Adopting Intact Shelter Pets

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A post on the Best Friends website addresses the issue of adopting out intact shelter pets and cites diminished access to veterinary services nationwide. The basic idea being that pets waiting to get neutered are better off in their new homes rather than a shelter. Best Friends is fully supportive of the strategy:

[W]e can trust much of the public to get their animals altered. Every time pet owners have been surveyed, a high percentage of their animals are spayed or neutered – 80% or more on average, though cats are more frequently fixed than dogs. People place a high value on having animals who won’t produce kittens or puppies or exhibit the behaviors associated with intact pets, so they will return for surgery appointments or have it performed at their own veterinarian’s office.

I have mixed feelings in response to this. I have no problem with adopting out intact shelter pets with a voucher for free neuter, especially for some dogs whose health is negatively impacted by neutering prior to maturity. I also think it’s a good idea for shelters to focus neuter resources more on feral cats who are otherwise highly unlikely to be neutered and will create more feral cats throughout their reproductive lives. I’m not one who demonizes someone with an owned pet who has a litter.

On the other hand, the strategy is being framed as another rung on the “community sheltering” ladder which, to my mind, is little more than shelters telling the public, “No YOU do our jobs, while still paying us with your tax money.” I am not a fan of shelters refusing to help feral or homeless pets and deeming that the public’s responsibility. And obviously I am deeply opposed to shelters who take in animals, kill them and blame the public, which is sometimes the case when shelters claim to be “forced” to accept animals. Lastly, I’m concerned that some shelters are going to charge the adoption fee and release the intact animal without a voucher that covers the full neuter fee, or without a voucher at all. This is going to place another financial burden on adopters which is not the right direction.

What do you think about shelters adopting out intact pets? Are you seeing difficulty in accessing vet services, and neuter services specifically, in your area?

4 thoughts on “Adopting Intact Shelter Pets

  1. I think a voucher PLUS a $100 deposit that is refundable upon providing documentation showing the animal has been spayed or neutered would work (and has worked in some areas) extremely well.

    I think expecting shelters to be close to 100% effective without community involvement is unrealistic and ultimately causes the animals to suffer while the various opinion groups battle out who should be doing exactly what and for whom.

    If a voucher-plus-deposit program frees up shelter resources to provide additional services (like federal or community cat support, providing multiple smaller off-site adoption locations, providing community support programs to help KEEP pets in their homes, etc) then I don’t have the slightest qualms about that being a part of the adoption process.

    I think the shift in thinking that needs to happen is to really evaluate the exact nature of what “doing their job” really means. If it should prioritize adopting out only already spayed and neutered animals, then the approach I described would seem lacking. But if you think the role of a community shelter should be to provide a wide range of services to meet not only a mandate to take in homeless animals, but to work with the community to help prevent homeless animals (in-home support programs, spay neuter voucher programs for homes and unhinged animals), then I think having a new pet owner to take one small action on the part of their new pet (and not even pay for it, while increasing incentives to have it done), it’s really not that big of a deal.

    The goal you’re addressing in this post is to make sure the animals get spayed and neutered safely. If that happens in a way that frees up resources to help more animals, I don’t really care much who walks them through the door to the vet’s office.

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    1. That run on sentence buried in the above comment should have read:

      “But if you think the role of a community shelter should be to provide a wide range of services to meet not only a mandate to take in homeless animals, but to work with the community to help prevent homeless animals (in-home support programs, spay neuter voucher programs for HOMED and UNHOMED animals), then I think having a new pet owner to take one small action on the part of their new pet (and not even pay for it, while increasing incentives to have it done), it’s really not that big of a deal.”

      In my ongoing battle with autocorrect, I rarely get to declare a clear victory 🤣

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  2. The lack of access to services is a real issue, here. People are waiting weeks and months for services at a low cost clinic.

    The big shelters that have their own vets (**cough cough MAS**) have zero reason to adopt out anything intact and should be running TNR days on the side for cats (and in the case of Memphis, street dogs), IMO.

    Honestly, I’m wholly against adopting out intact cats. Many of the reasons that cats end up in shelters are directly related to their sexual behaviors.

    Dogs… hm. There are breeds that would be better served if neutered later. I guess it comes down to “do you trust the public to not intentionally or unintentionally breed this dog?”

