Whole Dog Journal's Blog October 4, 2018

Any Bright Ideas for Encouraging Spay/Neuter?

Posted at 09:12AM - Comments: (23)

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’m currently fostering a litter of 10 puppies for my local shelter...

As I measure out their medicine (to treat their coccidia infection), wipe their faces and paws after meals, and pick up more of the endless supply of loose poop the puppies leave in their wake, I often find myself wondering how to get people in my community to prevent their dogs from so frequently reproducing.

I live in a low-income rural town in a low-income rural county in far northern California. It’s only about three hours from the affluent communities in the San Francisco Bay area, but it may as well be an entirely different country, for all the differences in how dogs are commonly kept and treated here.

pitbull shepherd mix puppies

When I lived in the Bay area, I took my dogs to a holistic veterinarian who used both conventional medicine and acupuncture, chiropractic, and herbs. There was any number of force-free trainers, dog walkers, dog daycare providers, and boarding facilities to choose from. Most dogs lived with their families indoors. And most were either altered (spayed or neutered) or assiduously managed to prevent unwanted reproduction. And finding adoptable puppies in shelters is actually difficult - when a litter is made available, they all get adopted within hours.

In contrast, where I live now, it seems like there is just an ENDLESS supply of puppies washing onto the shores of my local shelter, which serves both my smallish town as well as all of the unincorporated areas in the county.

foster puppies litter

While I am fostering this litter of 10 pit/shepherd-mix pups, there is another litter of 10 pit-mix pups, about five weeks older than my crew, just going up for adoption, as well as a litter of five Kelpie/Border Collie-mix pups and another dozen puppies from three or four other, smaller litters.

Part of the problem here is that there is a perceived shortage of low-cost spay/neuter clinics in the county. I say “perceived” because each time I have made appointments at these clinics (once for a sweet “community cat” in my neighborhood, and once for the dog who belongs to the community college student who rents a room in my office/house), I found the price to be exceedingly reasonable and was able to make the appointment the same week; the clinics were not so booked that it took a month to get a surgery appointment, as can often be the case in more-populated areas with more demand. And yet I have heard people who were surrendering intact animals (or these ubiquitous litters of unwanted puppies) to the shelter complain about their lack of access to low-cost spay/neuter. I think it’s just a euphemism for “not free” and “a tiny bit inconvenient.”

border collie mix puppies

I think the greater problem is a lack of education and incentive to either control/contain their dogs or make a spay/neuter appointment – or to adopt an already-altered animal from the shelter! People who buy or accept a “free puppy” hardly ever seem to manage to get their animals altered before puppies are imminent.

I once heard someone on a community radio show discussing her local shelter’s tactic for trying to increase the rate of spay/neuter in her area: The shelter had a monthly drawing for a cash prize; I think it was about $250! Entry to the drawing was free, and the pool of potential winners was fairly small: only people who could submit a receipt for their pet’s spay or neuter surgery from the previous month could enter.

The shelter provided all the local veterinary clinics with posters that publicized the monthly drawing and tried to encourage veterinarians to help spread the word that some lucky owner could win back the cost of the surgery. I have long wanted to try something similar at my local shelter, and am sure I will try it sometime. Perhaps I'll even sponsor the cash prize – when I’m not breaking my own monthly budget paying for foster-puppy food and medicine.

What about your area? Do you know of any other good ideas for promoting higher rates of spay/neuter, or helping people prevent their intact dogs from having “accidental” litters of puppies? I’d love to hear about anything that works.

Comments (23)

SPAY AND NEUTER is NOT the answer to ignorance! We need to educate about the negative facts about spay and neuter. We need to educate that dogs can die while delivering puppies, that puppies can die after they are born, that breeding without testing dogs produce unhealthy dogs, that breeding right is expensive. We need to educate people about spaying and neutering before a dog is developed and the incidence in hip displasia. Dogs in Europe live longer because they are kept intact I personally own dogs for more than 50 years, I never had a dog died of any illness related to not spaying or neutering and I never had an accidental breeding. All we need to do is supervise our dogs and be educated about real facts! Let's not assume low income communities have ignorant people that cannot be responsible!!!

