Silver cat-shaped earrings bounced next to Janeene Johnston’s head. She weaved her way through the throngs of people waiting to serve themselves pasta at the annual Spay-Ghetti Dinner, hosted by the Spay Neuter Project on Feb 19. Johnston, executive director of the project and the event’s organizer, made it a point to stop at each table she passed by in the large room of First Presbyterian Church. She stopped to greet guests, each of whom paid either $10 in advance or $15 at the door for a seat at the event. Although she has only been executive director of the program since November of 2018, her spot in the community was clear through her relationships with the guests seated in the hall.
This year’s seventh annual Spay-Ghetti dinner featured a buffet-style spaghetti dinner along with a bake sale, silent auction and musical performances including the Burney Sisters. All proceeds from the night went entirely toward funding the Spay Neuter Project’s clinic, which offers affordable and trustworthy spays, neuters and other veterinary care for people who may not be able to afford these operations for their pets, Johnston said.
“Most people cite finances as the reason they don’t spay or neuter pets and it just keeps that cycle going of unwanted litters,” Johnston said. “If you can’t afford to have them fixed, how can you afford another three, four, five, six, seven animals? So our whole goal is to be able to break that cycle and have it be very reasonably priced.”
The Spay Neuter Project is a subset of No Kill Columbia. This organization aims to increase awareness of companion animal-related issues in order to prevent unnecessary deaths of these animals, specifically in shelters, according to their website. Since spaying and neutering pets means removing their reproductive organs, this is an essential aspect of their goal. Co-owner of pet store Lizzi and Rocco’s, Jessica Schlosser, has been attending the Spay-Ghetti Dinner in order to support this cause since the event began seven years ago.
“Ultimately, the fewer animals there are in a situation where we do have an overpopulation problem, the better, because if more people get their animals spayed and neutered, there are less accidental litters,” Schlosser said. “When there are less accidental litters, that means there are just less animals who we need to find placement for... So it’s one really important piece of a much bigger puzzle for helping to reduce animals in shelters.“
Johnston said people drive up to an hour and a half to Columbia just to use the Spay Neuter Project clinic due to its significantly cheaper prices. She said she recently had a conversation with a man who said the cheapest veterinary prices he could find to fix and vaccinate his dog were still $180, whereas the Spay Neuter Project offered the same services for just $90.
“The flipside is, we say repeatedly, we understand that [we are affordable], but we are not your regular vet,” Johnston said. “We only do spay, neuter and vaccines because we don’t want people to not have a regular vet. Everybody needs to have somebody they go to in case of emergency or if your animal’s sick. If this is affordable, hopefully then they will be able to [afford to] continue to do care with their vet down the road.”
Johnston said the Spay-Ghetti Dinner is influential in keeping these prices down, since it generates so many donations for the program. Last year, the dinner followed a fire in the building where the clinic is housed which threatened its ability to remain open. The tragedy, however, caused a huge turnout at the annual fundraiser. Faye Nowell, board member and Southpaw Acres dog daycare owner, said the bake sale alone raised over $2,000. This year, around 270 people attended in support of the project. The camaraderie of a room full of animal lovers, however, remained the same, Johnston said.
“I think that [the people here] also really believe in what we do and they truly have seen that we can make a difference,” Johnston said. “It was really pretty unbelievable the amount of people who came last year. But I think what you’re going to see is that every one of these people are pet lovers and that’s really important.”
This community is an important part of what draws people like Schlosser back to this event year after year. From Schlosser of Lizzi and Rocco’s to Ryan Kennedy and staff of Papa’s Cat Cafe to the faculty of Creekside Pet Center, the room was chock full of figures of the Columbia pet scene.
“Honestly, it’s one of my favorite events because there are so many community members who are here, like people who we see in the store and at other events,” Schlosser said. “It feels like this giant weird family reunion... Probably my favorite thing is just the general community support that comes out for it. I think it’s awesome.”
The Spay Neuter Project offers certain veterinary care to anyone in need, regardless of income or other financial needs. More information can be found at https://www.spayneuterprojectmo.org. The Spay-Ghetti Dinner will occur again in 2020 for its eighth year.
Edited by Janae McKenzie | email@example.com