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The Unkindest Cut Lawsuit, Lack Of Business Force Spay And Neuter Clinic To Close

The area’s oldest animal spaying and neutering clinic closes its doors today, broke and saddled with legal bills.

Lilac City Spay and Neuter Clinic, which operated for 24 years in a rented Sprague Avenue building, is shutting down because of a former veterinarian’s lawsuit and a lack of business, its former manager said Tuesday.

The low-cost non-profit agency performed more than 130,000 pet operations for owners from as far away as Canada and Montana.

In February, the animal clinic lost a $200,000 Spokane County Superior Court lawsuit. A former veterinarian at the clinic, Erin Downes, filed the suit after losing her job in late 1994. She sued last year, seeking damages for wrongful termination.

Compounding the clinic’s financial problems was the city’s creation of a subsidized animal spaying and neutering service, said John Sherrick, the clinic’s board president.

City voters in November approved a ballot measure setting aside $97,000 for free spay and neuter services.

That service - aimed at reducing the number of unwanted dogs and cats born in the city - began April 1.

Lilac City Spay and Neuter Clinic was one of two bidders for that contract.

The contract went to SpokAnimal CARE and 10 other veterinary clinics, who together submitted a higher-cost bid.

SpokAnimal was awarded the contract after a review committee said Lilac City’s staff couldn’t handle the volume of animal services needed.

“Ever since the (contract was awarded), we’ve seen our business drop,” Sherrick said.

The clinic’s full-time veterinarian used to perform about 25 operations a day. In the past month, that number dropped to 10 per day.

On Tuesday, after working at the clinic as manager for most of the past 17 years, Marnie Ramey looked at the cages and treatment rooms, then acknowledged closing would be painful.

“I guess, after what we’ve gone through, it’s just time to call it quits,” Ramey said.

Sherrick said the board will meet Friday to discuss what options still remain - including possible reorganization.

“We don’t want to close, but we’ve been trying hard for weeks and not found other options,” he said.

Sherrick and others said it’s unlikely the board can afford to appeal the $200,000 judgment against the clinic.

No money has yet been paid to Downes. The clinic has spent about $10,000 to fight the lawsuit, money it now cannot replace easily.

Sherrick added that if the clinic had won the city’s spaying and neutering contract, it could have continued operating, setting aside money to pay Downes.

“This is a terrible loss to the city,” said LaVerne Kettlety, who drafted the ballot initiative that created the subsidized animal-control program.

“I’ve been to the clinic two times and they did great work,” she said. She said the staff there adhered to the clinic’s goal - easing the burden on pet owners who need low-cost, safe, animal-care services.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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