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15 September 2010


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"...many supporters of mandatory spay/neuter are genuinely convinced it will help animals..."

If one of those supporters could cite a single successful model where MSN has been passed and licensing went up while shelter surrenders and killings went down, I'd be a little more impressed. AFAIK, there have been zero cases of MSN actually helping animals.

Funding instead of mandating - heck yes!


It might be more effective to try to persuade generalised animal welfare groups to pool resources to set up a scheme for low-cost neutering as part of their normal fundraising activities.

I've never had much success specifically appealing for donations to help with our low-cost neutering program because potential donors seem to feel it's giving "low-lifes" something on the cheap. OTOH more or less the same people think low-cost neutering is something we OUGHT to be doing, so I think the answer is to go ahead, allocate part of the budget and just do it.

Erin S.

I see Rosemary already basically said what I was going to say -- that the people against common sense measures like this are going to be against it because they feel that any sort of social program that benefits the poor is just basically encouraging people to leech off their tax dollars.

Especially right now, with the economy the way it is, I'm seeing a LOT of negative sentiment being expressed towards the poor.

I wonder if some sort of inexpensive "text PET to 123-4567 to donate $1 to help people get their pets spayed or neutered and reduce the number of pets that end up in shelters!" type thing could be an option worth considering also? That way people could donate more often than once a year if they wanted to.


Great Article Christie.

PS- how about some Rawley news? I need a fix. He is so cute.

mary frances

isn't banfield the petsmart vets?

I live in an area where the s/n prices have skyrocketed by the local veterinarians - so i drive approx. one hour out of town to get a price for less than half what is charged locally - (for other services too)

money is the hold up on gov. sponsored s/n - if there was a way to provide s/n services where veterinarians would be quaranteed a cut then s/n would be happening for all.

My old veterinarian who I really used to like has changed...saw a bumper sticker he uses now..."if you can't vet 'em don't get 'em" nice, huh? we no longer talk too much.

Christie Keith

Pam, I can rarely say this, but Banfield is right. If we're going to subisidize spay/neuter, WE (animal lovers, government, charities, whatever) should do it, not insist that private practice veterinarians do it for us.

A spay is full abdominal surgery. It's major surgery. The expectation that it will be super-cheap or that a veterinarian should just do it for the common good is unrealistic and unfair. Especially when we expect that nearly all of America's millions of dogs and cats are going to be spayed or neutered.


In Connecticut, you can pay $45 for a spay/neuter voucher, and the animal hospital turns it in for reimbursement from the state(sounds like medicaid). Unfortunately, Banfield has decided the state doesn't pay enough, so they will no longer accept these vouchers.


Sad, very sad!

mary frances

RE: "The expectation that it will be super-cheap or that a veterinarian should just do it for the common good is unrealistic and unfair."

I pay taxes and some of that goes toward state universities where local veterinarians get their education...I don't think it would be unfair to ask veterinarians to contribute as attorneys are encouraged to do some sort of pro bono work which could be s/n services (ie for attorneys its called legal aid...for veterinarians it could be called s/n aid???)

in the end - We're all in this duck soup together.


So our s/n voucher program is flawed. That's fine. What works? Who pays what the vet deserves and is entitled to? Where does that leave poor people?

Gina Spadafori

Among the things that work:

-- Paying veterinarians to work in spay-neuter clinics, either full-time, part-time or fill-in. The charity owns/equips/runs the spay-neuter practice.

-- Equipping mobile surgery units to take spay-neuter to the communities that need them. Again, paying veterinarians to work in them.

That way, veterinarians are being compensated for their time (or, if volunteering, are only volunteering their own time, not additionally paying overhead, supplies, staff, etc., in their own practices).

That way, the charity that runs the clinic/mobile unit can determine and dictate best practice and utilize its own staff/volunteers for outreach, follow-up, etc.


Now I'm getting confused. I get that MSN is wrong, but I thought vouchers were a good idea. They help poor people rather than punish them. I wonder, what is the answer? Banfield can't do pro bono? Why not?

Gina Spadafori

Banfield can’t do pro bono? Why not?

Comment by PamJJ — September 15, 2010

Does the government force you to donate goods and services to charitable causes? Or your business to?


I'm not trying to be thick. I don't know who is going to do the s/n. I personally think a voucher is a good idea. But if no one will accept it, what do you do?

