Tina Parra's surprise when her teenage son brought home a boxer turned into shock when the Windsor waitress contacted veterinary clinics to see about getting the puppy spayed.
"It was going to be $250. I couldn't afford it at the time," said Parra, a single mom.
For a mere $30, Sonoma County's new mobile spay and neuter clinic performed the same service Wednesday inside a van parked at the Western Farm Center in Santa Rosa.
"It's a huge help," Parra said.
The debut of the mobile clinic, dubbed the Love-Me-Van, marked the county's latest attempt to utilize the specially equipped vehicle, which was purchased 12 years ago with dreams of bringing low-cost spay and neuter services to the masses.
That vision mostly went unrealized, but that has not deterred Animal Care and Control Director Amy Cooper from trying again to cut down on unwanted cat and dog births in Sonoma County by going to where the need for sterilization is greatest.
Among the 13 animals waiting their turn Wednesday to go under the knife was Mary Jane, a Maltese mix brought in by Dovie Camacho, who is homeless and found the dog.
The dog, which is about 3 years old, already has given birth to two litters of puppies. But Camacho could not afford the cost of having it spayed at a private clinic, said her daughter, who lives in Windsor and gave her first name as Desirea.
She predicted the county's service "is really going to help a lot of people."
The outreach service, which is being marketed as "Love Me, Fix Me," replaces a voucher program at the county shelter that Cooper said was "cumbersome" and "confusing."
She said the shelter has made strides in the number of animals that are adopted out or released to rescue groups. In the fiscal year ending last June, nearly 5,600 cats and dogs were brought to the shelter. Of those, just over 1,200 were euthanized. Cooper said those animals were unadoptable because of medical ailments or other reasons.
By targeting areas where people struggle to afford spay and neuter services, Cooper hopes those numbers will decrease.
"There won't be instant results," she said. "It will take time."
Such was the dream in 2000 when the county purchased the specialized van for $160,000 using public and private funds. Instead, the van was mostly idled amid bickering between the county and animal welfare advocates. The van even was the subject of a 2009 county grand jury report that criticized officials for not utilizing the service.
Cooper said the mobile van can perform as many as 2,400 sterilizations this year. That would be nearly five times what the county shelter was providing annually through the voucher program.
She said the van will be in operation two to three times a week across the county. Areas to be targeted include those with a high number of low-income residents, those where surrenders of animals are common and rural areas where people lack the means of getting to Santa Rosa.