EVERETT — Lisa Thompson operates wearing a sterile blue gown, a mask and gloves.
Classical music fills a surgical room not much larger than a walk-in closet.
On the table is Chanel, who lies on her back with a shaved belly and her four kitty legs splayed apart. Her littermate, Coco, is waiting in the next room.
Thompson is the city of Everett’s lone staff veterinarian. It’s hard, sometimes heart- wrenching work that doesn’t pay as well as her former private practice job.
Still, she feels duty-bound.
“I’m helping the animals no one wants to help,” she said.
A city veterinarian is rare in Washington state. Seattle is the only other large city with one on the payroll.
That’s partly because most cities don’t run shelters, and contract out animal services to private groups or counties.
Everett has its own shelter and used to farm out all its surgeries to private vets in the area.
Last year, city officials decided to try something new.
They hired Thompson to work on site at the city shelter. She performs minor surgeries, prescribes medications and assesses sick and injured animals.
“She’s compassionate and comes with good credentials,” said Deborah Wright, a city administrator who serves as a liaison to the Everett Animal Shelter board. “She’s an amazing lady and we are fortunate to have her.”
In an effort to reduce strays and the number of animals euthanized, the Everett Animal Shelter microchips and spays or neuters all adopted pets.
Consequently, Thompson spends a good part of her work day performing surgeries on cats and dogs. Since January, she’s spayed or neutered more than 600 animals.
“I’m up to my elbows in gonads,” she quipped.
Employing a city vet saves money and ultimately provides better care for the animals, Wright said.
Even with discounts provided by area vets, it’s still cheaper and easier to take care of spaying and neutering on site. Plus, there’s no shuttling animals back and forth.
Surgical equipment was paid for by a $40,000 grant from a nonprofit group that supports the Everett shelter.
“We take spays and neuters very seriously,” Wright said. “We don’t want unwanted animals wandering the streets.”
Thompson also helps abandoned ill and injured animals brought in to the shelter.
“Having me assess an animal that comes in saves the time and expense of taking it to a local clinic for diagnosis and possible treatment,” Thompson said.
Take Clyde, for instance.
The handsome, flirty buff-colored cat crawled up into a car and got caught in a fan belt. He survived and was brought into the shelter with severe abrasions a few weeks ago. Thompson was able to treat him on site and someone soon adopted him — stitches and all.
“For a fan-belt kitty, he was actually lucky,” she said. “They tend to suffer very severe injuries.”
On a case like this, Thompson estimates she saved the city as much as $250 in vet fees. She also saved Clyde.
Thompson, 45, said she never wanted to be a veterinarian as a kid growing up in Marysville. Instead, she dreamed of dinosaurs and wanted to work as vertebrate paleontologist. A few “incredibly, horribly boring” college courses had her thinking instead about vet school.
It’s clear she loves animals — all kinds. At her home in Marysville, she keeps five cats, three dogs, two corn snakes and two dozen fish.
In her office at the shelter, she keeps a rat named Carmen — named after the opera — who likes Pop-Tarts.
What’s hard for Thompson to swallow is misconceptions about people who work at shelters. Occasionally, people come into the shelter and remark they couldn’t stomach the heartache, particularly when animals are put down.
It’s hard for Thompson, too, and she said the staff saves as many as they can.
“The ultimate compassion is willing to do the things other people in society have shirked responsibility for,” she said. “You have to have strength to be able to do it. A lot of people burn out.”
So many animals are unwanted and never get a shot at a good life, she said. So many don’t have someone to advocate for them. Thompson said she wants to be the person who can.
“For some of them, you’re the only kind voice or gentle hand they’ll ever know.”
Debra Smith: 425-339-3197; firstname.lastname@example.org.