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September 10, 2010

Providing Spay/Neuter Services in the Gulf

It is a commonly held view that people who have not spayed or neutered their pets just don’t care that much about the larger problem of pet overpopulation. Our public survey work reveals quite the opposite, however—people love their animals and they want to help solve the larger problem of euthanasia. For many of them, it is cost that is the biggest barrier for their providing vet care or spays or neuters to their animals.

Since 2007 we’ve been focused on our Gulf Coast initiative, which has been designed to support newly established high-volume spay-and-neuter clinics. By the end of 2011, the Gulf states will be equipped to provide approximately 40,000–50,000 low-cost spay/neuter surgeries annually—a dramatic increase from the capacity of the one spay/neuter clinic that existed in the area just three years ago.

We also coordinate and sponsor local events, taking our spay/neuter services into the community, often with free rabies vaccination or microchip offers. We strategically choose areas where the need is greatest and where shelter data shows the largest number of incoming animals.

Our most recent event—at a popular Saturday flea market in the greater Lafayette, La. area—had a crowd of more than 800 pet owners in a six-hour period. I've asked Amanda Arrington, our manager of spay/neuter initiatives, to provide a report.


More than an hour before the event was set to begin, the line was already building. Soon, the sound of barking filled the market. People and dogs stretched hundreds of yards, up one side of the parking area, around a corner, and down as far as you could see.  As happens so often at these community events, I was once again reminded that people love their pets – so much so that they're willing to do things like stand in line for more than two hours on a holiday weekend for a rabies vaccine.

281x144_lafayette2 Wild Cat SpayNation, the local low-cost spay/neuter provider, was prepared to administer vaccines to 850 pets for free and offer reduced cost or free spay/neuter vouchers to pet owners who could not afford the $42-$71 cost. And a small group of volunteers provided free nail trimmings and ear cleanings, much to the delight of many of the animals in the crowd. 

As I made my way through the line of attendees, I met many wonderful people who were extremely grateful for the services offered and eager to take advantage of discounted services. 

One couple brought their beautiful brindle pit bull. Despite concerns about the dog becoming pregnant, they had many questions and fears about how this dog they adored might change if she was spayed.  After talking with me and with the veterinarian, they decided to spay her, but would not be able to afford even the low-cost price for quite some time. So when we offered them a spay voucher for $20, they were ecstatic.
 
Two other women stood with their five mixed breed dogs. The women told of how they rented a house together and were struggling to make ends meet, but the dogs—one female and four males—meant the world to them. They had been keeping the dogs separated while the female was in heat to avoid her getting pregnant, but it was difficult and the males were having high anxiety. We worked out a plan for them to get a discount voucher for the female to be spayed right away, while the males would get neutered over time as the women could save up funds. 
 
Being provided this level of assistance means a lot to pet owners who otherwise couldn't afford it, and having the message and services brought right to the community makes it that much easier to take advantage of what is being offered. More than 100 attendees signed up for spay/neuter appointments that day, with many more planning to schedule appointments.

These events bring such goodwill to the community, provide a much-needed service, and present an opportunity to discuss the importance of spay/neuter. We shared with everyone who attended the message of how 130,000 animals enter Louisiana shelters annually and how 92,000 of these pets are euthanized due to overpopulation, with a reaction of disbelief and sadness from many. We were able to touch so many through the event itself, surrounding media coverage, and the subsequent word of mouth that will result. 

Time and again, our grassroots experience reiterates the results of our spay/neuter research—most people are not ideologically opposed to sterilizing their pets, they just need to be informed and the cost must be affordable. When we deliver this message in the most effective way possible, we can save lives, prevent suffering, and ultimately improve the quality of life for people and animals in underserved communities.

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