Between four and five million cats and dogs are euthanized each year due to overpopulation. Understanding why some people don’t spay or neuter their cats and dogs can help us halt this crisis.
First, pet sterilization is financially off-the-table for a lot of families. In 2007, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Associationnoted that as incomes drop from over $90,000 per year to $35,000 per year, the number of pets that are neutered drops by nearly half. While 41 percent of U.S. households earn under $35,000 per year, fewer than 10 states have statewide access to affordable spay/neuter services.
Secondly, we still rely on old information. A 2009 Ipsos Marketing study revealed that over half of Americans still believe that pets should be six months of age before they are spayed or neutered, yet this arbitrary timeline pushes pets into parenthood. As the day lengthens in the springtime, many cats go into season before five months old.
Lastly, public policies often do not reflect best practices. Many shelters still release intact pets, and they mandate that the juvenile pet be altered by six months.
All these factors create serious hurdles to eliminating pet overpopulation. Changing care giving habits means providing better information to the public, increasing low-income spay/neuter programs, and improving shelter practices.
Solutions Start at the Local Level
While you develop your spay/neuter program also start educational outreach. Education should reach everyone from low-income households to elected officials. Reach out past the animal welfare community. Whether it regards drunk driving, smoking cigarettes, or unwanted puppies, new messages must be heard 7 to 10 times for folks to be in the know. Free educational venues in rural communities include submitting short weekly newspaper blurbs on spay/neuter, postering, local radio shows, and more. In urban areas, you can reach out through community empowerment programs and the ministerial associations.
Contacting civic and business organizations helps people understand your mission and can garner local momentum and financial support in any community.
Keep the message straightforward. Spay/neuter prevents suffering. Remember, unwanted litters that enter the shelter are a taxpayer issue too.
Enabling people to get their pets spayed is the next step. A high volume spay/neuter program prevents litters. There are spay/neuter program models for every size community; do your homework to find effective models for your population size. For low-population communities there are cost effective, creative programs that mirror high volume efficiency to break even.
Check out the assessment guidelines at SpayFirst.
If there’s a high volume clinic within 60 miles, transporting pets to the clinic is a great start-up model. A private practice partnership can create a high volume, income targeted spay/neuter clinic within a private clinic one morning a week or on a day the clinic is closed. It should be priced competitively with regional spay/neuter clinics or mobile units; the volume and service model create a positive revenue stream for the clinic. To see how a program can be set up, click here.
A clinic in Bristow, OK, run by Dr. Bill Mitchell, provides up to 20 low-income surgeries every week, replacing a mobile unit that visited previously. The volume builds financial sustainability and because it is located within an existing clinic, there is no capitol drive for start-up and just a few thousand dollars of fundraising enables you to provide a sliding scale to low-income pet owners. A lunch at the end of each month for the hardworking clinic staff is a great way to say thanks! A few pancake breakfasts can sustain a private practice partnership, making special outreach programs within reach.
There are more local resources than you ever imagined; fixing the problem can start today. For information on assessment, click here.
by Ruth Steinberger for Pet News and Views
Editor’s Note: Ruth Steinberger is the founder and director of Spay FIRST!, a national organization dedicated to preventing animal suffering through the common sense goal of high volume spay/neuter, education, and outreach.