Posted by: syl16 | October 8, 2018 4:00 PM    Report this comment

I don't know what the answer is, but having moved from a city to a rural area I know this: many rural/farm people cannot afford S/N or vaccinations or the $300 fee to adopt a pet. They also think of dogs and cats as only slightly different from the livestock that they earn their living from. If your dog or cat has babies, you can sell them! And make money! Which you desperately need. Of course that is rarely as financially successful as they hope. Still they all know that when a neighbor can't sell a puppy, then voila! you can get one for free. And if you can't sell your puppies, someone else always will take one off your hands. This mindset is even stronger with cats than dogs. A farmer may be able to live without a dog, but just try having a farm without barn cats to keep the rodent population down. I like that some shelters offer "barn cats" for free (S/N'ed, vaxed, etc) but yet the adopter can't make any possible money off their kittens, so I don't know how attractive that is to them either. It's a difficult problem for sure.

Posted by: jeh | October 8, 2018 9:29 AM    Report this comment

Maddie's Fund has a regular newsletter with spay/neuter, shelter/rescue, and adoption ideas that have worked across the country. They focus on "what works" and idea sharing. You can Google it. They also offer grants and paid internships for shelter/rescue groups. It's quite the network to connect to.

I live in the Midwest (puppy mill central) where the concept of spay/neuter is secondary to "she needs to have one litter to calm her down" and "Uncle Bubba's dog didn't need a fence" or "I can't fence all 40 acres" (umm, try about a 50 x 50 area?). I feel your pain.

You could try asking a heartworm/flea/tick manufacturer to donate three-month supplies of preventive for every dog and cat that gets spayed/neutered. Sometimes that will entice people in, especially if fleas are a big issue in your area. The word "free" gets a lot of attention.

When I teach classes I tell people that my dogs are too expensive NOT to be spayed/neutered and totally vetted. They are all rescues, but the amount of hours I've put into training them is uncountable. (Which is why everyone wants my wonderful fosters after I've trained them.) It's a culture change in our rural communities where dogs and cats were treated as disposable, outdoor livestock for more than a century.

Posted by: Hannahbelle | October 7, 2018 7:32 PM    Report this comment

I don't know if this has ever been done anywhere, but what about an educational program in the schools. It would educate students about the importance and benefits of S/N, and give them a coupon if they bring in their dog with their parents. It's very hard to sway an adult who has made up their mind about something, but youth are open to new ideas and can be very persuasive with their parents.

Posted by: dogamy | October 7, 2018 6:33 PM    Report this comment

Go to your local shelters & rescue groups with the plan to set up a Go Fund Me Page, hold fund raisers or auctions of donated items to raise money. Then put out the word offering to pay people $25.00 to bring in dogs and cats for spay/neuter clinics. Sit back and watch how they come in to get the money -- heck, they'll be rounding up the strays and bringing them. Sounds crazy? Not at all because most of the folks you are addressing could really use that money and it would save the shelters lots of money -- there might even be some left over that they can put toward helping more animals.

Posted by: Goldens | October 7, 2018 1:03 PM    Report this comment

Leonardo Da Vinci, who died in 1519, said: "Everything Connects to Everything Else." In this situation, I would twist his phrase to: "Every social problem is connected to everything else and every solution resolves only a part of the problem." With that expanded mind I'd add this solution: Add value to every dog. Especially on acquisition. Purchase a breed dog, which go for $3500 and up, the owner truly values the dog. The downside is a desire to breed the dog to recoup the investment. But the upside is care and relationship. At 78 I have had dogs with me from being a pre-cognitive infant to my current spayed breed dog. Over my many years about 75% of my/our dogs have been breed dogs. Having woven value into my relationship with dogs it really doesn't matter if a dog has a pedigree or not. But "value" is "capital" and is therefore, difficult to acquire in our society. Adding monetary "value" to every dog, intentionally bred or not, is a scaffolding for holding social and personal "value." With this in mind, taking away value with free shelters, free neutering clinics, and good souls who provide major free services like Nancy, in paradox, continues the cultural problems we have with dogs in our country. It's the universal law of unintended consequences.

