Her mission: helping cats
Cats Alive! SLV Leader Lisa Karst has a plan to spay and neuter feral cats of the Valley
By John McEvoy | For AlamosaCitizen.com
DOZENS of empty cages line the inside walls of this nondescript adobe building in Monte Vista. The only indications that this is a business are the posters in the front window that faces Adams Street on the corner of Third. The cages are only empty now because Cats Alive! SLV is on a temporary break because of Covid and some major business restructuring. The cages won’t be empty for long, however.
Plans are in the works to turn the space into a low-cost spay-and-neuter clinic for pet and feral cats alike.
When Lisa Karst moved to the San Luis Valley in 2015, she noticed that there were few resources and a greater need for pets here than anywhere she had ever lived. In the fall of 2018, she adopted a Cats Alive cat and began to volunteer as a trapper and foster home. At the same time, existing board members were leaving. So in just a few months, Karst found herself taking on the role of president and treasurer of the nonprofit, which was formed in 2013.
For the last three years, Karst has been keeping Cats Alive limping forward slowly, learning how to run a non-profit business, as well as getting to know the community and its needs in more detail.
In the late fall of 2019, Karst purchased the building in Monte Vista, intending to renovate it as a small cat shelter. At the same time, Dumb Friends League (DFL) was breaking ground on a new shelter in Alamosa.
Then COVID struck, and not wanting to expose elders or other vulnerable people, Cats Alive ran on a skeleton crew as a rescue rather than a shelter for the summer of 2020.
DFL had brought its spay-and-neuter van, “LuLu,” to the Valley. Manager Jen Thomas made sure that surgery was available for feral cats as well as owned pets. That was a very productive time for Cats Alive, and the partnership with DFL for surgery was the key. That halted when DFL moved into its new building in the late spring of 2020 and lost its surgery technician at the same time.
At the end of 2020, lacking sufficient surgery slots for a meaningful level of Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), Karst asked Colorado Animal Welfare League (CAWL) to use her building for cat spay-and-neuter. They were able to provide approximately 600 surgeries to pet and street cats over the winter.
What is Trap-Neuter-Return? According to alleycat.org:
“Trap-Neuter-Return is the humane and effective approach for stray and feral cats. Now in practice for decades in the US after being proven in Europe, scientific studies show that Trap-Neuter-Return improves the lives of feral cats, improves their relationships with the people who live near them, and decreases the size of colonies over time.
Trap-Neuter-Return is successfully practiced in hundreds of communities and in every landscape and setting. Cats are humanely trapped and taken to a veterinarian to be neutered and vaccinated. After recovery, the cats are returned to their home—their colony—outdoors. Kittens and cats that are friendly and socialized to people may be adopted into homes.”
This is ‘Blanco.’ He was adopted within hours of being made available, a vastly different kitten than the starving orphan that was taken in. Photo Credit: Lisa Karst
“I want so much to save cats from the misery of fighting and breeding on the streets, I want to save families (like my own) from the despair of ever-growing colonies that they cannot afford to feed and take to the vet,” said Karst. “And I want to save kittens from freezing, starving, dying of preventable diseases, to save our vulnerable wildlife from the hungry cats that are only doing what nature demands, and I want to save neighbors from discord caused by streets full of feral cats.”
This past summer, Karst’s mother passed away, leaving Karst with 29 feral cats, their home in Oregon and funds to care for them, plus additional resources that Karst is using to further her mother’s life’s work, which has now become her daughter’s work.
When asked how she had become involved in all this so quickly and passionately, Karst replied that she grew up with cats.
“My mother had a cat she got when I was just a newborn. I grew up with him and he didn’t pass until 20 years old, when I had gone off to college,” she said.
At that point, her mother started caring for all the neighborhood cats. Once she started feeding them, she found out just how many there really are.
