FROM THE PRESIDENT'S KEYBOARD
by Laura Banks, D.V.M.
Everything looks different from inside a Bunny suit. I found that out a few weeks ago when I got to be the Easter Bunny at the canine Easter egg hunt sponsored by Three Dog Bakery.
By different, I don't mean because I had to peer through a pair of misplaced eye holes covered with screen, or because my seven year old son had to lead me around by the hand because I couldn't see even a Great Dane at my feet, much less a Pug. Everything was different because the people and animals treated me differently than they do when I wear my regular clothes, which don't usually include a pink tail. Luckily, most people are nice to me when I wear my regular clothes but that particular Saturday they were more apt to smile. And touch. And hug. And to say thank you. It was nice. It made me realize that people really do want to reach out to each other but seem to find it easier when anonymity is maintained. Too bad. I could always use more hugs. Of course, not enough to wear that suit again! Besides, some of the dogs hated me. I haven't had that many growls since the last time I did a vaccination clinic!
I hope that by including information about No More Homeless Pets of New Mexico and our research in Petroglyphs, you will have a chance to think about what we are doing and about the importance of spaying and neutering pets in our state. I also hope that you will want to get involved in this important mission by volunteering your time or making a donation to our efforts. If you need more information than what you see here, or in the last issue of Petroglyphs, please feel free to call me at (505) 843-6647.
Have a Hoppy Day!
Laura Banks, DVM
No More Homeless Pets of New Mexico
ELIMINATING PET OVERPOPULATION IN NEW MEXICO
During the last year No More Homeless Pets of New Mexico (NMHPNM) has done extensive research on the pet overpopulation problem in New Mexico and the best ways to change the dismal statistics. Our report titled, Eliminating Pet Animal Overpopulation in New Mexico, is now ready. While the entire report is too lengthy to be reproduced here, what follows are some of its important findings. If you want to discuss the report, the methodologies used, or the results, please call 505.843.6647. To receive a copy of the full report, send $5.00 to No More Homeless Pets of New Mexico, PO Box 94390, Albuquerque, NM 87199-4390.
Pet overpopulation refers to the number of unwanted cats and dogs that are present in our state. It does not include animals that are legitimately lost and eventually found by their owner.
For purposes of this study, pet animal overpopulation in New Mexico will be defined as: The number of cats, dogs, kittens, and puppies received annually by municipal animal control agencies and large private shelters, minus the national average of lost animals that are reclaimed by their owners (roughly 15%.) The magnitude of pet overpopulation in New Mexico as of the date of this report, February 2002, using the above formula, is at least 90,763 animals each year.
BACKGROUND AND CAUSE
Most unwanted pets are delivered to, or captured by, animal control agencies or humane societies. The majority of these animals are killed (euthanized) because there are not enough homes for them. This warehousing and euthanizing of surplus animals is very expensive for communities both financially and emotionally with the financial burden being shared by taxpayers and private donors. Unwanted and stray pets are also a safety hazard in communities because of potential disease transmission, animal bites, livestock killings and roadway accidents. Due to these factors, cat and dog overpopulation in New Mexico should be considered a significant human public health problem.
The majority of unwanted pets are either directly or indirectly the result of the over-breeding of cats and dogs. Litters of kittens and puppies delivered to animal shelters are the direct result of overpopulation. The indirect result is the relinquishment of large numbers of healthy adult cats and dogs. Little value is placed on these animals because, with such a large surplus of animals, relinquished ones can always be replaced.
The study shows there are two primary causes of pet over-breeding in New Mexico.
1. There is a high percentage of low income citizens in our state who are unable to afford the cost of veterinary services to have their pet spayed or neutered.
2. There are pet owners who purposely or carelessly breed their pets in excess of New Mexico's ability to provide homes. This happens because people are unaware of the implications of their actions.
An additional factor in some New Mexico communities is the lack of veterinary services.
Cats and dogs are not a valued commodity in New Mexico. They are plentiful, free for the taking, and easily disposable. By ultimately decreasing the surplus through spaying and neutering, their psychological value will increase to the benefit of both the animals and the people.
The question of increasing adoptions is valid. Increasing adoptions is part of the overall mission of NMHPNM. Before embarking on a campaign for increased adoptions, though, it is important to ensure that the animals will be placed with families that are financially capable of caring for them. With the current level of poverty in New Mexico, it is unlikely that there is a large "untapped market" of qualified homes into which animals can be adopted.
It is critical to guarantee that any animal adopted from a shelter is spayed or neutered to prevent that animal from further adding to the overpopulation problem. Any campaign to increase adoptions from animal shelters must first be supported by a successful campaign to increase the availability and affordability of spay/neuter services.
More than 90,000 unwanted cats and dogs are delivered to animal shelters in New Mexico every year. Most are eventually euthanized.
The combined total tax dollar expenditure on municipal animal control services in New Mexico is approximately $14.8 million annually. This total does not include the thousands of donated dollars also spent on animal care and sheltering.*
There is virtually no public funding allocated for prevention of the problem of pet overpopulation.
