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Nonprofit hopes to combat Brainerd lakes area feral cat issues

Group will help with reduced spay/neuter prices.

SNIP cat.jpg
SNIP live traps cats like this one, which was found pregnant in the outdoors before having them spayed or neutered, given proper medical care including shots and then either found homes or released.
Contributed / SNIP

BRAINERD — Various cities in the Brainerd lakes area have discussed a problem with growing feral cat populations over the years. Now a nonprofit has arrived on the scene to help get those populations in check.

It all started with Jessica Kirby. Kirby moved to Minnesota in 2007 from Kansas City, where she was known for her work there catching cats, having them spayed and then releasing them once again. It looked like she might do the same locally when she hit some snags.

"There's a need for low cost spay and neutering. And there's a pretty serious feral cat population situation."
Linda Andolshek

"A friend gave me his cat," Kirby said. "I took it in thinking it would be simple to get the cat spayed and all that like it was in Kansas City. To my shock, it was next to impossible."

Veterinary procedures can be prohibitively expensive, and unlike Kansas City, there weren't many options for ways to offset the cost here. Kirby said she had no vehicle and little money at the time. Her lack of a vehicle made her miss her appointment with Kindest Cut, one of the few low-cost options for having animals spayed and neutered.

Kirby got back to her old ways eventually, helping low-income pet owners and those with regularly visiting stray cats to find appointments and get assistance.

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"It wasn't until MN SNAP (Spay Neuter Assistance Program) and I started to team up that things have started to go smoothly," Kirby said.

She got rolling getting outdoor pets spayed and inoculated against diseases like rabies. Sometimes she helped find them assistance with food with help from friends she calls "Earthy Angels."

SNIP cat vetted.jpg
After being caught, spayed and given shots March 31, 2022, SNIP founder Jessica Kirby sought a home for this cat, named Layla.
Contributed / SNIP

Kirby estimates they have helped get more than 2,000 animals spayed, neutered and inoculated. In January alone they had 16 cats tended to. She helps to live trap and transport animals two to three times per month. The numbers add up fast.

Getting funds for all of these procedures has been difficult, and Kirby admits that from time to time asking people for assistance has been stressful and even embarrassing. She and several friends decided it was time to make the program more official by becoming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. They came up with the name SNIP - Spay & Neuter Impact Program of Central MN.

"There's a need for low-cost spay and neutering," said Linda Andolshek, SNIP treasurer. "And there's a pretty serious feral cat population situation."

Andolshek said there are a surprising number of places where cats have gathered at homes where they can find food in groups as large as 20. The issue continues to get worse when those large groups continue to multiply.

"We use a live trap and they are taken in in the trap to wherever they are getting spayed or neutered," Andolshek said. "Then they're sedated in the trap, taken out, spayed or neutered and vaccinated for rabies. Then they can either go back to the same place if someone there feeds them or they might be relocated."

The program benefits people by limiting feral cat populations and reducing aggressive behaviors. It benefits area bird populations, as outdoor cats have a surprisingly large impact on area wildlife, birds especially. Even the cats themselves benefit, as female dogs and cats alike can eliminate the risk of many common cancers, and reduce the risk of several others.

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Andolshek said the cost of spay or neuter procedures can be $400-$500. With SNIP it can cost $50 to spay or neuter feral cats, and $60 to neuter a pet cat and $90 for a spay. In the case of pet cats, SNIP seeks to provide assistance to owners with low income.

The organization is eight members and growing.

"We're always looking for volunteers," Andolshek said. "They can be someone who volunteers for a specific event. For example, we're having a garage sale in June and we'll need help with that."

The group is largely focused on area cats; however, it does provide assistance with dogs as well. There simply aren't many large populations of stray dogs in the area. They also work to provide information.

"Sometimes our work might include something simple like informing people about neutering, microchip clinics and resources to contact," wrote Andrea Lambrecht, SNIP volunteer.

SNIP offers their services to people all over the Brainerd lakes area and beyond.

Volunteers travel as far as Bemidji, St. Cloud, Willmar, Garrison, Nevis and Minneapolis for lower cost services, though they hope to help bring those services closer to home. For now that might include working with the Humane Society to bring mobile vet units into area communities. Eventually it could be bigger than that.

"The dream is to have a permanent low-cost neuter/spay clinic right here in the Brainerd lakes area," Kirby said.

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Kirby would like to see a place that can provide assistance with food during crisis situations or a place where animals may stay temporarily if a family is facing a crisis such as a home fire, homelessness, rehab, domestic violence or while moving.

"Local homeless shelters won't allow people to bring their pets indoors with them," Kirby said. "We don't want to force people to surrender their pets. Often, for these people, all they have to keep them going is their pets."

Those who wish to help support SNIP may do so at donation boxes at certain lakes area businesses. Donations may also be arranged by emailing lindamcc222@aol.com or by visiting the Spay & Neuter Impact Program of Central MN Facebook page.

The group seeks not only monetary donations, but also new or gently used dog and cat related items for owners in need.

Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com.

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