Posted by: herbivore | October 7, 2018 12:52 PM    Report this comment

I really don’t think that it is lack of education, and I doubt even that an incentive program would work. For example, in a city that we used to live in, the shelter charged for “spay/neuter” as part of their adoption fee, with the agreement that, when the adopter had the alteration done and submitted written proof from the vet, the shelter would refund the extra fee that had been charged. I seriously doubt that most people would take the time to get the alteration done and submit the required proof for the refund. I think that the answer is more in making the alteration surgery more convenient for the owners - like a spay/neuter van that visits local communities.

Posted by: RhondaK | October 7, 2018 11:03 AM    Report this comment

First of all, no shelter dog should be allowed to be taken from the shelter until it has been spayed/neutered AND the turnaround time for the alteration needs to be very fast. In our local shelter, when we chose our newest member of the family, we were told that the dog couldn’t go home with us until the shelter’s vet had done the alteration surgery, which I was totally fine with. However, the shelter’s vet wouldn’t be able to schedule the surgery for a month!! In the meantime, they wanted our new dog to continue to live at the shelter. Fortunately, we were able to arrange for a friend of ours that lived in that city to “foster” our new dog, which the shelter would allow, after payment of all of the adoption fees. It seemed that this was a workaround that the shelter recognized to get around their long delay for the alteration. There was a little unspoken conversation with the shelter, where they clearly understood that WE were actually going to be taking the dog home with us, and that the “foster” parent truly wasn’t involved. Of course, we took the dog direct to our vet from the shelter, which was fortunate because the dog started coughing along the way, and turned out to have a serious case of kennel cough that lasted for weeks and weeks. AND, we got the dog neutered as soon as its health condition improved. But, if we hadn’t been able to arrange for a “foster” family, the dog would have remained in the shelter, WITH kennel cough, and I don’t know if he would have survived.

Posted by: RhondaK | October 7, 2018 11:00 AM    Report this comment

I think the only way to do it is to have free spay/neuter (especially spay) mobile units. Go to them and charge nothing/donations. That's the only thing that actually works. Blaming people either outright or by insinuation doesn't work. I think the person who does this best is in Denver - Dr. Jeff Young. I don't even like de-sexing dogs, especially puppies, but I understand the realities in which it's the only way - we're not Norway, alas.

Posted by: errigal | October 6, 2018 2:54 PM    Report this comment

I wish there was a good solution to the over population of dogs and cats, and responsible pet ownership. I live in west Texas, and it is expensive to have a spay or neuter done.

I have my 8 pound poodle's teeth cleaned on a regular basis. In 2017, it cost $182.14 for the procedure, and a year later the charge for the same procedure at the same clinic was almost double at $346.28 (no teeth extracted either time) and that is the most reasonable price I have found. Many of the vets here charge as much as$900.00, assuming no teeth have to be removed. The average cost for a human teeth cleaning in this area is $275.00!

While I was paying out, the receptionist was on the phone telling a caller that it would cost $575.00 to have a 50 pound dog spayed. The caller did not book an appointment. $575.00 may be considered "reasonable" in some parts of the country, but not here, so our shelters are always overcrowded. I realize that vets have spent a lot of time and money for their education, but spays/neuters are a relatively simple procedure that shouldn't cost an arm or leg. I think it would be helpful if the vets in every community would at least rotate providing low cost (not free, but certainly affordable) spays and neuters. Other than that, I don't believe much will change for the good.

Posted by: Barbra | October 5, 2018 10:29 AM    Report this comment

Several years ago, a private, no-kill shelter here in Santa Barbara provided free spaying/neutering for pit bulls AND paid the owners $50. I don’t know how successful this was nor can I remember how long the campaign lasted. I can give you the name of the shelter if you like.

