Alone on Friday morning in her new vet clinic in downtown Elgin, Debra Rykoff worked quietly and methodically on her patients -- 13 mostly well-behaved cats that needed spaying, neutering and eye surgery.
Rykoff opened Fox River Animal Wellness Center at 251 Center St. in early December after a two-year process that included getting permits from the city of Elgin and the Fox River Water Reclamation District.
The clinic offers low-cost vet services, including vaccinations and physical exams.
All pet owners should spay or neuter their pets, said Rykoff, 54, the founder of Fur Keeps Animal Rescue in Barrington Hills and owner of 4 Life Animal Wellness Center in Hoffman Estates.
"Spaying and neutering doesn't take a lot, but it takes a little effort," she said. "We need to get the word out to people as much as possible that spaying and neutering is essential."
It's just as important to ensure that any free-ranging cats and dogs are spayed and neutered, too, she said. Anyone who notices pets alone outdoors should contact local animal rescue groups, she said.
"There is quite a released-cat issued in Elgin," she said. "When people lose their homes, they leave their animals, or drop them outside."
"The biggest thing people forget is, it's not the cat's fault if it's out there. Somebody did something stupid for that cat to end up out there."
Rykoff's clinic has stepped in to offer a much-needed service after Anderson Animal Shelter in South Elgin closed its low-cost spay/neuter program to the public in 2012, said Hillery Higginbotham of Hampshire.
Higginbotham is the president and co-founder of the animal rescue group Open Doors, which recently began using Rykoff's services in Elgin.
"We were traveling all the way to Fox Valley Animal Welfare League in North Aurora. That was the closest one to us (after Anderson closed its clinic)," she said. "Whenever you're preventing unwanted litters from being born, it helps with population control."
The clinic is currently open Tuesday mornings and Fridays, plus by appointment. Rykoff hopes to offer parking for clients by knocking down the existing garage, but that's a $10,000 expense that will have to wait for now, she said.
"You don't get into this business to buy a Mercedes. You do it because you want to and it's the right thing to do."
For more information, contact the clinic at (847) 429-2180.