Christie Keith

A charitable organization, such as a humane society or other animal charity, should be doing the subsidizing, funded by charitable donations of animal lovers.

Many vets, as individual citizens or members of charitable organizations themselves do charity work, just as I do and you do, I'm sure. But to hijack their business and expect them to do full-on abdominal surgery for $45 is just passing on the work of charities (or, in some cases, government) to small business people who have to pay their techs and support staff and rent.

Of course vets can do pro bono work, but public policy shouldn't be based on the assumption that individual businesses with no relationship to a charity or government will step up and do a bunch of surgeries essentially for free, or in fact, at a loss to themselves.

Christie Keith

It's not so much that a voucher is a bad idea per se. It's that the voucher needs to compensate veterinarians more closely for what they'd get for doing that surgery for a private patient.

$45 is a joke.

H. Houlahan

I'd be more sympathetic to the "vets gotta make a living too" argument, but for a few things.

It is reported (I have no immediate way of fact-checking this) that when LA County passed MSN, the local vets jacked up their prices for S/N surgery. Because they could.

If true, then, well -- dicks. They weren't responding to an increase in their costs, but rather, an increase in what they thought they could get away with charging.

I have also read credible reports of local veterinarians and veterinary associations taking action to obstruct low-cost S/N clinics run by nonprofits, because it cuts into "their" revenues.

Not. Helpful.

Then there's the example of low-cost for-profit S/N clinics. We have two of these in Pittsburgh. The prices are very reasonable, and the level of care at the one I have used for rescue fosters and barn cats appears to be quite good. Amenities are bare-bones -- no latte machine in the lobby, like the one at the emergency clinic that bent me over this time last year. Storefront, folding chairs, clipboards. But there is great concern for pain control (much more than I saw at full-service vets even a decade ago), the staff are competent animal handlers, the facility is clean, and the incisions are gorgeous.


These vets are making money -- enough to stay in business and to have expanded into nine markets. So there's a niche there for this kind of service, and a counter-example to the contention that a spay must cost a fortune to perform, and any break in the cost to the customer is due to either a subsidy or substandard practices.

For one thing, if all you do all day is spay cats, you get very, very good at it, and very fast.

Finally, professionals should perform pro bono work. Period. It's a moral obligation, especially for those professionals who hold licenses to do things that others are forbidden to do. Free/subsidized pet sterilization is one way that a veterinarian can discharge that obligation.

No, I don't believe in making this a legal requirement. But professional associations sometimes require it, just as they require con ed. Why not the AVMA?

The good doctors from one charity that I've worked with, Spay Montana, don't get paid for their long days when they hold a clinic. The bare-bones cost of the surgeries covers their materials -- gas, sutures, etc. -- and compensation for the techs, plus the cost of driving the personnel and equipment to the clinic site. I saw them perform beautiful surgeries, with obvious pride in workmanship and great compassion.

What would happen if every licensed small animal vet donated two weekends a year to such efforts?


Sorry for the misunderstanding. The person wanting the s/n pays the $45 (the charities in my area help them with that). The state paid $100 for my feral to be neutered. $55 came from that individual called a taxpayer. It's not perfect, no. But it's going in the right direction. There are charities around here buying the vouchers and giving them out to people in need. The state right next door to me pays out a total of $70 for a neuter. We're trying, we really are. I'm sorry you hate our voucher system. But at the moment, it's the best we can do. And it's headed in the right direction.

Christie Keith

Pam, I re-read the comment and I see what happened. What I based my view on was that Banfield felt $45 isn't enough for a s/n surgery. I agree with that. If the voucher pays out a different amount, then my opinion would depend (as I said) on what that amount was.

I'm just saying that programs that are based on the assumption that "vets out there" will deeply discount these surgeries (which is the case with virtually every voucher program I've ever heard of, but isn't an intrinsic part of a voucher system) are fundamentally flawed.


Where do you find those charities? Not here. I'm glad that our state helps us even a little bit.

Christie Keith

Pam, where it leaves poor people is being able to get their pets spayed or neutered because it's paid for by animal welfare funds such as I mention in the post to which you're responding. That's the whole point.

Of course veterinarians should, can and do donate their services or money or time to help with this and other causes they support -- and I'm sure, just like non-veterinarians, some do and some don't contribute to charitable causes. But the basic model should be, as Gina says, that hiring a veterinarian is just like hiring an accountant or janitor or all the other staff members that are necessary for a charity. Or, if it's a government program, again, just as they have to pay their clerks and supervisors, they have to pay their veterinarians.