Posted by: xam | October 4, 2018 6:23 PM    Report this comment

I live in the Caribbean where we have a massive stray animal problem. Yards are not fenced and many dogs are considered yard dogs who wander and mate indiscriminately. We started a completely free spay neuter program in June 2017 in conjunction with a vet clinic. My non-profit raises the funds to purchase the medicines at cost, the vet clinic inventories those meds for us and they provide us approx. 6 appointments per week based on their availability. My non-profit raises the funds to purchase the meds at cost as well as paying the vet clinic a small nominal fee for surgery. In 15 months we have completed 480 surgeries for free. We are in a small geographic location but many people do not have cars, so we have had volunteers provide some pick up and drop off service. The clinic still has some revenue coming in from the nominal fee we pay but we reduce our costs by having the drugs stocked at cost. We target tourist related businesses for donations and to pay the surgical costs. We found that the surgeries need to be free to entice people to do it - but many have provided donations afterwards which has helped defray our costs. Providing the clients a free spay / neuter while working with the clinic to ensure they get paid but keeping our costs low has worked for us. Best of luck. www.sniptci.com

Posted by: LaurieM | October 4, 2018 4:57 PM    Report this comment

Our county here in north central Kentucky has a reduced fee for spayed/neutered dogs $3.50 vs $7 for intact animals. Of course it is a very rural county so many people never bother to get their dogs licensed and there is little enforcement unless a dog ends up in the shelter or a complaint is filed.
We also are lucky to have an organization out of nearby Cincinnati area that offers low cost ($10 for cats and $25 for dogs) spay/neuters plus they transport the animals to and from the outlying areas via truck. There is a central number to call and make an appointment for pick up then the person meets the truck at the specified place and time then picks up their pet(s) the next day at the same place. The fee also includes rabies vaccination. The sponsoring organization works off of donations and grants.
Other parts of the state have various low cost spay/neuter programs and TNR programs for cats.
Unfortunately, even with available programs, many people simply lack the will to be responsible pet owners.

Posted by: PJKutscher | October 4, 2018 4:34 PM    Report this comment

I think free spay/neuter will attract more people than low-cost. Incentives can help as well.
If dogs are picked up by animal control because they got loose, is there any requirement that they be altered before being returned to their owner? Or at least a strong financial incentive for doing so? The only neutered male Rottweilers rescued from Hurricane Katrina (2 out of more than 50 that I helped with) had been neutered only because of a requirement if a loose dog was picked up more than once.

Posted by: Mary Straus | October 4, 2018 4:00 PM    Report this comment

Thank you for fostering-it's a tough job, but so vital and enjoyable!

I lead the spay/neuter initiative in our Illinois county for the local non-profit. The HQHVSN clinic in the next county sends a transport to our town once a month to pick up pets for an overnight trip for surgery. On average, only about 17 pets were actually showing up. We did some surveys and gathered data. Here are some things we have been doing that seem to be getting our numbers up.
1. Build personal relationships with the pet owners. My team makes three contacts with interested pet owners before the transport and one follow-up call after the transport to see how the pet is doing after surgery. We are always available to answer questions our pet owners may have. We also send a letter with important information and instructions about the transport to the pet owners who have committed to the transport.
2. We refer to the pet owners as clients and we try to make the entire process as easy as possible.
3. We give something valuable to the people as incentive to attend. We were lucky to receive two private donor grants-one for a free microchip to every pet that goes on the transport and one for a free distemper (cat and dog) vaccine for every unvaccinated pet that goes on the transport. Less than 20% of people actually enroll their pet's microchip, so we do the enrollment for our clients. Before the vaccine grant, 53% of dogs and 94% of our cats going on transport were unvaccinated.
4. Some of our clients cannot afford even a low cost surgery-which keeps their pets off the transport, so many of my team members have committed to sponsoring a surgery fee for several cats or one dog per month. We ask those clients to pay for the Rabies vaxx and the county registration.
5. We talk to the clients about the importance of vaccinations and make them aware that the HQHVSN clinic also hosts a monthly low cost vaccination clinic. We also give clients a list of veterinarians in the county and encourage them to shop around for the best prices.
6. Volunteers willingly go to clients homes and pick up the pets to get them on the transport if needed.

