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Whidbey Island's own cat hero

WAIF volunteer Linda Fauth holds a gas mask to the muzzle of a spunky Jack Russel terrier, comforting the dog before it’s surgery - Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times
WAIF volunteer Linda Fauth holds a gas mask to the muzzle of a spunky Jack Russel terrier, comforting the dog before it’s surgery
— image credit: Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times

Whidbey Island’s Linda Fauth, a longtime animal advocate and devoted Whidbey Animal Improvement Foundation volunteer, is in the running for Animal Planet’s Cat Hero of the Year award. She is one of 10 finalists in the national competition, chosen from a pool of thousands of nominees.

Mary Jo Adams suggested Fauth for the award for her instrumental role in getting the nonprofit program up and running during its early days.

If you ask Fauth about all she does for WAIF, she’ll dodge the question and say the program wouldn’t run without the help of WAIF’s many dedicated volunteers.

A former flight attendant, Fauth put herself through vet tech school, earning her LVT in two years so she could run the spay/neuter clinic at WAIF.

“I felt that if I had the license that I would have more credibility to get this rolling,” she said.

More than 6,000 surgeries have been performed since the start of the program in February 1998.

The program has come a long way since its humble beginnings when Fauth transported furry patients to the Island County Coroner’s office, prepped the animals by 6 a.m. for County Coroner Robert Bishop — formerly a veterinarian — to start snipping and clipping.

“Robert did this all before the start of his 12-hour days,” Fauth said.

Bishop countered by saying that in order to accomplish this feat, Fauth woke up at 4:30 a.m. and transported the animals from Coupeville to Oak Harbor for the procedures.

The current facility, located in Coupeville, is the product of Fauth’s dedication to these animals, said fellow volunteer Alyce Vickland.

It was Fauth who researched the equipment, figured out the necessities and how to pull the project off within the confines of WAIF’s modest budget. At times, that meant the purchase of used equipment, but after all her hard work, WAIF operates with a complete spay/neuter facility.

“Linda is responsible for this,” Vickland said, noting the time, effort and expense of setting up such a facility.

Adams also credits Fauth for the success of the spay/neuter program.

“With Linda’s leadership and encouragement, WAIF made the decision that no animal would be adopted from its facilities that had not been spayed or neutered. Linda planned, organized and built the operating room and the prep and recover area,” she said.

Fauth has managed and overseen the surgical program ever since, scheduling teams of veterinarians, volunteer assistants and personally assisting with many of the surgeries.

“When it comes to caring for the animals of Whidbey Island, Linda Fauth is an example of the kind of person we should all aspire to be,” Adams said.

“About a year ago, Linda fell and broke her hip, requiring hip replacement surgery. As soon as she was back on her feet, Linda was back at the shelter and working in the spay/neuter clinic limping a bit but as enthusiastic as ever,” she said.

This week, the Whidbey News-Times spent the morning with Fauth at WAIF’s Coupeville operating facility. The team of volunteers moved quickly and efficiently through a long list of dogs and cats in need of a spay or neuter procedure. Fauth made sure each animal was comfortable and prepped before their surgery, careful to vaccinate for rabies and make a small green tattoo on each patient’s ear, marking the animal as ‘altered.’

Between patients, Fauth placed used surgical instruments in a sanitation machine, as other volunteers buzzed about the facility checking on post-op patients, clipping nails and assisting with whatever else needed to be done.

The volunteers’ passion radiated throughout the small prep and operating room as they worked on the dopey animals.

“Everyone has a name,” Fauth said, “because it is so much more personable.”

Fauth’s favorite part of her work at WAIF is watching an animal go to a good home.

“It makes me feel like we’re accomplishing something.”

Fauth’s involvement doesn’t stop there. Five years ago she spearheaded a feral cat catch-alter-release program, which allows island residents (with the exception of those living in Oak Harbor) to borrow a trap from WAIF to catch feral cats on their property. WAIF, in turn, spays or neuters the cats, which are then returned to the wild after their recovery.

“Then they’re not out there multiplying,” Fauth said of the feral animals, which are too wild to be pets.

Like many other nonprofit organizations, WAIF is bearing down to weather the straining economy.

“In bad economic times, the number of animals go way up and donations go way down,” she said.

In the midst of the nation’s economic downturn, WAIF is in fact experiencing an increase in animals and a decrease in funding.

“It’s like a double-whammy,” she said.

If Fauth wins the Cat Hero of the Year award, WAIF will receive $5,000. The final winner will be determined through a vote on the Animal Planet Web site at http://animal.discovery.com/convergence/hero_of_the_year/poll/cat-poll.html, or go to http://animal.discovery.com/ and type “Fauth” in the site search box. Voting ends Oct. 13 and the winner will be announced on Dec. 4 at 10 p.m. on Animal Planet Heros.

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