Kevin Riordan: At Camden County Animal Shelter, a monthly veterinary hospital to neuter cats

Volunteers tend to the cats after their surgeries in a recovery area at the Camden County Animal Shelter's clinic. Owners pick up their pets later in the afternoon. "You name it, we get it. And we fix it," said coordinator Adrienne Christotas Timko.
Volunteers tend to the cats after their surgeries in a recovery area at the Camden County Animal Shelter's clinic. Owners pick up their pets later in the afternoon. "You name it, we get it. And we fix it," said coordinator Adrienne Christotas Timko. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 17, 2011

A fluffy feral cat snoozes on his side.

Even anesthetized, this big boy looks as if he loves living the wild life.

But Mr. Kitty's tomcatting career is about to be, shall we say, cut short.

"I've got the technique down to where it's just, bang-bang," says Blackwood's Joe Filigno, one of three veterinarians at the Camden County Animal Shelter's monthly spay-neuter clinic.

"Boom-boom," says his colleague, Marji Metlitz of Mullica Hill.

However one chooses to describe the procedures, 123 cats - more than half of them house pets - are now spayed or neutered, and many also have been vaccinated and tested for leukemia and other feline ailments. Feral cats are sterilized, vaccinated, and released; the procedures are paid for the trappers or rescuers who bring them in.

"You name it, we get it. And we fix it," coordinator and Stratford resident Adrienne Christotas Timko says, describing the mostly volunteer operation as "our assembly line."

On Sunday, the main meeting room in the Lindenwold Senior Center is transformed into a sophisticated, if temporary, veterinary hospital, complete with stations for intake, vaccination/treatment, anesthesia/pain management, prep, surgery, post-op, and recovery.

There's even an "ICU," featuring extra attention and heating pads for kitties who have a tougher time coming out from under anesthesia.

All for $25.

"We provide people with an option for what can cost $300 if they get their animals fixed privately," says Barbara Giusti, a Camden County animal shelter employee. "You can preach to people all you want, but if you don't provide an option, it's not going to make any difference."

About 35 volunteers, including veterinary professionals, pet-store employees, and "foster parents" for shelter animals, carry out assigned tasks (such as carrying comatose cats). These people are a community defined by a deep love for and commitment to animals, particularly cats.

"This is the only way we're going to stop the killing of cats," says Judy Hibbs, a Mantua resident who works at the Gloucester County Animal Shelter.

More than 9,000 shelter cats were euthanized in Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester Counties in 2009, according to the most recent state statistics.

Amid the plaintive meows punctuating the human conversations, the dominant sound in the room is the buzz of clippers and the whoosh of a handheld vacuum cleaner.

Tiffany Borrero, a Camden County College veterinary technology student from Camden, and Maureen Briand, a veterinary technician from Barrington, shave one female feline after another. Expertly, side by side, they make sure every animal's undercarriage - and the shaving station itself - is free of fur.

Securely spread-eagled on separate, custom-made "spay boards" made of plexiglass, the female cats are then carried to one of the three tabletop operating platforms in the surgical area.

Filigno, Metlitz, and Sheila Maier, all experienced South Jersey veterinarians, barely pause between operations except to unwrap another pack of sterile implements and don a fresh pair of gloves.

Removal of uterus and ovaries generally takes five to 10 minutes.

"I pretty much do the females," says Maier, of Somerdale, deftly demonstrating for a columnist, who suddenly feels a bit light-headed.

"It's good blood," says Giusti, who lives in Barrington and is handling logistics during the clinic.

Filigno and Metlitz periodically switch to the males, who wait in rows on nearby tables for snip-snips that take about a minute.

With this many animals, speed really is of the essence.

"I'm pretty fast," says Ashley Titus, a vet tech with Camden County who lives in Gloucester Township. Depending on the services requested by the owners (caregiver is the preferred parlance), she vaccinates, tests blood, or provides ear-cleaning for a quick succession of still-sleepy cats.

She also slices a tiny but visible notch (or "tip") in an ear of each feral cat to mark it as sterilized.

The pace of all this is certainly brisk, but there are no "drive-through" procedures at this clinic.

Cats are "not allowed to leave until they can at least stand," Giusti says.

She and the other volunteers, whose dedication I salute, have no illusions about the magnitude of the task. In 2009, according to the N.J. Department of Health and Senior Services, 16,000 cats were brought to shelters in Camden, Burlington, and Gloucester Counties.

"You never get on top of it," Titus notes.

On this day the clinic will permanently prevent 123 cats from reproducing, while within a few miles hundreds, if not thousands, of fertile cats are busy making more babies.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, 71 percent of all cats entering U.S. shelters are euthanized.

For now at least, our friend the tomcat won't be among them.

Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845 or Read the metro columnists' blog at


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