“Realizing what was happening with breeding, my mother started taking feral cats to the vet for surgery. That was before the term TNR was known in the U.S., in the mid-’80s,” said Karst. “By the time I graduated college, she had 15 cats living on her porch, all of them properly vetted. Five years later, my mother had moved to a larger property and built a cat-proof fence and had 34 cats. Five years after that, again she moved to a bigger property and a bigger fenced yard,” she said. “She began taking in all the feral cats that the local animal impound would have been euthanizing, and quickly had 97 cats. She never once had unfixed cats at her place. A trip to the vet was always the first order of business. This was around the millennium.
“My mother was heartbroken by people’s inability to learn and change their behaviors. Places she had trapped out, fixed all the ferals, were now repopulating because people had taken unfixed cats from friends and neighbors and let them escape.”
Karst used a sizable chunk from her inheritance to purchase the building in Monte Vista and began to buy equipment and supplies for her dream of having a spay-and-neuter clinic for the Valley. She knew it would be hard and without medical training, she would always be dependent on outside help.
Recently, Lisa Petri of CAWL suggested to Karst that they form the SLV Spay Neuter Alliance. Now they are four non-profits, working together.
“Colorado Animal Welfare League provides essential connections, training, advice, and a well-developed model. Bergen Spay & Neuter is getting us an excellent jump start with hundreds of surgeries in an upcoming single event, as well as facilitating purchase of surgery equipment,” said Karst.
“Animal Rescue of Southern Colorado, headed by Jen Thomas, will manage the clinic and staff, while I, as head of Cats Alive! SLV will care for the building, supplies, and paperwork. Our surgeon, a long-time local, Dr. Linda Behrns, owns Crestone Mobile Veterinary Service and has also served as the DFL vet in the valley for the last two years. She’s excited to have a new venue for her dedication to spay and neuter.”
Karst said the ambition of the four non-profits is to perform surgeries three days a week, as many as 30 animals per session. If they can work 11 months a year, they will accomplish as many as 4,000 surgeries in a year.
“That’s a shockingly high number, but in order to succeed by fixing faster than the pets breed, we have to go full-court press. The cost is roughly $75 per surgery, meaning we will have to raise $200,000 to work at the pace we would like to, even with the small co-pay we will ask of pet owners,” said Karst. “And of course, the feral cats will not be paying, as they do not have owners and each of our towns has several hundred feral cats, and more being born all the time.”
Karst said the population ecology aspect of this creates urgency. Scattered or low-volume efforts will not be effective, even if run for decades. Hard concentrated effort by the alliance can succeed in a few years, provided that ongoing back-filling efforts are sufficient to keep up with new breeding animals brought into the system.
“SLV Spay Neuter Alliance (SLV SNA) will be doing surgery in Monte Vista from now on, as long as the money holds out,” said Karst. “If anyone knows of business owners or corporations that do business in the Valley, please search them out and ask if they ever do grants for community support. We need this so much. We’ll need grants to keep us going forward for the 10 years I plan to keep this clinic going.”
Karst said she currently has a list of 425 cats to trap. The goal is to deal with all the feral cats.
“We will be trapping around the Valley and contacting people we know who have colonies, and they will tell us about someone else who has a colony,” said Karst. “So we are just working on the feral cats and will hold spaces open for owned cats and dogs, but the mission of Cats Alive is to help out the community cats through spay and neuter. That’s really my personal focus.”
Karst said she and the other coalition partners are incredibly excited to be doing this. It will be a real effective change for the Valley to have a permanent clinic.
SPAY AND NEUTER CLINIC
Feb 10-13, 2022
Cat and dog spaces are available for families with a financial need. Spay/Neuter appointments include rabies, DAPPV/FVRCP, and microchip at no extra cost. Spaces are filled on a first-to-register basis (until full), and are limited. Prices are $20 for cats and $45 for dogs and a waitlist is available if spaces are filled. Register pets online before Feb. 7 here: https://bit.ly/3t6zerj
Cats Alive! is seeking foster homes for the upcoming kitten season this spring.
Visit the website http://catsaliveslv.worpress.com to sign up and to find other information about helping fix a feral colony.