Diane Davison, founder and president of No Kill Lehigh Valley, distinctly remembers a phone call she received one morning. The call was not from a family member or a friend — instead, it was from a man she had never met.
This man had accidently let his cat out of the house and spent the night looking for it with no success. The next morning, he found the cat outside his door on the front step with one eye protruding from its head. The cat had endured severe damage after being hit by a car.
“The man had nothing,” Davison said.
He was a cancer patient. His house was in foreclosure. He had no car.
But the cat meant so much to him. He explained to Davison that it was what got him through chemotherapy.
Davison and the rest of the volunteers at No Kill Lehigh Valley receive calls like this frequently. The organization works to raise money to pay for dog and cat veterinary care, as well as to provide low-cost spay and neuter operations for cats.
It is not a shelter; its main goal is actually to keep animals out of shelters.
The man who called Davison that morning was lucky. Davison and her team were able to pay for the vet care that ultimately saved the cat’s life.
“I’ve always believed that if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” Davison said.
This mindset prompted Davison to create No Kill Lehigh Valley about six years ago, after serving as a board member, and later president, of the Northampton County SPCA in Easton, which is now known as the Center for Animal Health and Welfare.
During her time there, Davison gained insight into the world of shelters for animals.
“Even the best-run shelters are a horrible, horrible place for animals to ever be,” Davison said. “They can literally be a death sentence.”
According to No Kill Advocacy Center’s official website, eight million animals enter shelters every year nationwide, and four million are killed.
Davison said many pet owners feel like they have no choice when bringing their animals to shelters because they cannot afford vet care.
“Animal medical costs cost very similar to human medical costs,” Vice President and board member Robin Schultz said.
Another reason for the high population of animals in shelters results from unwanted animals being abandoned by both pet owners and breeders.
“Unfortunately, we live very, very close to the puppy mill capital of the country,” Schultz said.
Lancaster County, which is located approximately 80 miles from the Lehigh Valley, is notoriously known for breeding animals at high rates in unsafe conditions.
Schultz said the animals that do not get sold immediately are either killed or sold to pet shops. However, due to the pace at which these animals are bred, many of them have medical problems, resulting in abandonment.
“If we sterilized, spayed and neutered, and stopped breeding, we would have a realistic (pet) population,” Schultz said. “It is sustainable to have a no-kill situation where you’re only putting animals to sleep that are aren’t viable.”
Still, some animals are not sterilized because their owners cannot afford it. Davison said the average spay or neuter operation can range from $100 to $300 and sometimes more.
In order to alleviate this problem, the No Kill Lehigh Valley team puts on Operation Catsnip, which are low cost spaying and neutering days. Davison said all the vets donate their time, which always fills up quickly.
“We charge $35 for females and $25 for males,” Davison said. “So that’s the best deal around.”
However, even with the income from Operation Catsnip, low-cost vaccine clinics and other fundraising tactics, like raffles and garage sales, money is still hard to come by.
“It’s just constant,” board member Amy Kocis said. “There’s always another animal, whether it’s in need of medial attention or just in need of a home, or if it’s a stray on the streets and it needs to be spayed or neutered.”
Due to the high number of animals in need, the organization has to rely on public donations as a source of income. Grants provide a larger amount of income, but many can only be applied for once a year.
“If you consider all the causes (in the world), the amount that is donated to animals is unfortunately very, very negligible,” Schultz said.
Recently, the organization has completely run out of money and has had to suspend all services. It has had to put a message on both its website and answering machine to inform those looking for help of its situation.
“The phone keeps ringing,” Kocis said. “And when you don’t have the funding and you have to say no, you just don’t know if, when you hang up, that animal is going to be killed.”
All the volunteers at the organization feel saddened when they cannot help those who need it. Sometimes they are compelled to personally get involved.
Davison recently adopted a mother cat that gave birth in a parking lot, as well as two of her kittens.
Kocis took in a cat found outside a restaurant with a disease called “pillow foot,” which causes the bottoms of a cat’s feet to become inflamed.
Schultz took in a cat that was going to be euthanized because of what were said to be autoimmune problems.
For the future, No Kill Lehigh Valley hopes to establish a steady form of income that will make it possible to never have to turn anyone away.
“When we’re helping these animals, there’s always a human attached to them who cares desperately about them and wants to help them,” Davison said. “No animal should have to die just because it’s homeless.”