Officially, animal control in the village of Kake comes from the barrel of the public safety officer's gun. And in a town the vet rarely visits, the many dogs and cats that aren't neutered or spayed have become, as Mayor Paul Reese puts it, "very prolific."
Luckily for the town's unwanted animals, Irving Sheldon and his wife Janet, have been housing, feeding and finding homes for wayward pets for the past 25 years.
"These are animals that have potential," Irving Sheldon said. "Animals like that shouldn't be put to death."
When the Sheldons have more than they can handle, they run ads in the papers in Petersburg and Juneau such as this freebie ad that ran in the Juneau Empire recently: "Help! We need good loving homes for 13 dogs & 10 cats."
If someone in Juneau responds, many local flying services will ship the pet to its new home for free.
Chava Lee, executive director of the Gastineau Humane Society in Juneau, wishes the homeless dogs and cats from Kake were never born.
"People say, 'Great, it's a free dog. I'd rather have a free dog than pay the costs associated with getting one from the humane society in Juneau.' You have to realize animals like that have real costs," she said.
Rescued pets from Kake often weren't spayed or neutered, and they haven't been vaccinated, Lee said. Though the dogs may seem free, there are the costs of sterilizing, vaccinating, and licensing the animals, as the city of Juneau and the humane society require.
Aside from health risks such as the highly contagious and deadly Parvo virus associated with an unvaccinated animal, an unsterilized animal from out-of-town may have other costs, too, Lee said. For example, it may have puppies and kittens that end up at the humane society.
Half of the nearly 800 dogs the shelter deals with every year come from outlying areas. There are no figures on the cats. Recently, there were about eight homeless dogs and 70 homeless cats at the shelter, she said. Though dog numbers have stayed constant over the last few years, cat numbers are on the rise, Lee said.
Kake is not the only community that sends homeless pets to Juneau. Animals from other small Southeast communities, such as Angoon, Hoonah and Haines, end up at the humane society. Donations and licensing fees cover the cost of unwanted animals' care, Lee said. It is a lot to ask the local humane society to care for animals from outside when those communities don't contribute to the cost of that care, she said.
"Each community needs to live up to their responsibility when there are not enough homes for the dogs in their town," Lee said.
The Sheldons understand the importance of spaying and neutering, but don't have any way to cover the cost of the procedure, let alone the expense of getting a vet to Kake.
"We already owe a $350 bill at the animal humane society, and the money will come out of our own pockets. We just have to make payments," Irving Spalding said.
Reese, Kake's mayor, said the City Council voted last week to begin to enforce a law written in the 1980s that will require residents to tie up, license and vaccinate their dogs. There is a $15 license discount for owners who spay or neuter their dog. But, Reese said, the city isn't committing any funds to bringing veterinary care to the town.
Other small communities have started to address the problem of unwanted animals. Petersburg has a small humane society kennel and a vet. Haines now has a rescue dog kennel, but doesn't have the resources for constant veterinary care. Skagway has visiting vet clinics in its recreation center. Hoonah hired Ingrid Boettcher as the town animal control officer, and she has been setting up spay and neuter clinics with a traveling vet.
"They usually do 10 to 15 surgeries, but we are still not on top of it," Boettcher said. "It only takes a few litters for it to be out of control again."
The cost of the surgery at a spay and neuter clinic in a small community is between $120 and $150, depending on the weight of the dog (about $15 more than in Juneau because of travel costs).
If five or more people in the community are willing to pay for the procedure, Southeast Veterinary Clinic will send a vet to Kake, said Barb Deyell, a veterinarian from the clinic.
Lee stressed having a pet neutered or spayed is an essential part of being a responsible pet owner, no matter where the owner lives. The Gastineau Humane Society provides 50-percent-off coupons for sterilization in town.
"If you cannot afford to care humanely for your pet, don't have one. If you think it will be better for your pet to have a litter, think again. If you want your child to be able to watch a birth, rent a video," Lee said. "People who are cruel to animals get black marks in heaven."
Julia O'Malley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.