A year of free fixings at this kitty clinic

Central Hillside resident Mark Howden, known as the Cat Man in his neighborhood, brought his fourth cat to be "fixed" Friday to the Northland Spay/Neuter Clinic in Duluth.

Cat owner
Mark Howden of Duluth lets his cat, Shari, climb up on his shoulders while waiting to bring her in for free surgery at the Northland Spay / Neuter Clinic in Lincoln Park on Friday morning. (Bob King / Duluth News-Tribune)

Central Hillside resident Mark Howden, known as the Cat Man in his neighborhood, brought his fourth cat to be "fixed" Friday to the Northland Spay/Neuter Clinic in Duluth.

The clinic in Lincoln Park is celebrating the completion of its first year in business with about 6,500 surgeries performed. It's the first of its kind in the state catering to low-income residents, and has been operating on a grant to offer free spaying and neutering for cats of low-income residents living in ZIP codes 55805 and 55806, which cover much of Lincoln Park and Duluth's Central Hillside. Animal Allies and the clinic are holding a "neuter-a-thon" today, with 65 cats expected to receive the free service.

"A lot of people can't afford to fix their animals," Howden said. "And there's a high percentage of feral and stray cats in Central Hillside."

Howden doesn't keep most of the cats that find their way to his home. Either people drop them off or he finds them in the neighborhood. He works to stabilize the wild cats and teaches them to walk on leashes and be good companions before finding them homes. The new clinic has helped him do what he considers his job, he said.

The clinic has a grant to spay or neuter more than 600 cats, and they are about halfway through it. People from the targeted ZIP codes can benefit from the grant until it runs out, said Jim Filby Williams, executive director of the Duluth Animal Allies Humane Society. The grant is for cats because Duluth is not overpopulated with dogs.


Dr. Amanda Bruce owns the clinic. She said the grant is for specific areas of the city that produce the most stray cats brought to the city shelter. About 45 percent of shelter cats come from those areas, which house only

23 percent of the city's human population, she said.

"Mainly, these are healthy, young adoptable cats," she said. "These are cats that will sit on your lap, are very friendly. They're just homeless."

Those cats usually end up at Animal Allies. The clinic has done a lot to reduce the area's cat overpopulation, Filby Williams said. The city is on track to euthanize fewer than 300 animals this year, none of them considered healthy animals.

If no healthy animals are put down this year, Duluth could be the first major Minnesota city to reach that goal.

In 1982, Filby Williams said, 2,241 animals in Duluth were euthanized. In 1985 Animal Allies started its spaying and neutering financial assistance program and by 2005, 700 animals in the city were euthanized. In 2007 Bruce began operating a mobile spaying and neutering service and the number continued to drop.

Filby Williams said Bruce's and her team's work has helped bring area shelters together. Many that never performed surgeries before adopting out animals now do through the clinic.

People who benefit from the clinic often leave money to help the next person, Bruce said.


"People want to do the right thing," she said. "Some just can't afford it."

Free surgery for cat
Veterinarian Tammy Schilling performs an initial exam on Goldie, a cat that was brought in to be spayed on Friday at the Northland Spay/Neuter Clinic. Assisting is Lisa Lepak, a certified veterinary technician. (Bob King /

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