From July through August, we gave away 61 microchips and 75 vaccinations. This month we will have 41 pets on the transport. In 2019, we are going to start targeting different areas of the community by going door to door. Hopefully this will help break down the "cultural" barriers. The non-profit is also going to give us a discretionary budget to help even more people with the surgery fees.

Good luck!

Posted by: Bordercolliemom | October 4, 2018 2:58 PM    Report this comment

Understanding that a lot of the issue is with pets not adopted from rescue and where populations of people are not motivated by altruism and concern for the bigger picture or 'doing the right thing' - many years ago Sue Sternberg had a creative program going that had appeal to owners of larger, well-muscled dogs where participants won prize money for dogs that participated in pulling contests and the prize money awarded was doubled if the dog was spayed or neutered. I'm guessing some sort of grant money funded it. One big benefit of this program was that it applied Positive Reinforcement for the humans rather than more coercive methods to influence. It also got dog owners together for activities where tidbits of education could be disseminated. You could certainly do the same sort of thing with any type of canine contests that might include performance of tricks or costume dress-up, etc. to include owners with a wider variety of breeds and preferences. Just provide higher awards when the pets are altered. And to better motivate while controlling costs make the prize money a tiny sum for unaltered dogs and multiply it substantially if altered.

Posted by: krmast | October 4, 2018 2:28 PM    Report this comment

We lived in Washington state for 5 years back in the 1990's and we adopted 2 cats while living there. When the adoption papers were filed and recorded, the next step was altering the animal(s). We were not allowed to bring them home from the adoption site, but instead, had to pick them up from the nearest veterinarian clinic assigned to do the neutering. We moved back to the Upper Midwest in the early 2000's where if an intact animal is adopted from a shelter/humane society, you are given a postcard to be filled out by your veterinarian when the animal has had the surgery. It's all on a "promise" to do so basis but is never, ever checked back on to make sure it was done. Subsequently, our humane societies and animal shelters are overrun with kittens and young dogs (less than 1 year old, usually from puppy mills), waiting to be adopted. This not only puts a strain on resources but it also makes it all but impossible for older dogs and cats to get adopted. They end up spending a much longer time at the shelter. It's both sad and unnecessary. We have plenty of veterinarians to perform the services but no laws have been passed.

Posted by: SueW | October 4, 2018 2:01 PM    Report this comment

Thank you Nancy for this opportunity! I look at all the resources spend on transports of southern dogs from high kill shelters to our area in upstate NY - fuel, vehicle usage, hours of staff/volunteer time, the use of shelter space and I could go on - if calculated to a dollar amount - wouldn't it be better to just offer people money to spay/neuter their animals? No judgment - just a reward - $25 or a gift card?

Perhaps groups like HSUS or the ASPCA could work with some of the big pet related businesses such as Petco, Petsmart, Chewy.com, etc. and see if they would grant some funds for this purpose and get some great pr?

I don't think it's that hard to get local vet clinics in a given area to donate some staff time - in our area it's done with a lot of volunteer support for spay/neuter days.

