A Feline Fix
Lead Technician George Sifontes: "We have only one day with these cats. One day to provide the only love and care these little guys may ever receive."Source:
It’s estimated that between 1 and 3 million cats live and suffer on the streets of Los Angeles City and County. FixNation has become a model for Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) and feral cat population management across the country.
A day in the life of FixNation, a high-quality, high-volume spay and neuter clinic is, bar none, the best organized and orchestrated clinic for all cats in the Los Angeles area.
Walking through the doors of the FixNation clinic, it is stunning to see the number of homeless cats that are trapped daily and brought to this facility. It takes in about 50-100 cats daily; today’s tally was 100, a high number but below the record of 147.
The clinic opens at 7 a.m. with a line of cat-lovers eager to bring in homeless feral cats, as well as “homed” pets for a busy day ahead. The staff checks in each person and assigns each cat a number. Throughout the day, feral cats are taken to rooms separate from strays who may have had human contact but were lost or abandoned.
The cats are all scanned for a microchip, evaluated for sex, age and given an antibiotic and eye lubricant. Pain medication and anesthesia are administered through the covered cages, the females prepped and shaved for spaying. Male neutering is a simpler procedure. When it’s finished, every homeless cat gets an “ear tip” on the right ear, the universal sign of a “fixed” cat, homeless or feral.
FixNation’s state-of-the-art operating room has three tables where multiple vets work at the same time. In fact, two veterinarians, specialized to do only this surgery, will perform 50 cat surgeries in a day. The operating room is also where other surgeries are done such as amputations of legs or tails and eye surgery. Each cat in the “post op” area gets vaccinations, flea treatment and a shot to reverse the anesthesia. The cats are all kept in covered cages as they slowly wake up, to keep them as calm and stress free as possible.
The clinic depends on the public—people who are trained to trap the animals humanely and bring them to the clinic—to fulfill their goal of “one cat at a time.”
Many homeless cats aren’t meant to live in homes. There is a difference between the feral and the stray. Feral cats are mostly free roaming, homeless cats that are not socialized and have never lived with humans and can’t be handled. Almost all feral cats are aggressive and rarely adopted. Strays may have once been a companion animal. As a rule, they are friendly, but now live on the streets.
Joe Federico, one of the key players at FixNation, has been there five years and knows all about the Trap-Neuter-Return program (TNR.). It is their primary activity and a humane alternative to killing homeless cats or doing nothing at all. The community–based program teaches the public how to trap cats in order to bring them to FixNation to be spayed or neutered, ear-tipped and returned to the territory where they were found.
Traps are available for loan to individuals seeking services to support a colony or a single homeless cat. Those interested can sign up on the website (fixnation.org) for the TNR training program that relies almost entirely on public donations and volunteers.
FixNation has committed to reduce the population of homeless strays and feral “community” cats by spaying and neutering as many as possible. With food, water and shelter, these homeless cats can lead healthier, happier and longer lives.
Long-time cat lovers, Mark Dodge, an attorney, and his wife, Karn Myers, a former entertainment executive, had the idea to help homeless cats when, in 1998, Myers was working for a special effects company. Every morning and afternoon, she noticed two women feeding a colony of feral cats on the adjacent property. She quickly befriended the two caregivers and began her own year-long education on the world of homeless, stray and feral cats. She began investigating what could be done to help and soon developed momentum. With Dodge’s research and networking help, they began working with others who also wanted to offer assistance.
They learned that monthly spay/neuter clinics were being held in San Diego by Feral Cat Coalition (FCC). To duplicate that program and bring it to Los Angeles, they videotaped FCC for reference, put together an organizational plan and made a formal proposal to the outreach program directors of Best Friends Animal Society.
Best Friends adopted the traveling clinic model and provided initial funding to begin Catnippers in October 1999, a bi-monthly, all-volunteer clinic that continues today and has sterilized 18,000 homeless cats since 2000.
After nearly ten years of successful Catnippers clinics, Myers and Dodge realized a permanent facility was needed in order to address the still-growing homeless cat population in L.A.
In 2007, after much planning and a five-year operating grant from PetSmart Charities, FixNation was launched as a full-time TNR clinic under a new 501(c)(3) organization and became the first, full-time spay-neuter facility in Los Angeles, providing comprehensive TNR support including free spay/neuter services for homeless cats, TNR outreach and education, affordable care for companion cats and partnerships to facilitate adoptions. Today, FixNation is a model for TNR and cat population management across the country. Since opening its doors in 2007, FixNation and its Catnippers program has sterilized 150,000 cats.
In 2010, Myers and Dodge, wearing their FixNation hats, were part of the founding membership of the “No Kill L.A.” (NKLA) Steering Committee, helping to guide the formation of the coalition that has led Los Angeles to the threshold of becoming a city with “no-kill” shelters.
FixNation is a non-profit organization committed to cats, and to supporting Trap-Neuter-Return. They provide a free, full-time spay/neuter clinic for cats. They also provide low-cost, affordable spay/neuter services for tame pet cats. FixNation also partners with local humane pet stores and animal rescue organizations to facilitate the adoption of friendly strays and kittens.
Sadly, Mark Dodge passed away at his Topanga Canyon home on February 13, following a long battle with ALS. Myers, his wife of more than 40 years, is determined to keep their state-of-the-art spay/neuter clinic open and to realize Mark’s ultimate dream—to promote humane practices for controlling the population of homeless cats, not only in Los Angeles but in other communities as well.
