Clinic for homeless cats finds itself needing a new home

A nonprofit, volunteer-driven veterinary clinic that has treated and sterilized thousands of homeless cats will soon be without a home itself.

"We haven't been able to find anything suitable," says Adrienne Christatos Timko, founder and president of CSTAR Animal Care, also known as the SOS (Spay Our Strays) Clinic.

For her organization, "suitable" means a rent-free central Camden County location with about 3,000 square feet, a small room for check-in and a large room for procedures, a storage area for equipment, public restrooms, and parking to accommodate clients coming and going for appointments during the 18 days the organization operates each year.

Since 2009, Lindenwold Borough has graciously permitted CSTAR to use a White Horse Pike senior center at no charge.

But in May, Lindenwold advised the group that the borough would no longer do so after Dec. 12. No reason was given.

"It was pretty shocking," Timko said.

(Lindenwold officials did not respond to email or voice mail messages Monday.)

The clinic has provided low-cost spay, neuter, and other services for both cats and dogs in a number of locations since it started in 2007. It has "fixed" 10,000 cats, about 75 percent of them feral or stray.

As a result, there are a lot fewer kitties running around (and, let's be honest, killing birds) than would be otherwise.

"Using the most conservative numbers, two cats turn into 50 cats in three years, and in seven years, to over 4,000," Timko says.

"But unless we find a permanent home," she adds, "it's quite possible everything will grind to a halt."

At the Lindenwold senior center on Sunday, a 30-member corps of veterinary professionals and trained volunteers were involved in some phase of spaying or neutering 113 cats - indoor pets as well as feral felines - with impressive, and caring, efficiency.

"It's [like] a MASH unit," said Barrington resident Barbara Giusti, a veterinary technician, who was supervising the operation.

Indeed. The setup includes stations for surgical prep, anesthesia, surgery, recovery, and an ICU, complete with heating pads, for cats needing extra TLC after their procedures.

As someone who likes cats (but does not own one), I was touched by the abundance of feline adorableness on display.

Not to mention the quantity of human devotion to the welfare of these beautiful, if problematically prolific, creatures.

"We all love kitties, and we like to think this does some good," said Lisa St Maur, who was volunteering along with her husband, Paul. The Laurel Springs couple have eight cats.

Other members of the busy crew kept the line of cat lovers in the lobby and their charges inside the procedure room moving through the system. The $45 charge included the procedure, as well as vaccinations for distemper and rabies.

At a private veterinary practice, spaying or neutering can cost $400 or more; the expense puts the services out of reach of volunteer rescue operations such as Camden Companions Animal Rescue and Barrington TNR (Trap, Neuter, and Return).

The two groups round up feral cats and bring them to CSTAR because the fee for the procedures is affordable, said Dawn Mutchler, founder of TNR in Barrington and, more recently, Mount Ephraim.

"We cut down on the feral cat population" and save municipalities the expense of boarding, and then euthanizing, ferals and strays, she said.

"We couldn't do this without these clinics," Mutchler added.

Timko said she's looked at about 40 buildings in person, and 100 more online. She's also appeared before municipal governing bodies in a number of towns around Lindenwold in search of a new location, to no avail.

CSTAR simply cannot afford to rent, much less purchase, a building that meets its needs, she said. And hauling expensive equipment from place to place isn't feasible.

Outside the final cats-only clinic of the year - or possibly, the last one ever - Justine Daley was waiting to pick up a Siamese named Pretty Boy.

Daley said she and several other women are trying to humanely control the feral cat population in their Voorhees neighborhood.

Losing the CSTAR clinic, she said, would be "heartbreaking."

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