Public Health for Pets

Public health has been defined as ‘the science and art of preventing disease,’ prolonging life and improving quality of life through organized efforts and informed choices of societyorganizations (public and private),  communities and individuals. Analyzing the determinants of health of a population and the threats it faces is the basis for public health.[2] The public can be as small as a handful of people or as large as a village or an entire city; in the case of a pandemic it may encompass several continents. The concept of health takes into account physical, psychological, and social well-being.” (Wikipedia)

What is public health? Some thirty years ago, as we were trying to find public support for the spay and neuter of stray cats in my town of Bridgeport, Connecticut, I turned to local public health officials for ideas. I will never forget their positive and encouraging demeanor as they told me that public health principles apply to all situations. It is not just for humans. Public health, they explained, is about the prevention of problems, issues, illness and quality of life. And that can be applied to animals, too. 

One of the basic tenets of public health is that it is always easier, more cost effective and quicker to prevent problems than it is to deal with bad outcomes. 

For instance, public health tells us it is easier and more cost effective to practice social distancing during our current pandemic, to wear masks and make use of vaccines, than to fill hospitals to capacity and push medical staff to their limits.

Likewise, it is immeasurably better to spay and neuter cats by the age of 20 weeks to prevent more kittens from being born and avoid expensive medical complications down the road. Indeed, spay/neuter can prevent mammary cancers in as many as 91% of cats. By preventing unwanted litters, spay/neuter takes the financial burden off of shelters to house and care for excessive numbers of cats. It helps to stabilize community cat colonies, which often means individual cats in each colony may be healthier, as they have fewer cats fighting over the same resources. 

In recent years, nearly all animal welfare funding and attention has been focused on adoption, rescue, and transport. There is no doubt that all these services are needed and important.  But what has been lost is the basic premise of public health. Without prevention⁠—prevention of unwanted litters, prevention of disease⁠—the job is, and will continue to be, a hopeless morass of hard work, misery, frustration, and burnout. However, with the right emphasis on prevention, all the other areas of animal welfare can move forward much easier.

United Spay Alliance is dedicated to the idea of prevention. Our spay/neuter referral directory is the foundation, available to all those in need across the country. And we continue to network and build relationships with organizations and individuals across the country to ensure more people and pets than ever before have access to the spay/neuter resources they need. Because prevention is key. 

United Spay Alliance is public health for pets. We welcome your support, your voices, and your participation as we build a strong network and a strong alliance to carry out this important work.