Spay/Neuter Still Making a Difference
Back in the 1970’s, best estimates of the number of homeless companion animals that were being “Put to Sleep” in shelters was placed at between 15 and 18 million animals in the United States. Today that estimate is down around 3 to 4 million (HSUS, ASPCA estimates a little higher, 5 to 7 million). There are many reasons for this reduction. Public awareness and education, expansion of volunteer rescue groups working with shelters to save more animals, innovative adoption programs (satellite adoption events, our own Seniors for Seniors Adoption programs, etc.). Then there has been the steady increase of subsidized spay/neuter (also known as High-volume/Low-cost) programming nationwide.
It has been an uphill battle in all of these areas. Shelters, particularly public shelters were often unwilling to allow volunteer rescues into the shelter because of the proverbial threat to “Contact Channel 5” if they saw activities that the volunteer decided was cruel or neglectful. Or they assumed the rescues were only interested in the most adoptable and purebred animals in shelter, leaving the public shelter with the hardest to adopt out. Getting both sides to a space of trust is still a challenge in many communities. Then there were the places of business who often did not allow groups or organizations to come into parking lots to hold a satellite adoption event. Thanks to corporations like Petco and Petsmart, who saw such events as a positive marketing activity, many stores have even made space inside for adoptable cats and dogs.
Subsidized spay/neuter programs have also had to address questions from area veterinary clinics about whether they were unfairly taking customers from them by offering low-cost, sometimes even free surgeries. At the Humane Society of Greater Kansas City (my previous employment), we were fortunate to have area clinics who understood that the low-income pet owners we helped were people who would never enter their lobby seeking service for their animals. For many of these pets, their contact with us was the only time they would get a thorough health examination. Up to 80% of unwanted companion animals come from just 3 percent of the pet owning public. That three percent is identified as the lowest income pet owners, living in poor neighborhoods. Unable to pay for altering their pets, unwanted litters go to friends, family, and neighbors, who often also do not have the funds to have the surgery done, thus the circle spirals on. Yes, many of these animals end up in shelters, either by being a homeless stray, or being surrendered by owners no longer able to keep them.
Even as recent as May 2nd 2014, in an article by Merritt Clifton (Animals 24-7), educating and understanding the value and need for subsidized programs encountered challenges. The Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, in a licensing hearing on charges brought against the Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic founder William Weber, controversy erupted when a board member attempted to quote from Nathan Winograd’s book “Redemption” in which the board member insisted that “there are many people who disagree that overpopulation even exists.” As reported in the article, Nathan Winograd responded overnight to set the record straight, that “Any claim that such clinics are either unnecessary or should be restricted based on my work is categorically false.” He then goes on to explain how high-volume/low-cost spay neuter surgeries were an integral part of his shelter management experience, ultimately enabling a reduction in the number of animals going into shelter.
We saw this reduction at the Humane Society where the average intake of animals into the public shelter declined from 5,200 in 2004, to 2,800 by 2010. This mirrored reductions in surrounding private and public shelter reporting their data. With the advent of the New Shelter on Whidbey Island, we will have a spay/neuter clinic that can be used to address specific needs of the island. It will take more than just space and equipment, of course. A budget will need to be developed with funds raised to begin planning on meaningful community use of such a clinic, whether for community and feral cats, or for those low-income pet owners who, like other areas of the country, would never lighten the lobby of a veterinary clinic with their presence, because of the cost.