Free Weekly Staff
Marcia Donley is a woman on a mission. Last year, Donley, who rehabilitates and rents older properties in Fayetteville, established a nonprofit organization called Spay Arkansas (www.spayarkansas.org). She is currently working to establish a spay/neuter clinic for Northwest Arkansas.
A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Donley, who is also an artist and a gardener, has called Arkansas home since 1971. She came to Arkansas with undergraduate degrees in geology and anthropology, and earned a master’s degree in horticulture from the University of Arkansas. She had planned to return to the UA to work on a master’s degree in geo-science because she was interested in the UA’s Tree-Ring Lab. But she was diverted from this plan by something she read in the Free Weekly.
About six years ago, Donley read about the number of animals that were euthanized at the Fayetteville Animal Shelter in the Free Weekly. As an animal lover, she wanted to do something to change this.
“I was shocked and appalled there were so many,” Donley said.
Slowly and methodically Donley began educating herself about how to best reduce the number of unwanted pets in order to curb the euthanasia rate. She also began volunteering at the Fayetteville Animal Shelter.
She began taking shelter dogs that needed homes to the Fayetteville Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. Other volunteers joined the effort and many of the animals found homes. The shelter has continued this effort and Donley still helps out. Now, in addition to talking animals to the Farmers Market, shelter volunteers also take animals to other public events to increase the chance of adoption.
“They were a pool of great volunteers,” Donley said. “Sometimes we would have (adoption) applications for three or four a day.”
Fayetteville city councilman Kyle Cook and his wife, Jennifer, met Donley when they went to the Fayetteville Animal Shelter looking for a dog.
“She was so helpful at the shelter and kind to the dogs. She suggested that we bring our dog, Nikita, down to meet the dog we were interested in,” Jennifer Cook said. “We did, and they ran around in the dog park next to the shelter together and they seemed to get along fine. But we were still a little indecisive about getting another dog.”
A few days later, Jennifer went to the Farmers Market and saw the dog, a blond-and-white Australian shepard/border collie mix with one blue eye and one brown eye, with shelter volunteers.
“I realized I was in a panic that someone else might see her and adopt her, so I rushed up to Marcia and told her I’d made up my mind. She was so happy, and I was too. Seeing the dog on the square in a place where she was comfortable and social really made a difference.”
Donley also fosters cats from several area shelters and helps find homes for them. Donley is more intimately involved in caring for unwanted animals, as well.
Over the years, she has fostered, cared for and found homes for about 100 of unwanted cats and dogs. Often the animals need medical care or are physically challenged. Some are deaf and some have been injured. Not only has Donley given them shelter and love, she has paid for surgeries and other medical care out of her own pocket.
Earlier this year, Donley noticed a border collie/labrador mix with a badly injured eye at the Fayetteville Animal Shelter.
“Even with the eye, he was so dignified. He was just sitting there,” Donley said.
She offered to foster the dog and paid to have his eye removed by Dr. Dede Moore, a Rogers veterinarian. Donley took the dog home and cared for him for three weeks and then took him to the Farmers Market, hoping to find him a permanent home, which she did.
“This lovely family who had just moved here from Hawaii drove by,” Donley said. “They were looking for a companion dog for their dog. Now he’s sleeping at the end of their bed.”
Although saving the world one pet at a time is a good thing, Donley knows that to really address the problem of homeless, unwanted pets, a proactive approach is necessary. This means an aggressive spay-and-neuter program.
According to the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, there are so many homeless animals living in the U.S., that every man, woman, child and infant in the country would have to adopt seven cats or dogs to provide homes for them all.
In Northwest Arkansas, the Fayetteville and Rogers animal shelters are forced to kill about half of the animals that come into the shelters.
While continuing her hands-on approach, Donley has now entered the business end of the world of unwanted animals.
Last summer, she attended the three-day Southern Regional Spay and Neuter Leadership Conference in Memphis along with hundreds of other animal aid workers. She met people from around the country who were actively involved in spay/neuter programs of all kinds and sizes and attended workshops on a variety of topics. She learned how some states like New Hampshire provide financial support for spay-neuter programs. She also learned about some of the creative ways that individuals are working to reduce the number of homeless pets.
“There was a nurse from Memphis, who basically put together a sort of MASH unit in her car. She, a vet tech and a vet go to the really poor areas and do free spay-neuter in a community building.
“There were women from Phoenix, all volunteers, who had trapped, neutered and released about 39,000 feral cats since 1999.”
With the knowledge Donley gained at the conference and the inspiration and support from those she met there, she came home determined to do something to help get the word out about the importance of spaying and neutering.
She has talked with shelter personnel in NWA who all agreed that anything that would reduce the number of unwanted pets would help tremendously.
Donley set up the Spay Arkansas Web site (spayarkansas.org) as a resource that lists spay/neuter programs throughout the state and links to organizations throughout the country that are working for this common cause. She also printed and distributed brochures in NWA about Spay Arkansas and the importance of spaying and neutering.
This spring, Donley volunteered on the Louis Animal Foundation’s mobile spay/neuter van that traveled to communities in Northwest Arkansas for several months, sterilizing about 2,000 animals. She and another volunteer, booked appointments, helped with intake, recovery and discharge, and generally assisted the vet and the vet tech.
Donley is now busy working to raise funds to establish a spay/neuter clinic. Equipment costs are about $78,000 and so far Donley has commitments for about 20 percent of that from private donors. She is in the process of setting up the organization as a 501c3 so that donations will be tax deductible.
In addition to her rotating cast of foster pets, Donley has cats and dogs of her own. She is currently looking for a building to house Spay Arkansas and clinic.
For more information or to donate, call 442-7472 or go to spayarkansas.org.
Our Mission: No more homeless pets In Arkansas.
It is our mission to make Arkansas a place where there are no homeless pets by humanely reducing the population of companion animals with a statewide low-cost spay/neuter program for low income citizens based on the New Hampshire model and the Humane Alliance model, which both resulted in a decrease of shelter euthanasia by 70 percent in 10 years.
Arkansas has one of the highest rates of euthanasia per capita in the United States — about 35 animals per 1,000 people in 2005 for Washington County, compared to the national average of 15.5 per 1,000. Arkansas may have the dubious distinction of having one of the highest euthanasia rates in the world. Not only does this exact a terrible toll on the innocent dogs and cats, but it is also very hard on their caregivers. It certainly sends the wrong message to our children. It is expensive morally, emotionally and fiscally. It costs a lot to round up all those hapless animals, incarcerate them and then euthanize them, but with an effective low-cost spay/neuter program, every $1 spent would save $3 in animal control.
1. To establish a low-cost spay/neuter clinic in Fayetteville.
2. Pass a state law that establishes a fund that provides spay/neuter for low-income families.
3. Inform people that spay/neuter programs are more cost effective and humane than euthanizing.
Initially we need to define the extent and expense of the problem and to learn how many animals are adopted, reclaimed or euthanized.
Secondly, we want to educate the public about the extent of the problem and effectiveness of the solutions and to start building a statewide network of animal advocates.
We are actively engaged in establishing a low cost spay/neuter clinic that will serve Northwest Arkansas.
We need to engage the legislative process and work to pass legislation that will provide low-cost or free spay/neuter to low income people. We want to build a coalition of animal advocates throughout Arkansas, who will become a cohesive and powerful voice for those that have no voice.