Don’t get me wrong. I believe spreading the word about the need for more people to adopt dogs from animal shelters is vitally important, quite literally a matter of life and death for hundreds of thousands of dogs nationwide. So it’s wonderful that after the football game on Thanksgiving day, FOX television plans to air Cause for Paws, a two-hour celebrity-packed program devoted to the plight of shelter dogs. The show – the brainchild of a TV-producer who says his pit bull rescues inspired the project – is entertainment and fundraiser rolled into one.
But rescue alone isn’t going to solve the crisis of overcrowded animal shelters – a crisis that results in the euthanization of about four million healthy, adoptable dogs and cats in U.S. shelters each year. If we, as a country, are going to stop the killing, we must increase the number of pets that get spayed and neutered.
I’m sure Cause for Paws will address spay/neuter; I’m sure that a celebrity or two will urge pet owners to fix their pets. The problem is, not every pet owner has access to a spay/neuter facility and many of those who do simply can’t afford to pay for the procedure.
According to SpayFirst director Ruth Steinberger, fewer than ten states have accessible and affordable spay/neuter services available to pet owners. Accessibility, Steinberger argues, means having a veterinary clinic, a spay/neuter facility, or a program that transports pets to a facility within fifty miles of a pet owner’s home. Affordability means the cost of the surgery is less than what a low-wage or minimum-wage worker makes in a day, which is about $50.
A number of people I spoke with in the course of reporting Dogland – those on the front lines of the battle to save lives – lamented that not enough attention surrounding our shelter crisis goes to spay/neuter. As one shelter volunteer in Tennessee told me, “They’re making them twelve at a time and we’re adopting them out one at a time. So, we’ve got a math problem.”
Getting people energized about rescue is easy: Who can resist homeless dogs and puppies in all their adorableness? Getting people energized about spay/neuter is more challenging.
So I leave you with this thought: On Thanksgiving evening, donations will flood in to Cause for Paws, and that money will be granted to organizations doing the critical work of rescue. But this holiday season, if, like me, you are inclined to give charitably to animal welfare organizations, consider donating to a non-profit working to save lives in a way that may be less cute and cuddly, but is just as important.
Here are several organizations working to make spay/neuter affordable and accessible:
Pets for Life * Coalition to Unchain Dogs * SpayFirst
Any well-regarded low-cost spay/neuter clinic, such as Gaston Low-Cost Spay/Neuter Clinic, First Coast No More Homeless Pets, and the Humane Alliance