley region of Florida, and primarily serves Suwannee, Hamilton, Madison, Lafayette, Columbia, Dixie and Taylor counties. These counties represent some of the most economically challenged in the state, and each faces inherent obstacles with regard to owned and unowned dogs and cats.

“Because we are a small operation in a rural location in a small county, we will always be at a demographic disadvantage for grant funding,” adds Daniels. “This is why we need regional donors and people to help at the grass-roots level. This is like the front line of a battlefield when it comes to animal overpopulation.”

Daniels commends dramatic local animal shelter improvement efforts in Suwannee County in recent months. Many cats up for adoption will be from the shelter. In addition, dogs from the shelter may be available at select adoption events if enough volunteers and transporters can be coordinated. While the national standard of care is pre-adoption spay/neuter, the county simply does not currently have funding for this. “Let’s help our shelter adopt more animals,” says Daniels, “If you haven’t been to the Suwannee shelter in a while, you may want to reconsider. Volunteer, adopt, sponsor, transport, or foster a shelter pet.”

PAWS’ track record so far with adoptions is over 98%, which represents the percentage of cats and kittens accepted into the FSDI program that have found a home upon arrival to the rescue. “We don’t send them to rescues where they will stagnate and become stressed, or anywhere that feline length of stay averages more than two weeks,” said Daniels. For this reason, PAWS is careful not to take in more cats than they can afford to treat, care for, or find homes for. Daniels emphasizes, “Padding our numbers by moving them through is not the goal; a permanent home is the goal. Even though we have approximately 2% mortality, we do all we can to provide the best care when they come to us from the shelter.” In addition to healthy cats and kittens, PAWS takes in behavioral challenges, systemic illnesses, pregnant cats, and sick kittens who will often not make it if they stay.

Stop by the Lake City PetSmart location soon to see the first groups of kitties from the FSDI, or contact PAWS today if you would like to help sponsor surgery for a sheltered cat or dog.