Leo Carroll rolled through the shadowy light of dawn Tuesday on what he calls his "mission of kindness."
At the wheel of a Los Angeles County's "Pet Mobile," he headed for Lucy Miller's house in Whittier to pick up her charcoal-black cat, Midnight.
It is the kind of trip Carroll has made often since last year when the Department of Animal Control and Care began a pickup-and-delivery service that transports pets belonging to senior citizens and the disabled to the county spay-neuter clinic, which performs the surgery for a standard fee. Miller's cat was going to the department's Downey headquarters to be spayed, an operation that means a 24-hour stay at the clinic.
Important to Senior Citizens
"To a senior or a shut-in, the pets are exceptionally important. . . . To them, pets are like a companion or a child. It's everything," said Carroll, 69, a retired food service manager who has been a volunteer reserve animal control officer for five years.
"Those people are concerned about how you're going to handle their animal," he said. "You've got to be as gentle as a feather. The key is a lot of tender, loving care. It's sort of a mission of kindness."
Carroll's approach has received high marks from the county Department of Senior Citizen Affairs, which last month agreed to finance the program for a second year, allocating $5,000 to keep the Pet Mobile "mini-bus" running through December.
For the next two months, the bright blue mini-bus, which was donated to the county by a Hollywood-based group, Actors and Others for Animals, will be based at the Downey animal shelter on Garfield Avenue, serving most of southeast Los Angeles County. Later, the program will rotate among the county's other five shelters--Carson, Baldwin Park, Agoura, Lancaster and Castaic, said Kaye Michelson, the Pet Mobile project coordinator.
In 1984, the county received about 500 inquiries about the program, with Carroll picking up 105 cats and dogs for surgery.
"At first a lot of people ask, 'What's the catch?' But there just isn't any," Michelson said. "We're just providing a free service because it benefits them and us, by reducing the potential for unwanted litters."
George Baca, chief deputy director of the county's animal control program, said an animal that is spayed or neutered is easier to handle for older people. "The animals are less hyper, particularly male dogs, who have a tendency to want to run and run and run," Baca said.
When Carroll picks up the animals, the smaller ones are transported in a small cardboard box perforated with numerous air holes. Larger animals, mostly dogs, are placed in built-in cages inside the bus.
Besides the free pickup and delivery of pets for surgery, Baca said the Pet Mobile is used to take the shelter's animals to local hospitals, such as Rancho Los Amigos Medical Center. Physically handicapped patients can then hold and pet the animals. "It's a hands-on kind of therapy for the patients," Baca said.
Though the operation is done for a fee, there is a financial incentive to do it. Owners who have their animals spayed or neutered are charged only half the annual $16 pet registration fee.
While the Pet Mobile is free to disabled people or those over 60, there is a charge for the spay or neuter surgery. For a male cat it's $13 and for a female it's $18. For dogs, the cost ranges from $23 to $60 depending on the gender and weight of the animal.
Information about the program may be obtained by calling the 24-hour Pet Mobile hot line, 862-3109.