All too often I'll be involved with these discussions of how to provide services to the pets of poor people, and half the room seems to say things like, "Oh, we'll just ask the vets to do it, they love animals!" And yes, some organizations have volunteers in EVERY role. I get that. I'm not trying to create a cookie cutter program.

I'm really just saying that there's a point at which the charity or the government agency is supposed to be doing the subsidizing, not the local veterinarians.

And I agree with whoever said that VMAs on every level -- national, state, local -- should have charitable arms. In California and in the Bay Area, they do, and they go around providing veterinary care, including s/n, to the pets of low income people. I think that's wonderful, but it's not the same as a public service offered by the local shelter or animal control to help s/n pets in the name of lowering future shelter intake and relying on the donated services of local private practice vets.


A few rambling comments:

There have been some interesting discussions on Best Friends back when they had a "No More Homeless Pets" forum, about (among many other things) s/n programs. Peter Marsh, who spearheaded the New Hampshire s/n program, gave a presentation. New Hampshire's s/n program is targeted (to low income people) and funded by the state, and highly effective.

IIRC it was on the NMHP forum that some people discussed a "Friends of the Shelter" nonprofit program that, among other things, funded s/n vouchers, mobile units and the like. Perhaps in areas where there is no targeted charity program for s/n it would help to found a type of "Friends of the Shelter" program? (The Best Friends NMHP archives have info on founding such a program.) Sometimes, the political will isn't there or the money isn't, and private individuals have to step up.

As previous commentators noted, there is a lot of resentment towards the poor "leeching" off "the rest of us" or getting things for free - especially on the part of those who have tight budgets but don't qualify for assistance. I can understand that, but at the same time, s/n can be expensive, but (for most of us) that is part of having a pet, and helping people understand that having a pet is about more than just feeding it - maybe if they are prepared there won't be that sticker shock? Here is where I can see the promotion of shelter pets as a great, good thing - in many areas, shelter pets come already spayed or neutered so while you pay more upfront for that shelter kitty than that "free" kitten* from the box in front of Wal-Mart, the shelter kitty usually comes already fixed, vaccinated, and there is often a discount for the first exam and so on.

Finally, I can see where people might love the idea of mandatory s/n. I really can. If the unwanted kittens are pouring into the shelter left and right, and every adoptive home and foster home is tapped out, and yet the baby animals still come pouring in, and Good Samaritans try their best but are up to their armpits in animals and in crisis mode - I can see where you'd want that tap turned off. But making s/n mandatory doesn't work, it only drives people underground and makes them dump their animals, and the programs are inevitably chronically underfunded which makes things WORSE.

Vouchers and mobile s/n and providing transportation to those who can't just drive to the vet is the way to go, and these programs are feel-good and make people want to donate to them. Of course I'm preaching to the converted here. :)

*"Free kitten" my patootie. These free kittens are NEVER EVER really free. Besides the usual checkup and vaccination expense, these kitties so often are full of fleas, ear mites and worms. This is where I am pulling so hard for "no kill communities" - people would feel comfortable about taking kittens to a shelter, knowing their chances of adoption would be good, AND the adopters would get a nice healthy vaccinated flea-free kitten. But as long as shelters are seen as killing factories, people will give kittens away for free or worse, dump them hoping some good Samaritan will take them in, because "at least this way they'll have a chance." Sigh.

Christie Keith

PetSmart Charities is giving, I believe, $25 million to fund spay/neuter all over the United States. Spay/neuter is a component of the grants given by Maddie's Fund, which has $300 million to give to communities to end the killing of dogs and cats in shelters. THE VERY BLOG POST YOU ARE POSTING YOUR COMMENTS ON is about two such charities, albeit in California. But both of them were started by other organizations; what's stopping you from starting a similar program in your state?

mary frances

Wow Valerie - thanks for the information that I will be passing on to others in my area.


A bill for spay/neuter assistance for low income population is being prepared for 2011 legislative session in WA state. The end goal is to have s/n be performed for $10-$20 for pets belonging to those that meet a means test. Funding is thru a supplemental fee on pet food inspected by WA State Dept of Ag, fee to be paid by pet food companies but presumably it would trickle down to the pet food buyer. The org pushing for this says it is similar to programs in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, NH, etc. Participation by vets is voluntary. I'm still learning more about the effectiveness of these programs in other states.