(*To estimate the total amount of public dollars budgeted for animal control services in New Mexico, budget records were examined from four representative counties for which animal control expenses could be easily determined. The four counties (Bernalillo, Dona Ana, Lea, and Torrance) represent approximately 44% of the state's population, based on 2000 Census Bureau data, and include large metropolitan areas as well as small rural communities. The combined reported budget allocations totaled approximately $6,574,611, which represents an average animal control expenditure of roughly $8.18 per person in these counties.)
Implement a large-scale program for spaying and neutering pets in New Mexico. In order to decrease the number of unwanted animals to near zero in a target period of five years, it will be necessary to decrease the number of unwanted animals delivered to shelters ("intakes") by roughly 50% each year. For every one animal spayed or neutered, the shelter intakes are expected to decrease by three. The goal for New Mexico will be to increase the number of animals spayed or neutered by about 75,000 animals in the next five years.
This will be accomplished through providing education, outreach and financial assistance. Periodic evaluations will be conducted to assess the need for adjustments to the target numbers in fast-growing communities, and to develop a plan for maintaining the population once the goal is reached.
It's critical to emphasize the effect of time on pet overpopulation. Theoretically in six years, one female dog and her offspring can produce 67,000 dogs. Therefore, it's essential to "beat the clock" when it comes to spaying and neutering pets.
The situation can be compared to a forest fire. If it requires one million gallons of water to extinguish the blaze, fire fighters don't pass the one million gallons of water through garden hoses over a three-month period. Rather, as much water as possible is "dumped" on the fire at one time in order to ensure that it does not spread to the west faster than it is extinguished in the east. Likewise, large numbers of spay/neuter surgeries must be performed in a short period of time in order to overcome the upward curve of pet reproductive capacity.
Financially and logistically it isn't feasible to achieve a 50% reduction in shelter intakes simultaneously in the entire state. The goal will be reached through a community- based approach.
1. A professionally designed public education campaign will be conducted in New Mexico to inform pet owners of the tremendous waste of public money and loss of life that occurs in our animal shelters, and to tie the solution to the act of spaying or neutering a person's pets.
2. Financial assistance programs will be conducted by NMHPNM and others to help low-income pet owners with the cost of having their pets spayed or neutered. These programs will be designed to fit the needs of the individual communities taking into account income levels and available veterinary services.
3. All programs will:
Include the services of local veterinarians whenever possible and provide fair compensation.
Encourage the cooperative efforts of local animal welfare groups and municipal animal control agencies.
Provide financial assistance only to qualified low-income owners.
4. More than 40 spay/neuter programs are operated currently in New Mexico by non-profit animal advocacy organizations. Most of these programs handle few animals and/or do not screen applicants for need.
Many of the programs are small local efforts not operated with the purpose of eliminating the overpopulation problem in the entire state in a definite time frame. The participant groups, however, are very enthusiastic about bringing an end to pet overpopulation and represent substantial experience in providing spay/neuter services to the public. NMHPNM will collaborate with those organizations that are willing to participate in the statewide effort and that are able to offer effective spay/neuter programs.
In addition to the boundaries of the human population, New Mexico has many separate "animal communities." These animal communities cross over and blend without regard to traditional city, county, or national boundaries. Because of these "free-flowing" animal communities, programs, and other efforts aimed at reducing pet overpopulation, that specifically limit their focus to a particular "human community" (for example, only city residents) will not be successful in New Mexico.
Local animal control agencies must limit their scope of services to their taxpaying constituents. Likewise, many private donors want their donated dollars to stay in their local community. Therefore the solution will need a statewide "animal community" approach spearheaded by an umbrella agency such as NMHPNM to solve the problem. Programs need to be developed and funded that are not limited by geographic boundaries, but instead address all the related problems whatever the source.
Animal control costs will never be brought to zero by pet population control because of the other valuable services these agencies provide. However in five years:
City and county governments in New Mexico will spend $18,000,000 - $28,100,000 capturing, housing, feeding, and euthanizing unwanted pets.
The cost to implement the solution of large scale spaying and neutering would be $6,000,000.
The cost savings is obvious.
NMHPNM will solicit funds from several sources to obtain a mix of funding that is adequate, annual, and achievable. These sources will include:
Individual donors including a large scale membership drive throughout New Mexico
Private foundations from within New Mexico and nationwide
Joint efforts with local humane agencies using pre-existing funding
Public sources of funding (state and local appropriations). New Mexico legislators have a fiscal responsibility to address the annual expenditure of nearly $15,000,000 on crisis management with no efforts toward prevention.
NMHPNM adheres to the principal that we must no longer allow pet owners and community officials to evade their collective responsibility for the control of cat and dog populations. Doing so demonstrates individual and fiscal irresponsibility and a startling lack of compassion for the animals in our shelters and the dedicated professionals who must put them to death by the thousands. A solution is available and can be brought about with diligent effort, generosity, and strong leadership.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
1. Volunteer your time and expertise by calling 505.843.6647.
2. Contact your local and state representatives about the importance of legislation to fund massive spay and neuter programs.
3. Talk to friends and neighbors about the benefits of spaying and neutering their pets.
4. Make sure your own pets are spayed or neutered.
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