When Denise Ritchie and her daughter Melisa Goodman moved into their new apartment on an unexpectedly cold day, they heard crying from the unit down below. What they found was an abandoned dog with nothing but a bowl of water.
The two decided to adopt the dog and named him Winkie. But paying for the necessary procedures to take care of him posed a challenge.
“Animal control told us we needed to pay over $300 to get him licensed, get him fixed, everything,” said Ritchie, who is disabled and receives LA County General Relief. Her daughter used to be an in-home care provider but lost her patient and now receives public assistance.
Ritchie and Goodman were able to get Winkie neutered and pay for all the shots he needed thanks to Fix Long Beach, an organization dedicated to fixing dogs and cats for low-income Long Beach pet owners. Since it was founded June 2013, the non-profit has fixed over 2,700 pets. At their last event in April, 76 pets were spayed or neutered.
“It’s so awesome because we’re so low income that we couldn’t even try to afford the shots that he needed,” said Goodman.
According to the Los Angeles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), fixing a pet ensures they will not contribute to the issue of animal overpopulation. Nationwide there are an estimated 10,000 more animals than there are homes for them, and every year, approximately 2.7 million animals, mostly cats and dogs, are euthanized in the U.S.
Fixing a pet also decreases the risk of certain types of cancers in dogs and cats, as well as reduces dog roaming and marking.
Claudia Hoffman created Fix Long Beach when she moved to the city from Germany and noticed the local animal overpopulation problem, especially in low-income areas. She started rescuing dogs and cats that were on the street, which she says was “emotionally and financially draining.”
“At one point I thought, you know what? Picking up one dog here, one dog there doesn’t make a difference, so I have to do something way, way better,” Hoffman said. “So I decided to get a few volunteers together and go into the neighborhoods and ask people why they don’t fix their animals, what is the problem, and how can we help?”
What Hoffman and other volunteers found was that many people who wished to spay and neuter their pets, but had not because of the expense, which can be upwards of $200-300 at a veterinarian’s office.
In order to qualify for a free spay/neuter or to have their animals microchipped, owners must show that they make less than $30,000 a year either through pay stubs, FERA, EBT Cards, or CARE. They must also show proof that they are residents of Long Beach. However, owners who are not Long Beach residents can still qualify to get low-cost shots and flea medications for their pets.
The mobile clinics are held on the fourth Saturday of every month, and the next event will take place Saturday, May 30. To get more information about all the services Fix Long Beach provides, go to their website.
For Rene Rodriguez, who is disabled on Social Security, paying only $10 to get his dog Bebe a Rabies vaccine at the mobile clinic helped him keep on track with his monthly budget.
“I didn’t know the community had this kind of activity to help people with their pets,” said Rodriguez.
Volunteers like Debbie Goodrich, who helped fix animals on her own before finding Fix Long Beach, assist with various duties like getting people checked in and filling out forms. Veterinarians and vet assistants perform the operations inside two RVs, which cost the organization $5,000 each.
“It’s incredible that this is something that is available, because it is so desperately needed everywhere,” said Goodrich. “To know that my community has this, it’s just awesome.”
Although the non-profit receives some financial help from a private donor, Hoffman said that donations are still very much in need, along with more volunteers.
“If it wasn’t for all the people helping out, and the compassion of everybody, this wouldn’t work,” said Hoffman.
Anyone can volunteer, as long as they are dedicated and personable, since educating pet owners is a primary goal of the organization. However, Hoffman stressed that volunteering for Fix Long Beach can be challenging.
“A lot of people assume that when they come (to volunteer) it is kind of like a petting zoo. It is not,” said Hoffman. “We are dealing with pitt bulls, animals with issues, animals that may have never been socialized. Most people live in a normal neighborhood, they see the neighbors walk their dogs on a leash; they’re all taken care of. Here we see animals that never got their nails trimmed and never wore a leash.”
Hoffman believes Fix Long Beach could be replicated in other cities.
“We are starting in Long Beach because we want to prove a point,” said Hoffman. “If we can reduce euthanasia rates and impounds at the shelters, anybody can do it. All you need is a group of committed volunteers willing to sit 12 hours in the sun, rain, cold.”