The biggest hurdle I see in this type of program is the way the bill is presented; if there is the slightest hint that the funding is an add'l sales tax, it will be shot down immediately. In a survey of legislative candidates, one very astute legislator from my district said that any proposed bill must be frame the need for low cost s/n in terms of a general health & safety issue.


The Humane Alliance has developed a model program for operating low-cost spay-neuter clinics, and they train people in how to set up and run them:


One clinic following the Humane Alliance model is the West Georgia Spay-Neuter Clinic, operated by the Carroll County Humane Society. Since it opened in 2007, we have seen annual intake at the Carroll County Animal Shelter drop by about 18% (that's almost 1500 animals per year), and Carroll County accounts for about 39% of the clinic's business, as we serve surrounding counties as well. (Unfortunately, kill rates at CCAC remain exceedingly high due to the shelter's failure to implement the NKE, particularly point 11).


The clinic operates in the black, with grants and fund raising being used for providing free surgeries for those who can't afford to pay anything.

This week marks the 15,000th surgery milestone, although surgery is not its only service--it educates people every day in the course of doing what it does, something no mandatory law will ever do. Not bad for such a tiny organization, and one that serves a largely rural part of Georgia.

H. Houlahan

ut as long as shelters are seen as killing factories, people will give kittens away for free or worse, dump them hoping some good Samaritan will take them in, because “at least this way they’ll have a chance.” Sigh.

Comment by CatPrrson


That is a totally rational and humane impulse given the situation you describe.

It may be "irresponsible," but it is the action of a better class of human than the one who would knowingly take a litter of helpless kittens to a place where they are most likely going to be killed.

When the "socially responsible" thing to do is also more heartless, callous, and horrible than the "irresponsible" thing, then Houston, we have a POLICY problem.

Growing up, our neighbors did not spay their cat, and the husband regularly headed off to a nearby bridge with a brick and a bag. No one approved, and no one did a thing to stop it, or even said anything critical. Because he was being "responsible," see?

I don't see a huge difference between what Mr. Johnson did and leaving a bunch of kittens at a "shelter" where they will be gassed shortly, except Mr. Johnson's version of personal responsibility didn't cost the taxpayers anything.

mary frances

I don't see a huge difference between what Mr. Johnson did and leaving a bunch of kittens at a "shelter" where they will be gassed shortly, except Mr. Johnson's version of personal responsibility didn't cost the taxpayers anything.

Comment by H. Houlahan.

yep that says it...that's where we are at. absolutely haunts me...but I'm not alone.


H. Houlahan - I will say that I couldn't take a kitten to a shelter knowing it would be gassed, either. I can understand people who abandon kittens in order to "give them a chance," and while the Mr. Johnsons of the world get reviled - is what he is doing any different? Not really.

This is why I'm all for no-kill communities. When shelters don't have to kill most of the animals that come through their door, when kittens taken to the shelter routinely find homes - then people will be comfortable taking the kittens from an "oops" litter or whatever to the shelter. And people will GO to the shelter to adopt rather than staying away because "it's so depressing, they kill animals in there!" True responsible community-style No-Kill ripples out to affect more than just the animals in shelters.

And true responsible community-based No-Kill isn't about "we'll MAKE you fix your pets, dagnabbit, or pay a fine!" but rather "I see you want to neuter Tommy and Tabby - how can we help you? Do you need a voucher? A ride to the vet? Time to call a neighbor to watch the kids that morning? We know you love your pets and want to do the right thing - we're here to help you."


I cannot express how grateful I am that I live in a community where Animal Control will provide the ride to the low-cost spay/neuter clinic, and negotiated a lower rate for low-income and unemployed people in this town than even the regular "low-cost" rate.

Of course, their first-pass response to finding a loose dog is also to simply return the dog or contact the owner if the dog has i.d., and to talk to them about what happened, why the dog got out, educate on the risks of the dog roaming freely. And if the dog is intact, to mention that, oh, by the way, if you want to have your dog fixed and either can't get there or can't afford it, we have this program that can help...

Animal Control here have made themselves the friend, not the enemy, of anyone who is making any effort at all to be a responsible pet owner. They don't have to be the bad guys, and I'm often shocked by what seems to pass for normal in so many places. :(

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