None of us has unlimited resources to devote to improving the lives of animals around us. So why do so many animal lovers focus on rescuing one animal at hefty expense, when fixing more animals at lower cost triggers an exponentially greater beneficial impact on animal welfare?
A behavioral economist, in a talk on altruistic behaviors, offers us some answers. They explained that when people are faced with a catastrophe — like pet overpopulation — they feel overwhelmed, they despair, and they turn away: What could one person possibly do to save 4 million animals from euthanasia?
But when we are presented with an individual animal in need, we step up: Of course we can provide a bag of food. Or donate a crate. Then we can look into the eyes of the one we helped and feel good about our effort.
This research deepens insight into our country’s history of rescuing individual animals when that same money could have fixed dozens or hundreds or thousands. Applying this research, one wonders if rescue might be just a little bit more about us than it is about the animal. It’s about the warm, fuzzy feeling that we get when we save a cat or dog from a negligent owner. It’s about righting wrongs and battling cruelty or homelessness. It’s a feel-good event in a world gone haywire. So it cost hundreds or thousands of dollars? That’s the price of righting the wrong and claiming the win, isn’t it?
Yet there is a better way to capture that win for animals: Spay/neuter.
I’ve volunteered for 25 years to improve the lives of cats and dogs. I can absolutely affirm that I will leave this life with a greater impact on animal welfare through spay/neuter than by fighting to save pets one at a time.
Harness the power of this research to boost your spay/neuter program. Instead of presenting donors with this massive need (animal overpopulation), send them a charming photo of a cat or dog who was fixed with a donation. Make sure you focus in tight on the animal’s eyes. Having the owner in the photo to highlight the human-animal bond is a bonus, especially if they are low-income as depicted by their attire or surroundings. Photos of individual pets and needy owners are highly effective in getting people to support your spay/neuter effort.
Ensure your donors can feast upon that single stunning tree in our expansive forest. Then remind them that spay/neuter is the sustainable choice with the most bang for their buck; it is simply good stewardship of our limited resources. Save Them All is a lofty goal; focus on prevention to hasten the day that we can.
Linda Chitwood is the volunteer Director of The Homeless Animals Relief Project, which provides free or low-cost spay/neuter surgery for pets living with the poor in north MS. The recipient of The Annie Lee Roberts Courage & Compassion Award from The Summerlee Foundation, Linda has 25 years experience in addressing pet welfare challenges. She is the author of $5 For a Cat Head: True tales of animal welfare, with hands-on tips for helping animals.