Helene G., Esq., PMCT, CPDT-KA

Posted by: Helene | October 4, 2018 1:58 PM    Report this comment

I moved from the SF/Oakland Bay Area to rural Tennessee. Culture shock doesn’t even begin to describe the difference on how animals are treated in the two areas. I just came from a meeting with our local shelter and a rescue group trying to come up with ways to address the chronic problem of pet overpopulation in our county. No licensing laws, no spay/neuter regulations and people that live at or below the poverty line all contribute to a shelter overrun with animals that come in, with no place for them to go. We offer low or no cost spay/neuter, but struggle to find ways to reach the people that need the help and then convince them to use that help. We are working with partnering with the local schools and public assistance organizations to get the word out and educate people on the importance of spay/neuter and the care of companion animals. We have a very long road ahead of us,

Posted by: SaylininTN | October 4, 2018 1:39 PM    Report this comment

abbeyrhode: There is a state law in California, wherein all animals adopted from shelters must be altered BEFORE they are sent home with adopters. (Once upon a time, shelters charged a deposit, which was returned to the new owner once they showed proof of neutering, but compliance was still low enough that the law was toughened.) It's the dogs that people get *elsewhere* that are still a problem.

To be clear, I'm totally okay with people who decide to keep their dogs intact -- IF they can absolutely prevent "accidental" litters from happening. I'm not okay with the folks who say, "It's not a problem, I have homes for all the pups already!" Because few of the puppy adopters will end up getting their pups altered, and the beat goes on...

Posted by: WDJ Editor Nancy Kerns | October 4, 2018 1:28 PM    Report this comment

Nancy, I live an hour northwest of you, in a similar environment. When I adopted a male puppy around 1989 from the Butte County Humane Society I received a phone call at 6 months stating that if my pup was not neutered immediately he would be shelter property!!!!!!! I had planned on neutering him at 8 or 9 months as I had had male cats with serious medical problems from their urethras not developing fully due to early neutering. So Sonny was spayed IMMEDIATELY!
Phone contact, or if necessary, home visits by a volunteer to learn why the pup has not been spayed/neutered at 6 months could help. The volunteer could learn why not, and provide help with the reason (transportation, making a low cost appt. etc.). Most shelters now require a hefty price for adoption to ensure that the cost of the spay/neuter has already been collected, so there should be funds available for the procedure? When puppies/pregnant bitches are surrendered, a questionnaire could be developed to ascertain reasons for the surrender which could be factored into the adoption process. For example, if lack of home ownership, or lack of transportation, or lack of employment causes surrender, then home ownership, etc. could be a requirement for adoption. One suspects that similar factors involved in child neglect are also factors in animal neglect. Could the Butte County puppies be adopted in the Bay area if there is a shortage of puppies there due to responsible pet ownership?
There are also some strange factors involved. For example, a neighbor's 40ish son refuses to spay his very adorable chiweenie. He has worked for me part time when between jobs, building a deck, fencing, general maintenance etc. for the past 12 years, and he's a good worker. I have offered several times to pay for the neutering, as the dog is an escape artist due to his hormones, and I, my neighbor, her son, etc. would be very sad if anything happened to the dog (car accident, irate neighbors, unplanned pregnancy, etc.). The dog is still unneutered at age 2. For reasons that I don't understand, which I also saw every day when I worked in social service, some people have a laissez faire attitude to planned parenthood, whether the new beings are animals or human babies.
Perhaps "there outta be a law" that requires that animals be neutered/spayed, because it falls to the public purse to solve the inevitable problems that are created they are allowed to reproduce irresponsibly.

Posted by: abbeyrhode | October 4, 2018 1:10 PM    Report this comment

Sounds like you are doing a good job. Your area sounds very much like a rural area in western North Carolina where I lived for several years, where there was a very active S/N organization. You may want to contact them to see what they have done/are doing. They are HAWA, Haywood Animal Welfare Association (Haywood County)

Posted by: peggyzags | October 4, 2018 1:09 PM    Report this comment

Firstly, thank you for what you do! I hope to be able to foster dogs and cats in the future.

Secondly, I work for an animal welfare organization which has a companion animal program. You may find some ideas from the IFAW website specifically referring to "Tools for managing dog and cat populations". As we are aware, education is important and guess what? We have FREE educational materials which you can download from the website or you may request a FREE DVD.

I hope you find the information useful.

Good luck with your puppies!

Posted by: OSquared | October 4, 2018 12:42 PM    Report this comment

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