PERRYVILLE — Less than a year after opening its Miss Cat surgical suite, Chesapeake Feline Association has performed more than 1,000 spay or neuter procedures on cats in Cecil County.

While celebrating that accomplishment, CFA is also making plans to celebrate its 10th anniversary in October.

Dawn Cowhey, executive director of the nonprofit based in North East, said that although the suite, located on property on Route 222 near U.S. Route 40 in Perryville loaned to CFA by Anne Jackson, opened last August, actual surgeries did not begin until September.

“August was a time to set up procedures,” Cowhey said.

The group follows the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’s high-quality, high-volume spay-neuter protocol. That spells out 30 specific points to be met during intake, prep, surgery and post-operative care, including everything from keeping the receiving areas calm and quiet to rice bags for warmth and corn syrup on cotton swabs to help with blood sugar levels.

“We dab it in their mouth,” Bethany Thompson, a certified veterinary assistant, explained as she opened another cat carrier and smiled at the frightened ball of fur named “Pax” inside.

On this particular morning, the number of cats served would go higher as 30 cats waited their turn. Dr. Erin McCourt from Hickory Veterinary Hospital helped process in the cats and kittens and would perform the surgery on each. When each animal is ready to return, it will have also been vaccinated against rabies and distemper. For feral cats, the tip of its left ear would be clipped off and a green line tattooed on its stomach.

“That’s the universal symbol that its been altered,” Cowhey said.

Removing the ear tip also lets anyone know from a distance that the cat has been spayed or neutered.

As much as 75% of the cats seen by CFA were females, meaning those cats would not contribute to the feral colonies that continue to be problems in some Cecil County communities. The average female cat will have four litters of six kittens each every year.

“We are making a difference in this county for years to come,” Cowhey said.

Officers with Cecil County Animal Services brought in several cats caught from feral colonies. Officer Brittany Lambert has noticed the difference that CFA is making.

“There are a lot less cats this year than last and not as many kitten litters,” Lambert said. “It was insane last year.”

Not even a year later, Cowhey is in awe.

“I think it’s going really well,” she said. “It’s exceeded all of our expectations.”

Even though it’s working well, Cowhey and her crew of volunteers is on the lookout for improvement.

“Our goal is to always look at our flow and make sure everything we do is as effective as possible, and what’s best for the animals whether (it is a) pet or feral,” she said.

The long-range goal is to eliminate kitten season altogether, or to at least minimize it.

“Right now we are actively working on 10 colonies. If we had more volunteers we could be more effective,” she said.

There is also the continual search for financial support through donations and fundraising.

It’s admittedly a slow process, but one that is garnering support from towns such as Perryville, at the county and state level. The Maryland Department of Agriculture has given CFA a large grant award for several years to cover the cost of spay-neuter services. Miss Cat is open to anyone in need of the service. Cowhey said area veterinarians are also referring patients there for the $90 package that includes vaccinations.

“People are stepping up because they know we are not going to euthanize,” Cowhey said.

Time to party

Celebrating its 10th anniversary in October, Cowhey said, will include a huge party at the North East shelter.

“What we’re planning on doing is a community picnic,” she said.

While visitors munch on burgers, the hope is they will also visit the shelter cats and consider adoption. The date is not yet set.

“Right now we have 65 adoptable, fully vetted adult cats that are ready for adoption,” Cowhey said. “These are lovely, lovely, lovely cats looking for their forever home.”

At the community picnic, CFA will also be showing off its new Serenity Garden, which was built by Michael Cisco for his Eagle Scout project.

“It’s just beautiful. A wonderful place to reflect, to relax,” Cowhey said.

CFA is now able to open the shelter off Irishtown Road once a month for potential adopters to meet the cats in residence. To find out which days, check their Facebook page.

It all comes back to the primary goal of Chesapeake Feline Association.

“Our mission is saving cats one life at a time,” Cowhey said. “We can save all the cats we want, but if we do nothing to address the free-roaming cat population we’re not doing our jobs.”

So what’s next? Cowhey calls herself “a lofty dreamer.”

“I would love for every cat in the shelter to be adopted so we’d have room to help more,” she said. “And I would love to build a brick-and-mortar building here and get out of the trailers.”

She would also love to have established funding sources, which would allow CFA to spread its reach.

“And I would love to open a cat cafe,” she said.

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