Spay/Neuter Programs Work!

Low-cost, high-quality, high-volume, spay and neuter and return (TNR) programs play a vital role in controlling the cat and dog overpopulation problem in Georgia and nationwide. This is true both for feral cat and dog populations, but also for domesticated cats and dogs too. Both feral cats and dogs and domesticated cats and dogs breed, frequently with each other, and together this uncontrolled breeding as led to an explosion in our cat and dog populations.

Importance of Trap Neuter and Return Programs

Research shows a TNR programs lead to a reduction in shelter intake and euthanasia, enhances the quality of life for animals and the humans who live with them, and in the process can save taxpayers in Georgia and nationwide millions of dollars in animal control costs.

Do spay/neuter programs work?

In one example, the euthanasia rate in Asheville, North Carolina, animal shelters was decreased by 79 percent since the Humane Alliance, a local veterinary group dedicated to spay/neuter programs, established their low-cost high-volume spay and neuter clinic.

In Jacksonville, Florida, a spay and neuter program targeted to low-income households led to a 37 percent decrease in shelter euthanasia in just three years. Shelter intake numbers turned around as well, from an annual increase in intake of 15-20 percent per year prior to the program, to a decrease of 8.3 percent between the program’s first and second full years.

During the first 12 years of a New Hampshire Animal Population Control Program, there was a similar significant decrease both in cat intake and cat euthanasia in local shelters. An EmanciPET Free Spay/Neuter Program in Austin, Texas produced similar significantly lower rates of increase for dog and cat intake and euthanasia in the municipal shelter for animals from the program areas.

Has there been progress?

In spite of the opening of so many spay/neuter clinics, the overall population increase of cats and dogs nationwide and in Georgia is not yet showing signs of slowing. Studies have shown that this is a long-term problem, and we cannot expect to see significant gains for many more years or possibly decades – so the benefits of TNR and other spay/neutering programs may not see for some time to come. Also, most of the new spay/neuter clinics that have opened have only been in business for the past 5 years or less, suggesting that the positive signs of curbing population and saving lives and dollars may be due to work on spay/neutering done a decade or more ago.

It is important to realize too that unless concerted effort is made to spay/neuter entire populations of feral and domestic cats and dogs, the problem can simply become out of control rapidly due to uncontrolled breeding. For this reason, both county-wide private and public TNR programs are recommended, close coordination between country animal control and private TNR groups like SNAP, and a sustained effort supported by veterinarians to spay/neuter domestic populations, especially targeting low-income households who may choose not to spay/neuter their pet due to high costs and limited financial means.

Why is “low cost” necessary?

Cost is the reason most often cited by owners for not having their cats neutered. In the United States, 14.3 percent of people live in poverty. People with low incomes are nearly as likely to own pets as are people with high incomes, indicating that many animals live in households that simply cannot afford full-service veterinary care. Low-cost or free spay and neuter is the only way to reach these segments of the companion animal population.

Euthanasia and Removal Programs vs. TNR

Population modeling shows that feral cat population control can be achieved by ongoing spaying of at least 75 percent of the fertile females. While this approach takes ongoing effort and monitoring, the number of surgeries required to maintain a greater-than-75 percent spay rate is low after the initial, first-year trapping and neutering. Indeed, removal-and-euthanasia strategies, sometimes touted as an alternative to Trap Neuter Return (TNR) programs, also require ongoing monitoring and euthanasia, making them no less effort than TNR. In addition, euthanasia of ferals is often unsupported by the general public and by colony caretakers, and may be morally untenable for the animal control officers, humane society staff and veterinarians who would be asked to perform the euthanasia.

And TNR programs have proven successful: A TNR program in Jaipur, India sterilized and rabies vaccinated 24,986 dogs between 1994 and 2002. With 65 percent of the female dogs sterilized and vaccinated, the dog population declined by 28 percent. A cat colony on a university campus in Florida saw a 66 percent decrease in population after the onset of a TNR program, indicating that a long-term program of neutering followed by adoption or return to the colony can result in a sustained reduction of free-roaming cat populations in urban areas.

The percent of feral cat caretakers attempting to have feral cats neutered or taking feral cats to a veterinarian for any reason is small, ranging from 11 percent to 22 percent. Cost is likely a major factor limiting care for these cats, necessitating the use of low-cost programs to control their populations.

Role of Veterinarians

Taking action to solve a problem does not equate to taking the blame for that problem. Veterinarians are in a unique position to act because we have skills that can actually change the population dynamics of cat and dog populations.

Human medicine offers examples of professionals providing care at low or no cost to individuals who cannot otherwise access care. Rather than cheapening the medical profession, these services demonstrate compassion while enhancing human welfare and public health. Similarly, providing veterinary services to those who could not or would not otherwise afford them demonstrates compassion, enhances the value of the veterinary profession, and protects public health and animal welfare.

Veterinarians are in a unique position to act because they have skills that can actually change the population dynamics of cat and dog populations. Are standards of care, or standards of living, lower for those in spay/ neuter practice? The Association of Shelter Veterinarians’ Veterinary Medical Care Guidelines for Spay-Neuter Programs provides practical standards for high-quality, humane, and efficient care of veterinary patients in high-volume spay and neuter programs. These guidelines promote consistent, quality medical and surgical care for all patients in a variety of spay/neuter settings.

And spay/neuter practice can be interesting and challenging. Spay/neuter vets learn efficient surgery techniques to minimize tissue trauma, and stay current on anesthesia and analgesia protocols to maximize patient comfort while staying within budget. High-volume practice means that we get to see (and treat) the uncommon: male calicos, uterus unicornus, and bilateral cryptorchids.

Efficient HQHVSN programs need not underpay their veterinary staff: these clinics can and should offer competitive salaries and benefits. And the opening of a spay/neuter clinic or program need not lead to a decrease in procedures performed by private practitioners as some might fear. In a study of five communities with targeted spay/neuter programs, the total number of spays and neuters in the communities increased, including the number performed in private practices.

Adapted from “The Case for Low-cost, High-quality, High-volume Spay and Neuter”
Sara White, DVM
First published August 11, 2011
Republished with permission.

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