Pet Connections Article - Frankie's Friends
Frankie’s Friends was founded to provide a refuge for over one hundred victims of animal cruelty that were to be displaced after the temporary shelter that housed them was closed. The rescued cats were our family. We celebrated the Fourth of July with them by taking portraits to show how far they had come after months of treatment. We put up Christmas lights and spent the day with them. We were not going to let them go to shelters across the state. What seemed like mere banter became reality after we found a house that would be perfect to give the cats the happy ending that they deserved. The only problem was financing the endeavor. We joked about doing bake sales, but we had skills that did not involve the kitchen. I thought that these cats were now safe in our care, but many other animals were not so lucky. There had to be a way to help other animals that also allowed us to provide for our rescue cats.
Where was one to turn with no start up loans, grants, or donations to set up a veterinary surgery? Craigslist, of course! Not before long, a former box trailer turned “toy hauler” was purchased on my husband’s credit card (thanks honey!) and brought back via rental pickup truck. Driving from Cleveland was quite the experience, but I made it back in one piece. The 18-foot-long trailer underwent another transformation into the Mobile Surgery Unit, or mobile 1.0 as I call it, after a donation of a surgery table and the purchase of a tub prep table from eBay. An anesthesia machine, pulse oximeter, and other necessary instruments and supplies – just enough to get started, came next. The term grassroots organization took on a literal meaning, as the mobile was parked in my back yard for quite some time!
Within a year, Frankie’s Friends was partnered with several animal welfare groups in the region to provide low-cost spay/neuter and medical care to cats in our community. As more people found out about what we had to offer and with the tremendous need for these services, the number of community partners increased. Our three-person team became highly efficient at high volume high quality spay/neuter (HVHQSN), eventually performing over 60 surgeries a day. After borrowing a truck for many months, we were able to secure a grant from Petco to purchase a Ford F150 of our own. Two years later, when an axel broke on mobile 1.0, we were truly fortunate and grateful to get a new box trailer that was custom made to our specifications after the community graciously donated to the cause. We also found an affordable building in New Kensington that we fixed up and made into a stationary clinic.
Now, ten years later, we have the CARE (Clinic and Animal Rehabilitation) center with the ability to do in house digital x-rays and bloodwork, two surgery tables, and surgical instruments that allow us to perform some specialized surgeries in addition to all of the spays and neuters. We have turned the original clinic into the Adoption Center and take sick and injured cats off the street, provide medical care, and find them loving homes. Mobile 2.0, although now 5 years old, is still holding her own and is parked in our ample parking lot instead of my back yard. Last year alone, we performed over 9,000 spay/neuter surgeries and helped hundreds more sick and injured animals. While our mission is focused on helping to stop overpopulation and homelessness of cats, we also provide care for local shelter dogs and respond to cruelty cases in Westmoreland and Butler counties. We perform surgeries and other procedures to prevent relinquishment of cats to our overburdened shelter system when we are able.
It has been said that from humble beginnings come great things. We are a group of 12 people and, while we work 6 days a week to “turn off the faucet” and try to stop overpopulation, there is never a shortage of cats in the community that are reproducing. We see daily reminders of the suffering that comes with the birth of kittens as we transfuse those dying from flea-bite anemia, provide oxygen to those with pneumonia, and repair broken legs. While I certainly do not have all the answers to this problem, targeted Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), working to sterilize and vaccinate all the cats in a region, will make a difference. We need to spay and neuter faster than they can reproduce and need veterinary professionals and animal welfare organizations to unite. I hope that this story can empower you to take action. Everyone has a role to play. I believe that we can do great things for the animals in our region – and it can start in our back yards.