Fix your pets! Spay/neuter stops litters! Always spay/neuter!
You know this, having witnessed the suffering of homeless pets and endless litters. But are your feet moving too, or just your lips? Sure, we hear chatter about assorted issues every day. Fervent entreaties. Desperate pleas. People opine on a problem and present their vision of a solution. You’re probably talking too about spay/neuter. Maybe just yesterday you admonished a coworker with a new kitten, “now you be sure to get him fixed!”
The animals thank you for shouting out the message that spay/neuter saves lives. But are you actually working deep in your community, your neighborhood, your own home to stop litters? Talking about spay/neuter is good; getting pets fixed is better.
A small rural humane organization held a fundraiser to pay for a prominent display ad in their weekly county newspaper. Explaining the phenomenal reproduction rate of cats and dogs, the ad listed the benefits of spay/neuter. What it didn’t do is offer any guidance on how to get a pet fixed in a sprawling Mississippi county with a soaring poverty rate and only two veterinary clinics. There was no phone number to call for more information; no address or website listed with possible resources. No low-cost or free fix alternatives — which actually were available — were identified. It was a call to action with no clear path forward and no support in achieving the goal.
I spoke at an annual spay/neuter conference one year and met a group of eager and enthusiastic volunteers who planned to start a spay/neuter program in their area. I encouraged them; I was heartened by their energy. One year later, we crossed paths again at that same conference. Still just as excited, they happily reported they’d been meeting regularly in the past year to make plans to move forward. During this timeframe they’d not fixed a single pet. Not one.
Talk is great, but it must be paired with action. Here are just a few steps everyone and anyone can take to help pets:
Offer options not admonitions. Hand pet owners a card with the local low-cost spay/neuter clinic number and website on it when you suggest they get their pets fixed. Give them the phone number of a nearby vet clinic that offers reduced cost fixes. Question them politely (ditch the judgmental attitude) about how many pets there are and how much they can afford. Work with them towards a solution until these pets are fixed. Follow up. If you have to drive that cat to the vet yourself, then just do it. Go one-on-one until there are none.
Quit shaking your head and start doing. There are five feral cats at that fast food place you frequent? Park and go inside to speak to the manager. The manager will want the cats gone. But he or she will likely agree to TNR as an alternative. Then talk to your vet or search “TNR” to find area options to get the help those cats need. Or call organizations like United Spay Alliance, where you will discover resources to help these cats. Quit expecting someone else to fix this situation.
Make the call. No cat has ever been able to use a smartphone or even a dumbphone to make an appointment to see a doctor to stop those endless litters. Make the call for them. Knock on your neighbor’s door, tell them you’ve admired their beautiful pets, and ask if you can help them get their cats fixed, because you love pets and you love your neighborhood and you want to help. Check your judgment at the door! Be friendly, be positive. Explain the options. Offer help transporting if they cannot drive the pet. Ask friends to chip in on the cost if you need to. Inquire if an area humane group can help. But get the pets fixed.
Reinforce the behavior. When you succeed at helping an owner get a pet fixed, thank them from your heart. Ask to see a photo of the pet and gush over what a gorgeous, fine-looking animal they have, a creature that has value. Remind them that the gift of spay/neuter was not given just to their pet, but to their neighborhood and their town because healthier pets make healthier communities. Make it a happy feel-good moment. Then follow up with a Thanks for Getting Your Pet fixed postcard.
They’ll pass that on and we will keep working until there are none.
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.