Susie Wilcox is a little worried for her 9-month old male cat. He's about to get neutered.
The cat's name?
"His name was Ding Ding originally, and then it kind of kept on changing, actually it was Bing Bing for a bit," Wilcox said. "And now it's Little Baby, and pretty soon, because he's getting so big, it will have to be Big Baby."
Wilcox is unemployed, and was worried about the cost of getting Little Baby neutered. Then she heard about the reduced prices offered by an organization called the Minnesota Spay Neuter Assistance Program (MNSNAP).
The MNSNAP mobile surgery unit travels to different locations each day of the week. On a recent Monday, it was accepting a steady stream of cat patients outside Feline Rescue in St. Paul.
Minnesota in Photos: Inside the mobile clinic
MNSNAP charges $40 for a cat neuter for people who meet the requirements. That's about one-third the cost of a trip to a typical vet for the procedure. They also work on dogs.
"I think it's amazing because otherwise I wouldn't be able to do it, and I don't know. That would be really sad, because then I might have to get rid of him if he's all crazy," Wilcox said. "I don't know if I could even comprehend trying to pay for this by itself."
Veterinarian Dr. Susan Spence said MNSNAP's mission is to provide spaying and neutering services to animals owned by lower-income people, who are less likely to spay or neuter their animals due to cost. A 2009 survey published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found that families making less than $35,000 a year were much less likely to fix their animals than wealthier pet owners.
Pet owners must present evidence of needs-based assistance or a tax return showing a household income of less than $40,000 to qualify for MNSNAP's prices.
"People are really in need, they love their pets, their pets mean a lot to them and it's really important they don't keep having litters," Spence said. "Our main goal is to provide spay and neuter services that are affordable to people who really can't afford it."
MNSNAP started in April 2010. Since then, the organization has performed almost 13,000 surgeries, Spence said. Two teams take turns working seven days a week.
Inside the surgery vehicle, every possible space is taken up with medical supplies, operating tables and even a skinny closet packed with blankets for recovering felines and canines.
MNSNAP veterinary technician Brie Dorcy reached into each cat carrier and pulled the sometimes unwilling animal out.
"They're scared in a new environment, so it takes a little coaxing to get them out. But we're gentle," Dorcy said.
Dorcy and her fellow MNSNAP technicians work very long days that start at the break of dawn and don't conclude until the last animal is awake and reunited with its owner. "I'm tired but I feel good about it," she said.
Veterinarian Spence said rookie vets and technicians wouldn't last long at the grueling pace kept by the MNSNAP veterinary teams. But the team members' previous experiences drive them. While working in animal shelters, they saw the large amount of animals that Spence said are "needlessly euthanized" due to overpopulation. The Humane Society of the United States estimates that about half of the 6-8 million dogs and cats in shelters each year are euthanized.
"We've all seen the barrels full of dead animals that were euthanized, many times just because there isn't enough space or there aren't enough homes for these animals," Spence said. "When you experience something like that, you want to make sure that you're doing something to prevent it."
MNSNAP also serves those who practice trap, neuter and release of stray and feral cats. It's a practice intended to keep down the feral cat population without killing cats that have turned wild.
Joanne Lockwood works with Saved by a Whisker rescue in Eagan. She came to MNSNAP with Angel, a stray she and her group trapped in a barn near Cannon Falls.
"We'll go out, we'll trap them, we'll get them fixed through MNSNAP and then if they're sociable enough, we'll find them homes," Lockwood said. "If they're not, they go back to the barn."
Those who take part in MNSNAP's trap, neuter and release program pay a reduced rate for the operations.
"We couldn't do it without MNSNAP, honestly," Lockwood said. "It makes it completely affordable to get them fixed, rabies shots, get them out and get them a home, and off the street."