Local organization wants to help fix your pals

It's not like she planned to have 18 cats. They just kept showing up.

One was put out by its owners on the road right in front of her when she was driving. Another was dropped off in her yard. Still others were brought to Bland by her daughter.

''I think this is what God wants me to do,'' the kitty caretaker said.

Bland loves each and every cat that can be found lounging in each and every room of her Pooler home. But the vet bills can get out of hand, especially because she wouldn't dream of letting any of her pets go without spaying or neutering.

That's where the Pet Assistance League of Savannah, PALS for short, comes in. The animal welfare organization provides financial aid to people who want to get their pets spayed or neutered but can't quite afford it. Bland estimates she's saved at least $500 by using PALS to spay and neuter about three-quarters of her cats over the years.

Each spaying or neutering costs her about $25, much less than she'd be paying without PALS.

''PALS has been an absolute lifesaver,'' she said. ''I'd probably have 50 cats by now if it wasn't for them.''

Since it was formed in 1982, PALS has provided partial funding to help spay or neuter thousands of animals. This year, the group has already spayed or neutered over 180 dogs, said Catharine Kelly, PALS' treasurer, training director and chairman of the spay and neuter committee.

PALS' budget comes from fees collected for their dog training classes and from dog dips held during the summer, among other things. The group also accepts donations.

People seeking PALS' assistance must prove a financial need, but there is no hard and fast income cutoff income. Applications are judged on a case-by-case basis, most of which are approved.

Brenda Lamont is another pet owner who is grateful for PALS. When she took her three dogs to the vet in February, she figured $400 would be enough to cover their shots and tags, leaving enough left over to neuter Sabbath, her black flat-coated retriever.

She didn't expect Cujo, her German Shepherd-Rottweiler mix to be diagnosed with heartworms, a curable but costly diagnosis that meant her budget was out the window.

''That added expense just put us over the top,'' said Lamont's husband John.

But Sabbath needed to be neutered. He could climb over the Lamont's fence, which he was prone to do when the female dogs in the neighborhood came calling. Brenda Lamont didn't want Sabbath getting one of those dogs pregnant because ''with my luck, momma would stay here,'' she said.

PALS knocked $90 off the Lamont's vet bill, which meant that Sabbath could be neutered and fewer unwanted puppies would end up on the street.

Bland is doing her part to spread the word, constantly telling friends and neighbors about PALS. Sometimes they'll get offended because it implies they can't afford the cost of spaying or neutering. But she speaks up anyway.

''People don't realize that spaying and neutering needs to be done,'' she said. ''They need to take responsibility for their pets.''

Kelly agrees. She's very concerned about the overpopulation of animals in Savannah. Two examples she cites as part of the problem are that a cat can get pregnant again two days after giving birth, and a male dog can smell a female dog in heat two miles away. Without spaying and neutering, the overpopulation will only get worse, but she's encouraged by the number of people who've come to PALS over the past few months.