    My county pound adopts out dogs with a voucher. But the number of vets who accept that voucher is shrinking. And many/most of them require an examination (office appointment, sometimes with blood work, not covered) before surgery. There is no follow up on how many adopters actually go through with s/n. There is no microchip implantation to even identify these dogs as coming through the county pound. It’s a very old-school rural attitude in that they think they’re progressive for offering the vouchers at all.

    My shelter currently has a large pittie mix girl who is gorgeous. We’re getting a number of “Oh, I’ve always wanted a red nosed pit!” responses along with comments about how pretty she is. I could easily see someone adopting her intact and intentionally breeding her with the thought that she’d make pretty pups. She could be a money maker for some unscrupulous person, despite the fact that we don’t need more pittie mix pups in the world…

    So… I have to come down on the side that no, I don’t trust the general public. Yes, 80% or more of pet cats are s/n. BUT. The number of unowned, unaltered cats on the streets is overwhelming. And every cat/dog on the streets right now is the result of someone failing them or their progenitors at some point.

    I don’t like to be “humans are bad and not to be trusted”, but … shelters are still very behind in educating/informing the public and communities are very behind in making services accessible/available to the public. It’s not as black and white as “pet owners can’t be trusted to s/n”, you know?

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  3. We are having a huge problem accessing veterinary care in our community, as is every pet owner. it’s so bad our local 24/7 emergency clinic is no longer seeing anyone between 9 PM and 7 AM. They have 25 staff members out with COVID, on top of already being short staffed. The next closest emergency clinic is almost 2 hours away. The Camp Fire wiped out a few of the local veterinarians, some just retired, while others now work for other hospitals. Vet appointments are weeks out, even for things that should be seen sooner, and forget about owner requested euthanasia appointments. Unless the shelter has the luxury of an on-staff vet, most shelters I’ve talked to across the country are in the same boat.

    This country is experiencing a veterinary crisis like I have never seen in the last 40+ years of being a vet tech/ACO/shelter manager. We don’t have enough vets graduating to replace those that are retiring and people are opting not to become veterinarians because the work is hard, the pay is not great, and they graduate with so much debt. On top of that, I think (1) more people have pets, and (2) they are more likely to take their pets to the vet than in the past. It’s a perfect storm.

    As someone who runs a municipal shelter, in a state where it is required that every animal that is adopted be spayed or neutered, if we ever get to the point where we are so full and the choice is euthanizing for space or adopting out an intact animal, you bet I will send that animal out the door intact. What we would do is have that animal go out as a foster so we still have ownership of the animal, then follow up with an appointment to have the surgery at a later date. And animals are 100% better off in a home than in the shelter. In fact, most of our kittens start out in foster, then come back for surgery and are placed in the adoption area after surgery so they are ready to go. Lack of surgery appointments has caused our adoptions to slow down considerably because we are holding the animals until they have surgery, but so far we have been able to handle the backlog. At this point I would not rely on the adopter to get the surgery done because they are going to have the same issue getting an appointment that we are having, and we have it a little easier than the public in getting appointments.

    Keep in mind that in some jurisdictions, pre-adoption spay/neuter is not required, nor does the shelter have resources to provide spay/neuter for adopted animals. Some shelters don’t even have access to basic veterinary services for sheltered animals, let alone spay/neuter. So there is a good chance shelters all over the country are still adopting out intact animals, with no provisions to provide surgery.
    Do people spay/neuter on their own? Some do, but likely some do not.

    I think the public (overall) is way more educated and responsible now than they were 40 years ago, and more likely to spay/neuter their pets even if they have to do it on their own. This is evidenced by the reduction of puppies and kittens in some communities, and the drop in the number of animals entering shelters nationally, but in some communities this is not happening. Part of it could be that surgery is not affordable or accessible in those areas.

    Even if the shelter is able to provide a free voucher, it’s always harder to get people to follow through on spay/neuter surgery, and it’s always harder to follow up. With the advent of early age spay/neuter, it’s a little easier to have the surgery done before adoption, but only if you have the vet appointments and resources to have it done. It really has become a catch 22 for many shelters. Which is worse, euthanizing for space because you are holding animals waiting for appointments, or sending them out where at some point they may (or may not) reproduce? I don’t think anyone wants to see the euthanasia rate start to climb simply because shelters can’t get pets spayed/neutered before adoption. And I don’t see the vet crisis getting any better. In fact with burn out it is only going to get worse.

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