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June 1, 2020 – The coronavirus pandemic has affected animal shelters in unprecedented ways. But the humane movement has risen to the challenge, and shelters have pivoted swiftly and efficiently to ensure animals are neither forgotten nor left out, by expanding foster programs and creating innovative adoption opportunities.
Unfortunately, communities in every state have been forced to temporarily suspend non-emergency veterinary services such as spay/neuter surgeries to divert resources needed to fight the spread of the virus, and to conserve personal protection equipment, like masks and gloves, for use by hospital, emergency and law enforcement personnel. This has resulted in a backlog of unaltered shelter and foster pets, and it has also affected trap-neuter-return programs focusing on cats and initiatives to treat street dogs and other animals living in public spaces.
That’s why, today, we are leading a coalition of more than 25 national non-profit organizations in the launch of #SpayTogether, a stimulus fund to help animal shelters and spay/neuter veterinary clinics perform 50,000 lifesaving spay/neuter surgeries in the United States on a fast track over three months. These are high quality/high volume surgeries—procedures performed speedily, using the best expertise and resources in the field. Together, we will put our collective might and know-how to clear the backlog of unaltered animals so that shelters can recover from the particular negative effects of the pandemic on their operations, renew their energies, and invest themselves fully in their lifesaving work.
Across the nation, according to our estimates, spay/neuter surgeries declined by 41 percent between March 1 and April 14. We expect that by June 7 this will result in a backlog of 265,000 unaltered animals in 500 clinics, most of these being public spay/neuter clinics funded by local jurisdictions. We are also entering kitten season when the numbers of unowned cats living outdoors increase dramatically.
Spaying and neutering these animals is imperative because not doing so could prompt an increase in the numbers of pets entering shelters. This would create practical and financial burdens on shelters and raise the prospect of increasing euthanasia of healthy and adoptable animals.
Approximately 1.5 million healthy, adoptable cats and dogs are euthanized in shelters annually. Animal protection groups like ours have worked for years to lower this number, with great success. But it is crucial we do not let it go back up as our nation deals with a human health crisis.
That’s why we are so excited to announce this historic initiative. We have worked around the clock to raise funds to support it, and over the coming months, we will provide surgery subsidy support grants, on-ground assistance, training in high quality, high volume spay/neuter surgeries, and discounted veterinary supplies and services to shelters and veterinary clinics. Participating veterinary clinics will also be able to offer discounted operations to pet parents in underserved communities. We have also created and will promote guidelines to help clinics safely perform spay/neuter surgeries during the coronavirus crisis.
While we expect to reach every state, the coalition has identified eight of them in which there are greater needs due to veterinary shortages and/or large amounts of unaltered animals, including Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, California, Texas, Nevada, Florida and Oklahoma. Expert veterinary surgical support teams from the ASPCA, Animal Balance, ViDAS and Emancipet will help provide on-site support in these states.
We’ve done this kind of thing before, in our longstanding global work targeting street dog populations at scale, in our multi-million dollar post-Hurricane Katrina Gulf Coast initiatives, and in our Spayathon for Puerto Rico™ campaign, in which we have helped spay or neuter more than 52,000 animals. We know that working together, and mobilizing the financial, logistical and human resources needed to hit the mark, will bring success to this latest initiative as well.
We are grateful to Maddie’s Fund, Dave & Cheryl Duffield Foundation, BISSELL Pet Foundation, PetSmart Charities, Petco Foundation, Banfield Foundation, Greatergood.org, Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health USA, Inc and other partners in the #SpayTogether coalition who bring to the table unparalleled expertise in the area of animal protection and in reducing the problems of pet homelessness and pet overpopulation. These are unprecedented times, but working together now, we can help communities—and the animals who are part of them—survive, stabilize and thrive, setting the stage for their success long after the nation has successfully overcome the coronavirus threat.
Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and CEO of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of the HSUS. www.humanesociety.org