When Donna Barr Gehlmann was 4 years old and living in the Akron-Canton area, her mother and father took her to Thistledown Race Track in Cleveland.

When Donna Barr Gehlmann was 4 years old and living in the Akron-Canton area, her mother and father took her to Thistledown Race Track in Cleveland.

It did not go well.

"My parents always knew I was a little different from everyone else when it came to animals," Gehlmann recalled last week.

That certainly proved to be the case at the thoroughbred track. Little Donna cried the whole time because she thought the horses were being hurt.

"My mom was so embarrassed, we never went back," Gehlmann said.

Now a resident of Clintonville, she said she's still a "little different" when it comes to animals.

She and her husband, Bernie Gehlmann, with the help of friends and relatives have established a new nonprofit organization. Spay Neuter Assistance Program of Center Ohio -- SNAP for short -- is registered with the state of Ohio but still is awaiting some final paperwork from the Internal Revenue Service, Donna Gehlmann said.

"They don't make it easy," she added.

SNAP was created to help area residents who need financial assistance with spaying and neutering their cats and dogs. The mission of reducing the number of unwanted cats and dogs will be funded by donations and carried on by volunteers, Gehlmann said.

Looking around her own neighborhood, the SNAP founder said, sensitized her to the issue of just how many feral cats and stray dogs there are in Columbus and throughout central Ohio.

"I would see a stray cat or find a stray dog, and then we moved (to a different part of Clintonville) and it seemed like every time I turned around, there was another stray or a feral cat," Gehlmann said.

"I just got to the point where I was like, 'Oh, we've got to something about this.' "

She and her husband found others who agreed the problem is severe, and about a year ago, they began the process of founding the nonprofit organization.

"We're moving along," Gehlmann said. "Basically, it came from seeing a need. If we can help even a little bit, it will be worth it."

Initially, she added, SNAP will attempt to help residents of Franklin County, but with a goal of expanding the coverage area.

"It would be great at some point, once we're up and running, to establish relationships with clinics in other surrounding counties," she said. "For right now, we only have one account set up."

That's at Shelter Outreach Services of Ohio Inc. on East Dublin-Granville Road, which was founded by Dr. Melanie deHaan in 2007 shortly after she graduated from the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

To date, SNAP has helped four people pay for spaying and neutering services there, Gehlmann said, relying on them to be honest that it was a choice between having the procedures done and paying bills or buying groceries.

"In all honesty, I guess I'm going to kind of go on the honor system," she said. "All we really care about is getting everyone's pet spayed or neutered.

"You can't fault someone for having an animal but not having the means to provide some things for them," Gehlmann added.

SNAP will require clients to come up with a $25 co-pay.

Gehlmann and others involved with the Spay Neuter Assistance Program of Central Ohio hope to raise awareness about the organization's existence by hosting a pet-adoption event this spring or summer at Whetstone Park.

Gehlmann, who volunteers at her daughter's school, reluctantly admitted her household also includes three dogs and four cats, all of them rescues -- including a kitten a neighbor found living in a garage. She said her husband made her promise not to take in any more strays.

Perhaps SNAP can help her keep that vow.