By Barbara Sharnak for WebVet.com
When pet owners don’t spay and neuter their animals, the vicious cycle of shelter dogs and cats being euthanized continues and worsens. Armed with this knowledge through years of firsthand experience as a veterinarian, Dr. Andrew Kaplan founded The Toby Project, a non-profit organization in New York City whose sole mission is to address pet overpopulationby offering free spay and neuter services to target communities in the area.
Thousands Of Pets Killed Each Year
In New York City alone, over 17,000 adoptable cats and dogs were euthanized in shelters last year. This number doesn’t account for those animals deemed unadoptable, such as the namesake of Kaplan’s organization, a mutt named Toby. After meeting Toby in 2001, Kaplan learned that because of his shyness, Toby was considered an unfit companion and had been given a death sentence for the next day. Kaplan was ultimately able to rescue his new companion, but the experience drove home the point that such killings — to the tune of 70 per day — were being carried out because no one was preventing the animals from being born.
Shelters Alone Don’t Work
Despite the valiant efforts of many shelter employees and volunteers, Kaplan points out that adoption programs alone will not solve the pet overpopulation crisis. “Shelters are more of a place to dump animals as opposed to a place where they are saved. They’ve never combated the problem of overpopulation and they never will,” Kaplan said. “We can’t change anything by taking the same ineffective steps.”
Help On Wheels
Leading by example is the state of New Hampshire, where a mobile spay and neuter program aimed at low-income communities succeeded in reducing the shelter population by 30 percent in the year following its inception. Using the New Hampshire program as its example, Kaplan reached out to his client base and raised enough money for the Toby Project’s first van. Selfless volunteers and dedicated vets travel to the communities that surrender the most animals to shelters and provide pet owners with free spay and neuter services — the most humane and safe method to combat the overpopulation crisis.
According to Kaplan, the most common reason pet owners give for not spaying or neutering their pets is that they can’t afford the procedure. By providing the service in their neighborhoods without cost — or the necessity of incurring travel expenses — the Toby Project has spayed/neutered more than 1,300 animals in seven months.
When you consider the rate at which cats and dogs reproduce, you can easily see the significance of these numbers. According to the ASPCA, an unspayed female dog, her mate and all of their puppies and their puppies’ puppies, if none are ever neutered or spayed, add up to 67,000 in six years. That means that when the Toby Project reached its milestone of having spayed or neutered 1,330 animals, they had potentially prevented the pets from yielding as many as 89,110,000 births — and countless innocent deaths — over a six-year period.
How It Helps
In addition to preventing overpopulation, spaying and neutering also has important health and social benefits. The ASPCA cites the following:
- Your dog or cat will live a longer, healthier life: Spaying and neutering prevent uterine infection, malignant breast cancer and ovarian cancer in females and testicular cancer and prostate infections in males.
- Your male dog will be less likely to roam far from home: An intact male in search of a mate will do just about anything to find one. If he’s free to roam, he risks injury or death in traffic and fights with other males.
- He/she will be a much better pet: Un-neutered dogs and cats may mark their territory by spraying strong-smelling urine in your home. Many aggression problems can be avoided by early neutering and, contrary to popular myth, spaying and neutering will not change your dog’s personality, cause obesity or make it any less capable of guarding your home.
Change is necessary to make a difference
In order to break the pet overpopulation/euthanasia cycle, the current system must be changed. As most shelters struggle to fulfill their mission to place for adoption as many animals as they can while having no choice but to euthanize those that cannot be placed, it has become clear that an alternative must be found.
Free spay/neuter programs have effectively reduced shelter populations in New Hampshire and with more outreach and financial support, such programs can replicate that success throughout the country. The Toby Project can serve as an example of what can be achieved.
Credit: Written and reviewed by John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhD and Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS