Targeting Help Where It's Needed Most.
Income targeting spay/neuter efforts focused on those who fall below the poverty level is one of the most critical elements communities and cities must provide at a rate of at least 5 surgeries per 1,000 residents in order to dramatically decrease shelter intake.
The term ‘targeting’ refers to a strategy of providing services to groups that will most dramatically impact shelter intake and thus prevent shelter deaths. Other key groups include community cats, middle-income pet owners without the discretionary funds to spay/neuter, and certain breeds at risk of relinquishment. We often see an over-representation of pit bull type dogs in shelters, but many communities see an abundance of other breeds, such as Chihuahuas. Providing special pricing for those breeds that are over-represented is an excellent way to decrease the number ending up in our shelters.
The ASPCA states that “cost is one of the primary barriers to spay/neuter surgery in many communities. In fact, low household income and poverty are statistically associated with having an intact cat, with relinquishment of pets to shelters, and shelter intake. As a result, the proportion of pets from poor communities who are being euthanized in shelters remain high; shelter euthanasia rates in the poorest counties in states, including California and New Jersey are several times higher than those in the most affluent counties.”
Target Zero Co-founder Peter Marsh writes in Getting to Zero “By the early 1980’s, reduced-cost spay/neuter programs and awareness campaigns had greatly reduced the number of pets that were being put down in New Hampshire shelters. In the decade after that, though, shelters, rescue groups, and spay/neuter programs hit the wall.
A 2008 national survey found that caretakers with annual incomes of less than $12,500 a year sterilized only 54% of their dogs, a much lower sterilization rate than all other income groups. A 2007 survey found that only 51.4% of cats living in American households with incomes under $35,000 a year were sterilized, while more than 90% of cats living in households with higher incomes had been.
For those middle-income pet owners, charging surgery fees based on a sliding scale can help the clinic cover the costs of surgery and staffing. Things like social entrepreneurship (ie, low cost vet services), pet tag fees, traditional and more innovative fundraising and government contracts can provide revenue to supplement surgeries for low-income pet owners at an even greater reduced rate. Most of the dogs and cats reproducing do ultimately get sterilized, so advocates must do whatever possible to provide enough services in the community to avoid ‘spay delay’ and prevent that single litter. Per Marsh "It is estimated that only 25% of residents in high intake areas qualify as low income, therefore targeting those areas will not achieve the impact that concentrating on low income pet owners will."
The goals of your program, your financial strategy and how your operation is organized will dictate how your clinic is designed. The Humane Alliance model is based on the assumption that the clinic will ultimately be self sustaining, so if you plan to serve low-income pet owners, as well as provide low cost, those surgeries must be subsidized with other funding. Ancillary services such as transportation for pets to and from surgery appointments is crucial in assisting low-income pet owners.
First Coast No More Homeless Pets in Jacksonville, Florida is the largest spay/neuter clinic in the country. In the fiscal year 2013/2014, over 31,000 surgeries were completed. Of those, 45% were community cats, 24% were for low-income pet owners, 20% were low cost surgeries, 8% were from high shelter intake areas and 5% were pit bulls and pit bull mixes. While this mix has changed over the years, these targeted programs have driven the intake at Jacksonville Animal Care and Control and the Jacksonville Humane Society from over 33,000 in 2002 to just over 17,000 in 2015.
High-volume, high quality spay/neuter clinics (HVHQSN) play an important role in reducing pet overpopulation in the communities they serve and are defined as those where surgeons each perform 30-40 sterilizations per day. The Association of Shelter Veterinarians has established guidelines for such operations that may be part of a clinic or shelter program, a mobile unit, a clinic dedicated to high-volume surgeries or event type programs. There are a variety of models that dictate how the program operates financially and programmatically, but first and foremost a program must be created that ensures the safety of each surgery patient. Other examples of high-volume clinics can be found here.
In many communities today, there is a strained relationship between private veterinarians and those clinics offering subsidized services. Partnerships that have proven successful are those that establish criteria for financial need for spay/neuter services so that private veterinarians do not feel their business and livelihood is threatened. In reality, these programs are not ‘low cost’, meaning it is not less expensive for the provider to operate, but rather they are ‘subsidized’ (as mentioned above) in the case of non-profits. Working with your veterinary community is essential and historically a missing piece of the puzzle as we work towards a 90%+ shelter save rate in our communities.
It should be noted that Target Zero does not endorse mandatory spay/neuter. And while live release programs are essential in the quest for reaching a 90+% shelter save rate, no other strategy will make a greater impact on preventing the homelessness of dogs and cats as targeted spay/neuter. It must also be noted that there will always be a percentage of pet owners living below the poverty level in need of subsidized services.
Preventing homelessness of dogs and cats through targeting low-income pet owners, community cats entering shelters, middle income pet owners and breeds over-represented in a shelter will have a far greater impact on decreasing shelter intake and thus euthanasia than any live release programs.