Who uses nonprofit spay-neuter clinics?

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Low-income pet owners love their pets and want the very best care for them. But financial and transportation challenges often keep them from getting any pet care at all for their dog or cat.

by Cathy M. Rosenthal

There has always been a bit of debate as to whether nonprofit spay-neuter clinics steal away clients from private practice vets. A study published in Journal of the American Veterinary Association (JAVMA) last year may finally help put that concern to rest. The study surveyed 3,768 owners of 2,154 dogs and 1,902 cats at 22 nonprofit spay-neuter clinics during a nine-month period and found that these clinics mostly serve low-income families whose pets don’t receive veterinary care as well as pets from animal shelters and community cats.

“Nonprofit spay-neuter clinics offer their services to pets who would not be sterilized otherwise, whether by private practitioners or by animal shelters prior to adoption,” says Sara C. White, DVM, MSc, executive director of Spay ASAP and lead researcher of the study, in the release. “Without them, a vital component of reducing pet overpopulation, as well as of public health, would be lost.”

The JAVMA study revealed that most of these low-income families had a household income of less than $30,000 a year, and most had not taken their pets to a vet in the past year. Not surprising, 81 percent of cats and 32 percent of dogs had not been vaccinated against rabies, which is something spay-neuter clinics offer at a discounted rate when pets are there getting fixed.

Low-income families face many challenges in getting veterinary care for their pets.

First, some of them lack transportation to get their pets to a clinic, which is why mobile clinics have been such a huge success in many communities. When you can drive a mobile clinic into a neighborhood to spay and neuter pets, you are helping pet owners who want to take better care of their pets, but who simply don’t have a car to get to a clinic. Public transportation is not a pet-friendly option.

Many people may not meet the definition of “living below the poverty level,” yet still struggle to provide basic veterinary care for their pet. Spay-neuter clinics provide affordable, accessible spay-neuter surgeries and vaccinations for pets who might otherwise never see a doctor.

Second, there usually is a lack of veterinary services in these low-income neighborhoods. Veterinarians naturally want to be successful so they set up their private practices in neighborhoods where they know there will be paying clients. While some private practice veterinarians donate their time to help with low-cost spay-neuter, they don’t have the time to cover the vast need in these communities and still earn a living in private practice. What that means is that there are usually “veterinary deserts” where a lack of accessible and affordable veterinary services are available. As a result, these neighborhoods often report the highest number of stray animals on the streets and relinquished animals at shelters. Nonprofit spay-neuter clinics with veterinarians specialized in spay-neuter surgery fill that void and provide spay-neuter, vaccinations, and wellness services, like heartworm, flea and tick prevention, to reduce the pet population in those respective neighborhoods and maintain the overall well-being of pets.

Finally, low-income pet owners lack the financial resources to pay for basic veterinary services. They can’t afford a pet exam fee of $40 to $50, let alone the sterilization and vaccinations needed for their pets. So, their pets go unsterilized and unvaccinated, putting pressure on animal shelters to manage their offspring.

While spay-neuter clinics serve low-income pet parents, asking people their actual income levels isn’t always easy to do or in the best interest of the pet. That’s because many people may not meet the definition of “living below the poverty level,” yet still struggle to provide basic veterinary care for their pet. Then there are undocumented pet owners who hesitate to get their pet veterinary care for fear of having their immigration status discovered. These issues are real and have a negative impact on the well-being of the pet and the low-income neighborhoods they live in.

“There are more than 23 million dogs and cats in families with limited means to pay for veterinary care,” says Michael Blackwell, DVM, MPH, director of the Program for Pet Health Equity, part of the College of Social Work at the University of Tennessee. “The lack of access to veterinary care results in prolonged illnesses and recovery, or relinquishment to the animal sheltering community, or, worse yet, euthanasia, thus breaking the human-animal bond. These families need and deserve healthcare for all members, human and animal.”

Spay-neuter clinics are a valuable resource for communities wanting to serve low-income pet families and ensure the well-being of their pets. Click To Tweet

We agree. Nonprofit spay-neuter clinics exist to help low-income pet owners who love and want to care for their pets, but don’t have the resources to get their pets veterinary care otherwise.