Animal tales

Quite the operation

Created by two animal rights activists, the "spaymobile" in Crystal River serves pet owners who can't afford to get their cats and dogs fixed. The van runs on donations.

September 19, 2006

[Times photo: M. N. Golden]

Technician Christine Haberle, left, does prep work while veterinarian Wendy Biggs spays a dog inside the "spaymobile" Wednesday in Crystal River. The service is free to pet owners who can't afford to spay or neuter.

CRYSTAL RIVER - Money has always been tight for Denise Millang, who is disabled and owns four dogs. So she was grateful when she found a clinic that agreed to neuter her 83-pound black Labrador retriever for free.

But this was no ordinary clinic. Her dog, Meathead, was neutered inside a van.

For some weeks now, a veterinarian and his two assistants have been spaying and neutering cats and dogs in a parked van outside Bow Wow Boutique in Crystal River. The service is free to pet owners who cannot afford the operations for their animals.

"I thought it was awesome," Millang said. "It's the greatest thing to hit our community."

Animal rights activists Angela McMurray and Margaret Nolan started the program to control the county's population of unwanted animals. The two women hope that the county will one day stop putting unwanted animals to sleep.

Since it opened, the "spaymobile" has been used to spay and neuter more than 100 animals. As word spread about the free service, the waiting list has grown. There are about 140 animals on the waiting list.

Nolan and McMurray rely on donations from businesses to keep the spaymobile running. Citrus County doesn't subsidize the project, unlike Marion County, which agreed to use county dollars to pay for a spaymobile.

Nolan and McMurray spent $20,000 just to furnish the spaymobile, which was donated. The money helped pay for equipment, including an anesthesia machine and oxygen tanks.

Community donations cover the costs of the veterinarian, utilities, medical supplies and other expenses.

Nolan and McMurray would like more businesses to pitch in. They want to purchase a bigger spaymobile and offer services in east Citrus.

"There is a real need for these services, especially in Citrus County," Nolan said. "There are a lot of people with animals living here, especially seniors who don't have much money."

Millang, 44, said Meathead wasn't neutered sooner because she couldn't afford the $100 fee at local clinics. A recent trip to the hospital caused her to fall on especially hard times.

"For low-income people, Nolan is an angel," she said.

Besides getting neutered, Meathead was implanted with a tracking microchip and given immunization shots. He even got his nails clipped - all at no cost to Millang.

On a recent Monday, other pet owners gave a thumbs up to the spaymobile.

It was 8:15 in the morning, and already 10 people with appointments had stopped by to drop off their pets. McMurray and Nolan receive animals from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. Saturdays and Mondays. The veterinarian usually starts surgeries by 9 a.m.

Bow Wow Boutique was filled with the sound of cats meowing and dogs barking when Diana Flippin of Hernando walked in with Miss Kitty. Flippin had an appointment for her cat to be spayed.

"She's already had too many kittens," Flippin said. "And it's hard to find them homes, so I brought her here to get fixed."

A short while later, Miss Kitty was inside the spaymobile awaiting her turn on the operating table.

The inside of the spaymobile is cramped. There is room for only four cages. Trash cans are strategically placed on the floor. When the veterinarian steps inside, his head almost touches the ceiling. Two assistants help keep things nice and tidy. They are thankful for the air-conditioning.

Before a surgery, the assistants give the animal an anesthetic and shave its lower region. They keep a vacuum handy to clean the shavings. All of the equipment is sterilized, and any hazardous waste is disposed of in a special container.

Once the anesthetic puts the animal to sleep, the veterinarian begins the procedure.

In a half hour, Misty, a 37-pound Labrador shepherd, had been spayed.

Next up was Miss Kitty.

For information on the program, call Nolan at 344-5207.

Eddy Ramirez can be reached at or 860-7305.

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