Stray neutered cat with few teeth, recently taken in by a Good Sam who prevented him from ever going to a shelter. (Photo by Casey Post)
In general, the voluntary spaying and neutering of pets is a positive. It reduces/eliminates the behaviors associated with reproduction, which most owners find undesirable qualities in a pet. This makes pet ownership easier to manage for many people. It eliminates the birth of unintended puppies and kittens which again, is a plus for most owners. These benefits show up in the community in the form of more owners being able to keep their pets and fewer homeless pets being in need of a shelter.
But spay-neuter falls short in two major ways:
- It does nothing to save the dogs and cats in shelters today.
- It’s of no use to pet owners who can not afford to pay for the services and/or get their pets to the clinic, or those who don’t know low cost services are available.
Contrary to what far too many shelter directors and killing apologists say publicly, spaying and neutering is not THE answer. That is, voluntary spay-neuter is an important part of the solution but there are many other significant pieces to the puzzle. Spay-neuter doesn’t stop shelter directors from killing any and all animals of their choosing. Legislation is required to end that barbaric practice. And voluntary spay-neuter is just one component of the No Kill Equation – the only set of programs proven to end the killing of healthy/treatable animals in shelters. Spay-neuter alone has never ended the killing of healthy/treatable shelter pets anywhere.
In addition, those who blame the public for the killing and point to spay-neuter as the one and only solution often combine the blame with a threat: Until everyone spays and neuters, we’ll keep killing animals. The truth is that the day “everyone spays and neuters” is not going to be today, tomorrow, or next month. That means that the pets in shelters today, tomorrow and next month are at risk of being needlessly killed which is unacceptable no matter how you frame it.
In fact, the day “everyone spays and neuters” will be never. Some people choose not to spay and neuter for various reasons with which animal advocates may or may not agree. But that is irrelevant since pet overpopulation is a myth and there are more than enough homes for every shelter pet in the U.S. There are hundreds of communities all over the country that have ended the killing of healthy/treatable shelter pets and not one of them waited until everyone spayed and neutered their pets. Puppies and kittens are still being born in those no kill communities, shelter directors are still doing their jobs, and the world is still turning.
In addition to failing to help the animals in shelters today, spay-neuter has serious accessibility issues. Too many low cost spay-neuter clinics are mired in difficulties – both from within and without. In Alabama for example, private vets are working to drive the few low cost spay-neuter clinics out of business – and they’re succeeding. Other clinics in the U.S. have lengthy waiting lists or don’t-call-us-we’ll-call-you lists that discourage people from applying. If more low cost clinics would start subsidizing fees (up to 100% if necessary) for low income owners who need assistance, offering transport for pets who would otherwise be unable to get to the clinic, and working with caretakers of community cats, their reach could be expanded. And perhaps the most obvious and overlooked challenge: making people aware that the clinics exist.
Nathan Winograd explains why spay-neuter is an important part of, but not the entire solution to, shelter pet killing since it helps reduce intake numbers:
[W]e want intakes low enough that even a lazy, bureaucratic, uncaring, inept director (in short, your average kill shelter director) can run a No Kill shelter with ease. In other words, we want to eliminate those communities with high intake rates (like Washoe County) needing thoroughly committed and hardworking leadership to succeed.
In other words, shelter pets can’t wait for all the Meisterburgers to die out and get replaced by heroic figures willing to commit themselves, body and soul, to stopping the killing of shelter pets. We have a proven road map and we need to force, through legislation if necessary, the existing shelter leadership to follow it. Reducing intake through low/no cost voluntary spay-neuter is one way to help make that happen.
Spay-neuter has not ever and will not ever eliminate shelter pet killing but even in the worst case scenario with a shelter director committed to killing, it can help deliver fewer victims to the facility’s front door. The benefits of spay-neuter should not be underestimated nor should they be overestimated as a panacea for the myriad problems in our broken shelter system. No kill starts with a commitment to protecting the lives of shelter animals and a willingness to do the hard work required to save them all. Everything else is a tool in the toolbox.