“We’re making strides to expand the scope of what we do because that was his greatest dream. This will be Mark’s legacy,” Karn explained.
Myers and Dodge moved to Topanga in 1994, where she lives with their cats and hopes to continue the network she and Dodge developed. Her main concern and desire is for people to spay and neuter their animals and help reduce and protect this homeless population.
FixNation is located at 7680 Clybourn Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 91352. Clinic Hours are Wednesday-Saturday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information: (818) 524-2287; www.fixnation.org; facebook.com/FixNationLA.
ARCHITECTS FOR ANIMALS PRESENTS “GIVING SHELTER” OCT. 19
Architects for Animals presents one of L.A.’s most innovative design events, “Giving Shelter.” It is the third annual fundraiser to benefit FixNation and takes place on Thursday, October 19, at the HermanMiller Showroom in Culver City. The cocktail reception with complimentary vegan fare and an open bar, will exhibit the innovative outdoor dwellings for cats designed by L.A.’s top architecture and design firms, as well as individual architects.
The event follows in the footsteps of the first Architects for Animals event, founded in 2009 by Leslie Farrell, with a fundraiser for the Mayor’s Alliance for New York City’s Animals in 2010 and its Feral Cat Initiative. Architects designed and exhibited winter shelters for the city’s feral and stray cat communities to protect them in cold weather. Karn Myers took notice and the event is now one of the most popular and unique events on Los Angeles’ design calendar.
On display will be more than two dozen one-of-a-kind cat food bowls decorated by celebrities including Jay Leno, Jackson Galaxy, Beau Bridges, Clint Eastwood, Tricia Halfer, Elvira and more, all available for purchase via an online auction.
The HermanMiller Showroom is located at 3641 Holdrege Avenue, Los Angeles CA 90016 Tickets are $50 per person and may be purchased at: fixnation.org/givingshelter2017.
FOR TOTO THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME
While Pamela Mesaros was touring the halls of FixNation, the walls were filled with plaques and certificates, but one plaque in particular stood out because it was not for a cat but a famous dog—Toto from The Wizard of OZ. Whatever could be the connection between FixNation and Toto?
Toto was one of the many animals trained by Carl Spitz back in the golden years of Hollywood. Spitz was a German immigrant who became a famous animal trainer for the studios, opening his Hollywood Dog Training School in 1927. He pioneered the training technique of using hand signals to get animals to perform. Toto was actually played by a female Cairn terrier named Terry, who had been abandoned at Spitz’s kennel four years before The Wizard of Oz was made. Yes, Toto was a rescue!
Spitz officially changed the dog’s name to Toto after the movie became so popular and the dog went on to co-star in many films with some of the era’s biggest actors.
When Toto died towards the end of WWII, Spitz buried the little dog behind his house and kennels, but in 1958, the Ventura Freeway was expanded across the San Fernando Valley. Caltrans bought the Spitz property for construction purposes and the entire area was destroyed. Toto’s final resting place had been plowed over in the name of progress.
In 2010, the headline read: “FixNation is Deeded the Plot to Toto’s Final Resting Place in Hollywood Forever Cemetery.”
J.P. Myers, an L.A. local (no relation to Karn Myers), was talking to a co-worker about an episode of the Huell Howser show, where Howser interviewed author and grave hunter Steve Goldstein about the lives and gravesites of famous animals. Through that conversation, Myers realized that Toto had lived and died just blocks down the street from where he had gone to elementary school on Riverside Drive.
Myers had just successfully launched a Facebook fan page and campaign to get Jack Norworth, who penned “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” a more appropriate grave marker than the nondescript gravesite where he had been buried. It dawned on him that the same action was needed for Toto, so he picked up a copy of Steve Goldstein’s book, “LA’s Graveside Companion: Where the V.I.P.s R.I.P.,” to dig up more information. He contacted Goldstein directly and Goldstein agreed to partner with Myers on the Toto project.
Goldstein and Myers reached out to a number of local cemeteries around Los Angeles, only to be turned down by every single one. Finally, they contacted Tyler Cassity, owner of Hollywood Forever Cemetery that is not only the final resting place for hundreds of big-name celebrities—Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks, Hattie McDaniel and Johnny Ramone—but home to a feral cat colony, as well. Cassity, an animal lover, recognized the impact that Toto had on American culture and graciously offered to donate the VIP plot and the memorial marker for Toto.
It was agreed that the plot should be deeded to an animal group so that Toto’s gravesite would always be protected and well cared for. Cassity suggested FixNation, Myers and Goldstein quickly agreed and FixNation has been fixing the feral cats at Hollywood Forever for some time now, in coordination with the cemetery and its caretakers.
For Toto, finally, there’s no place like home. ■
GRETA CAME HOME, TOO
A neighbor of Myers and Dodge, Carl Verheyen, lead guitarist for the band Supertramp, became involved with FixNation, and soon after, lost their very old cat, Elvin, to diabetes. Verheyen and his wife thought they would get another cat eventually but it was way too soon. His wife, however, heard about a kitten that had been found in FixNation’s parking lot hiding and crying under an old truck. When the FixNation tech discovered her, it ran right up to her. It took only 15 minutes after bringing Greta home, that the Verheyans adopted her. Now, just a little more than a year later, she’s a treasured member of the family and the grief of Elvin’s passing, while it will never be gone, has been allayed.