Tackling the Backlog: Delivery Systems to Support Spay/Neuter Part Two: MASH and/or Blitz Clinics

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, there is an estimated backlog of 2.7 million spay/neuter surgeries. With more and more veterinary professionals leaving the field, the gap is growing, leaving rural areas impacted the hardest. 

While there is no single solution to this very complex situation, there are ways for private practice veterinarians to get involved in providing low-cost spay/neuter surgeries to their community, while still making money for their practice. 

However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Through the Delivery Systems series, we hope to provide an overview of these options, and provide some insight to support veterinary professionals as they explore which model(s) may be right for them and their practice.

See Part 1 of our Delivery Systems Series, Brick-and-Mortar High-Quality High-Volume Spay/Neuter (HQHVSN) Clinic here.

Part Two: MASH and/or Blitz Clinics
Written by: Brianna Lovell Myers

One of the more popular interventions has become known as the MASH clinic, or Blitz Clinic. Similar to the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital after which they are named, these clinics are ad-hoc. They’re coordinated and organized “in the field,” often turning gymnasiums or empty warehouses into surgical space to provide high-quality, high-volume spay/neuter (HQHVSN) services to the community. 

MASH clinics are temporary, sometimes just for a day or a single weekend. They aim to provide services to as many animals as possible, in as short a time as possible, for as low a cost as possible. 

MASH clinics are often a partnership between the veterinary team, which oversees the medical side of things, and the rescue organization, which coordinates the planning and logistical details. The rescue will work with their known contacts in the community to get the word out pet owners and caregivers. They will maintain the list and get the animals there. Meanwhile, the veterinary team will ensure they have everything they need to help those animals receive the spay/neuter and other care they may need. 

Depending on the clinic space and the veterinary teams available, this number could vary from dozens to hundreds of animals. 

While this approach may seem too aggressive or guerilla-style for some, for others, MASH clinics are the only source of veterinary care their community may have. Given their temporary nature, MASH clinics are a great way to provide services in remote areas which may not have regular access to care. These clinics can rally all the personnel and support needed for a concentrated period of time, and provide help to as many animals as possible during that window. 

Spay Mexico has been operating MASH clinics with astonishing results. See their Impact Report from 2019 here.

The Spay Mexico model has seen success not only in the number of animals it has helped, but the number of veterinarians it has been able to train. Its reputation for spay/neuter training is well-known throughout Central and South America. They now even offer accredited certification courses to help train more vets in HQHVSN technique. And those vets have gone home to build their own programs, including Spay Peru, Spay Bolivia, and Spay El Salvador. 

We reached out to Craig Neilson, co-founder and executive director of Spay Mexico, to gather more information on MASH clinics and how they help meet spay/neuter needs in the community: 

How do you keep the cost to the public low?

Spay Mexico follows the Quick Spay techniques taught by Dr. Marvin Mackie of Animal Birth Control Clinics in southern California. Our anesthesia protocols and surgery process are a little different, allowing us to keep costs at a minimum. We also have our own process for creating low-cost suture.

We also greatly rely on our volunteers to do the heavy lifting. While veterinarians and technicians manage the surgeries, volunteers are doing all the tasks that keep a clinic running. 

What is the biggest benefit of a MASH clinic? 

MASH clinics create opportunities for rural, remote, or low-income communities to receive veterinary care they might otherwise lack. You can use MASH clinics to target specific areas needing more acute intervention, and make a big impact in a short amount of time.

It’s a team effort, hyperfocused on the solution, and it can really help move the needle.

What’s the hardest part about getting started?

Finding the funding to support MASH clinics can be a challenge. But the good news is, funders are out there! There are people and foundations that believe in this work, and will support it. You just need to find those people, get them involved, and keep them interested. 

What’s the best part of running a MASH clinic?

Solving a problem that only vets can solve. If overpopulation is the problem, then the only real solution is more spay/neuter. The ability to bring our resources together to provide this crucial service for people and communities – that is really special. 

It’s also great to find like-minded veterinarians – the ones who are really committed to the spay/neuter model and the difference it can make. “Humaniacs,” I call them. It takes a special talent to locate the humaniac veterinarian. Once we do, we hold on to them. They are a godsend. They’re not in it for the money. It’s not about getting, it’s about giving. Those are the vets you want to find. 

If you could go back in time, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

Focus on finding the right vets, and building the right team. Find the people who are just as passionate as you are about the work. At the end of the day, it’s the people in the building, not the name on the door, that really make things work. 

Any tips for veterinarians who would like to start MASH clinics of their own?

You can’t do it without teamwork. Find your surgeons, your support staff. The most successful campaigns are those where the entire community comes together – local rescues, local shelters and animal control, citizens, and other supporting organizations are all buying in. 

Anything else vets should know re: this delivery system?

MASH clinics can feel hectic. It’s very important to trust your team, and keep an eye on the details. For instance, make sure your patients are being monitored throughout recovery. Find people you trust to watch their breathing. It takes a village to pull these things off – you need good people to help you through every step.

And of course, make sure you have good tools! Here is a list of tools we use during our clinics.

While MASH clinics are wonderful and certainly have their place, they’re not without their drawbacks. There is a ton of coordination involved. Plus, they can be expensive – between the cost of surgical and clinic supplies, plus refreshments for staff and volunteers, and other miscellaneous expenses. 

We’ve started to implement a hybrid of MASH clinics, where we also train local veterinarians who can offer HQHVSN surgeries out of their clinics and practices – similar to the private practice partnership model described here. We’ve seen a lot of success with this multi-pronged approach. 

Last words?

MASH clinics can be a terrific way to spay and neuter a lot of animals in a short period of time. But we’ve found that in addition to the MASH clinic model, training local veterinarians in HQHVSN techniques can have an even greater impact. We get more vets involved, so they can go out and do more surgeries on their own. That’s why we worked to develop a spay/neuter training program in partnership with CONCERVET, a professional veterinary medical organization for veterinarians in Mexico, the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, and the city of Mexicali. 

More vets, doing more surgeries in more places. That is how we’ll really move the needle. 

Want to learn more about MASH clinics? Here are some groups to look at: