The Wrong Budget Cuts

03/17/2010 3:20 AM |

The ASPCA recently sent me an email about the imminent demise of the state-funded spay/neuter program. As we all know, money is tight in New York, City and State, and sacrifices need to be made.

But abandoning low-cost spay/neuter for low-income residents is what a friend wryly called “penny wise, dog-pound foolish.” The fastest way to save money sheltering animals is to reduce the number that ends up at shelters. The most effective way to lower the number of unwanted animals is to promote spaying and neutering. The easiest way to get people to spay and neuter is to make the procedure affordable.

Some will tell you that people, especially poor people, just can’t be bothered to have their animals fixed: that they’re stupid, or lazy, or ignorant. Nothing could be further from the truth—many people (especially in the current economy) cannot afford the $125-300 cost of a private surgery. Anecdotally, I’ve brought animals to numerous low-cost mobile clinics and they’ve always been filled within minutes of opening: pet owners get up at the crack of dawn, wait in the cold for hours, to have their pets fixed. The need is there, the willingness is there. Will the clinic be there?

Experts have suggested that a single spay surgery can prevent 55 unwanted animals from being born—and eventually ending up in the shelter system. Remember that shelter costs are many: employees collecting animals; the maintenance of vehicles to transport them; employees to catalog and classify animals as they enter the system; others to care for them as they wait for adoption, rescue or death; veterinary care; euthanasia expenses;s and, finally, disposal of the body.

The average cost to handle each homeless animal that ends up in a shelter is $176. If a spay prevents 55 unwanted animals, that single surgery saves $9,680. If it saves even one unwanted litter (two to ten pups or kittens), it more than pays for itself.

More than $2 billion is spent every year by local governments alone to shelter millions of unwanted animals… and then destroy many of them. And then there’s all the money spent by private organizations, rescuing and re-homing animals, which easily doubles, but probably triples or quadruples that figure.

Last month an uproar broke out over the shooting of eight animals at a municipal animal control facility in Houston, Alaska. Four cats and four dogs who had been at the shelter since November were shot by a city police officer, at the behest of the town’s mayor, because the town did not want to pay to have them euthanized at the local vet’s office: the price of death had gone from $65 to $130.

Back here in New York State, our low-cost program, the Animal Population Control Program, or APCP, which is funded by the $3 extra license fee paid by owners of unfixed dogs, is about to be cancelled. I called the NYS Department of Agriculture to find out where those funds would go in the future, and what happens to other funds collected to support the program: you can order a special vanity plate with pictures of dogs and cats on it (that reads “Our Best Friends”), the purchase of which is supposed to donate $20 to the fund. My calls weren’t returned.

Please contact the Governor and your state politicians and ask that the program be reinstated. Or donate to the awesome Toby Project, which is positioned to pick up the slack when the city’s funding runs out. Across the state shelters and rescues can always use donations to support their spay/neuter initiatives. The lives you save…