About Us Our Story
Fall of 1997 – Taking Action
Dr. Wilford along with several other dedicated volunteers decided to take action to reduce feline homelessness by forming a 501(c)3 to provide free spay and neuter surgery for free-roaming cats. They began with monthly clinics in a donated space at a medical assistant training school. A young, black, short haired, male cat was the first cat altered. His surgery marked the official beginning of the Feral Cat Spay/Neuter Project (FCSNP) Anyone who attended that first day will forever remember the first cat and the other ten that were altered on that day. By the end of the year, FCSNP had altered 114 cats and kittens.
Within a few months, they were spaying and neutering up to 160 cats per clinic session. Individuals and caretakers lined up long before daylight for a chance to have their free-roaming cats altered. Reservations typically filled within the first 15 minutes. An average clinic required 8 veterinarians and 50-60 volunteers who over the course of 11 hours would perform 125 surgeries.
2000 – Time to Reflect
Like most non-profit organizations, the first five years are critical in determining if changes are needed to allow the organization to continue to grow and be self-sustaining. Due to strong demand, FCSNP continued to see an increase in reservations for spay/neuter surgery. As the workload increased, burnout among volunteers became an issue. Realizing that they would be unable to sustain this level of growth, they decided to limit reservations to 100 cats per clinic. This change offered the organization an opportunity to regroup and develop a plan to handle increasing demand.
2001 – Veterinarians and Caretakers
Unwilling to further reduce the number of surgeries, the Board of Directors decided to make two changes that would address the burnout of volunteer veterinarians and allow more access to the clinics. In 2001 FCSNP began compensating some of the veterinarians. While this successfully created a larger pool of veterinarians, it also significantly increased the cost of providing clinic services.
In April, the maximum number of reservations was reduced from 25 to 15 per person per month. The decision to limit reservations was not well received by the caretakers. It was also a very difficult decision for board members, who were aware that it delayed realization of the mission. While difficult, it was nonetheless a necessary decision for the long term success of the organization.
Summer of 2002 – Winds of Change Begin to Blow
At a lecture given by Dr.Wilford in New York, she was asked if she thought FCSNP was truly “making a difference” with only one clinic session per month. The question nagged her long after the meeting’s end.
On the flight home, Dr. Wilford realized that for any true progress to be attained, FCSNP had to make more surgeries available for more cats. The only way to offer more surgery was by adding surgery days, and this could not be accomplished without a dedicated facility and a part-time Executive Director to work on increased funding and logistics.
Fall of 2002 – Key Players and Risk-Taking
The Board of Directors debated this drastic change in approach, the financial risks, potential obligations and benefits of operating a free standing clinic. Ultimately, the Board agreed to take the risk. At first the search for a location was disappointing and frustrating. Eventually, a series of serendipitous events evolved into locating the rental space on Roosevelt Way NE in Seattle, the first facility dedicated to free spay/neuter services for free-roaming cats. A paid part-time Executive Director, Lea Lucky, (also a founder of FCSNP)was hired to assist with FCSNP’s new endeavor.
Summer of 2003 –The First Free Standing Clinic Established For Free Spay/Neuter for Feral Cats
On July 8th the clinic opened in an 836 square foot subleased space. This new home for the FCSNP allowed the latitude to offer as many surgeries as funding allowed.
To generate additional funding a development committee was formed that focused on major gifts, foundation funding, events and a network of coin donation boxes. The organization added the first paid staff of non-veterinarians including one part-time veterinary assistant and a part-time office manager.
Weekly clinics began immediately. Within a few months, six clinics were being held each month. By year’s end, 1,368 surgeries had been completed in the new location for a total of 2,048 in just one year. Surgery numbers increased 75% over the previous six months.
Despite the increase, demand for surgeries continued to climb. FCSNP staff, volunteers, and clients recognized the significant lack of accessible spay/neuter services in the region. FCSNP also realized the homeless cat problem could not be solved until spay/neuter services were available to all cats, whether tame or feral. Identifying the connection between tame cats and homeless cats solidified FCSNP’s commitment to provide more surgery for all cats.
2004 – Feral Cat Prevention Program Launched
Within the first week of 2004, two rescue groups requested FCSNP surgical services to alter their kittens prior to adoption. After considering where this precedent might lead, the Board agreed to conduct a pilot program offering low cost spay/neuter surgery for a limited number of rescue groups serving tame cats and kittens that would not be ear tipped. When word got out to other rescuers that FCSNP was altering cats without ear tipping, the clinic was flooded with requests from other groups and grassroots rescuers. All were seeking affordable, high quality spay/neuter for kittens prior to adoption.
This no ear tipping program quickly evolved from a pilot program to the current program known as the Feral Cat Prevention Program (FCPP). The program allows FCSNP to focus on the mission of spay/neuter and enables rescue groups to concentrate their efforts on adoption. With each group focused on what it does best, everyone wins. In the first full year in our the free standing clinic, FCSNP altered 5,432 cats, achieving more than two and a half times the 2048 surgeries performed in 2003.
2005 – A Turning Point
Dramatic growth was a direct result of FCSNP having its own clinic that allowed the ability to offer surgeries multiple days per week. This flexibility led to increased collaborations with other groups and rescuers. Dramatic growth brought new challenges and opportunities.
The clinic operated with multiple veterinarians, some serving as contractors, some as volunteers, and others as paid staff. Schedules changed weekly depending upon the availability of veterinarians and the demand for surgery. To coordinate these schedules and to oversee clinic operations, a new paid full time position was created, the Clinic Director. With this change, the clinic staff included a salaried full-time Clinic Director, an hourly veterinary assistant and multiple part-time paid veterinarians.
Administratively, the organization continued to operate with a part-time Executive Director. The Board of Directors recognized that this structure could not continue to support the tremendous growth ahead. In the Fall of 2002, a big decision needed to be made: to play it safe maintaining the current program or take the risk to expand the program. Choosing expansion would necessitate hiring a full time Executive Director.
While the Board debated, FCSNP’s program developed a far-reaching reputation across the country and beyond. Numerous organizations contacted FCSNP requesting information about the clinic’s operation. Requests came from all over North America and as far away as Romania. Unbeknownst to FCSNP, its success was changing the approach to spay/neuter programs elsewhere.
At a summer Board of Directors meeting, the decision was made to hire a full time Executive Director and proceed with expansion of services. In September after a national search a new full time Executive Director, Julie White formerly of Best Friends Animal Society, was hired.
In October, FCSNP held the first annual Sexless in Seattle spay/neuter event in recognition of National Feral Cat Day and celebrated “Footloose”, the 20,000th cat to come through the clinic. This milestone event sparked letters of commendation from Washington Governor Christine Gregoire, from the City of Seattle Mayor’s office and from national organizations, such as Best Friends Animal Society and the ASPCA.
2006 – Growth and New Beginnings
Growth continued for the organization in 2006. PetSmart Charitiesrecognized the significance of FCSNP’s accomplishments and selected the organization to receive a grant to become a National Mentoring Organization. Through the use of a mentoring website, other organizations around the world could replicate the FCSNP model to create a successful high volume, high quality spay/neuter program.
With the clear need for more surgeries, Dr. Wilford proposed to the Board of Directors that the time was right to hire a full time veterinarian who specialized in high volume, high quality spay/neuter. The Board agreed unanimously.
In June, one of the top spay/neuter surgeons in our region, Dr. Holly Birkett, joined FCSNP. Dr. Birkett had performed surgeries for FCSNP for many years, understood FCSNP’s mission and knew how to fulfill it. In addition, Dr. Birkett’s shared passion for ending feline homelessness through spay/neuter made for a perfect fit.
For the third year in a row, FCSNP altered more cats in 2006 than any other organization in Washington State. Surgeries increased to four days a week allowing 8,235 cats to be altered.
2007 – 10 Year Anniversary
During the tenth year the FCSNP offered surgery four days per week year round and was able to add a fifth day per week during the peak of kitten season thanks to a generous grant from the Handsel Foundation. These kitten-season clinics complemented FCSNP’s efforts to promote Feral Cat Prevention. The launch of the new website offered access to FCSNP’s Clinic Model for animal organizations all over the world.
In 2007, FCSNP altered 9,506 cats, but the increase to five days per week in the small existing clinic became a challenge. The Executive Director and the Board of Directors held several strategy meetings to determine the next steps for the organization. A decision was made to not let the walls of the current clinic inhibit FCSNP's ability to provide more spay/neuter surgeries for the community’s cats and to assist others in replicating its successful clinic model. A goal was set for the organization to relocate to a larger clinic before the 2008 peak season.
2008 – A New Clinic
On July 17th the last clinic was held at our previous clinic location and on July 20th FCSNP began surgeries in its new larger clinic in Lynnwood. Thanks to the dedication of our staff and volunteers that helped us move seamlessly, we were able to complete the move without missing any surgery days.
The new clinic provides many of the amenities that the previous location was missing. These amenities included ample parking, air-conditioning, a lobby for check-in, storage, a meeting area for volunteers, and more space within the surgical and prep area allowing us the ability to easily expand the number of surgeries if needed.
2009 – Settling In
2009 saw many new staff changes in the larger clinic: Julie White accepted a position at PetSmart Charities and Lauren Glickman stepped in as Executive Director. Dr. Sandy Willis stepped into the Board President role, Dr. Janet Gray stepped in as the Lead Surgeon and the Clinic Manager position was recreated. Along with the staff changes, FCSNP developed an online presence on Facebook, and began a monthly electronic newsletter to complement the printed newsletters.
2010 – Sexless Soiree Signature Auction
With all the new energy in the clinic, the time was right to add a moderately sized auction to our fundraising strategy. The Sexless Soiree: Auction with a Twist was born and our first year we more than doubled our budget goal of $25,000 bringing in $57,000.
Meanwhile the volunteer program was growing with needs for clinic coverage, outreach, telephone coverage, fundraising and administrative duties as was the need for more support for the Executive Director. To meet the support demands, a full time executive assistant was hired.
2011 – Expanding Horizons
In April of 2011, FCSNP was invited to speak in Puerto Rico at the Caribbean Animal Welfare Conference about our clinic model and our website. Our message of high quality, high volume spay/neuter was shared with dozens of organizations and individuals that are working on spay/neuter all over that part of the world.
We were also able to share our message very locally when the Seattle Channel decided to feature us in a documentary about high volume high quality spay/neuter of felines.
Private clinics hosted by groups across the state including Grays Harbor and Lewis counties became regular occurrences. To continue to get the word out on social media, a Marketing Communications Intern was hired for the summer.
2012 – Celebrating 75,000 Surgeries
For the first time, FCSNP is performing surgery five days a week through the entire summer. Promising new Licensed Veterinary Technicians were trained on anesthetic techniques used in feral cats. A marketing blitz centered around Snohomish County sought to bring the word of spay neuter to local patrons and we performed our 75,000th surgery in June. We are now looking forward to celebrating 100,000 feline surgeries!