Summer 2003

BETTER SOLUTIONS FOR TOO MANY ANIMALS
by Kathleen DesMaisons, Ph.D.

No More Homeless Pets of New Mexico is committed to seeing that every companion animal who is healthy can find a good home. We want to stop killing animals as a solution to the number of homeless pets.

As many of you may have read in the paper or seen on TV, No More Homeless Pets has been active in the last few months working with two programs in the City of Albuquerque.

Transporting Dogs to Colorado

The first of these is our transport program. We have set up a volunteer network with people to drive a rented van from City shelters up to shelters in Colorado. Some people have asked us why we do this. Are we just shipping our problem to our neighbors? Why would they want our dogs? Are they stealing our dogs for medical research?

Nope. The story is a little different. Colorado has had a very active and aggressive spay and neuter program for many years. They simply do not have the thousands of puppies and dogs we do here in New Mexico. Many people in Colorado have learned that getting your dog from the shelter is a great idea. And finally, of course, Colorado has lots and lots and lots of people. They want more dogs than they have.

The Law of Supply and Demand

It basically comes down to the law of supply and demand. They want dogs, we have dogs. We checked shelter references, visited the the shelter, talked with those in charge, and felt the plan would work. So we send them our dogs. The volunteer driver arrives at the shelter in Albuquerque with the rented van. It is the size of a 15-passenger van but all the seats have been taken out. Each dog is placed in a separate crate of the proper size. The crates are filled with shredded paper. The dogs are chosen by their shelter expiration date so that those dogs who have not been adopted and are risk for euthanasia are put on the van first.

Watching the dogs waiting to get on the van is wonderful. They are excited and intrigued by what is happening. I have been amazed that there is no wild barking and no anxiety. Somehow they know that something wonderful is happening. The driver, armed with coffee and donuts pulls out early in the morning for the trip north.

It has been exciting for us to make a dent in the killing. Even more exciting are the reports of what happens when the vans arrive. People with loving homes are thrilled to add a new member to the family.

Although the transport program does not solve the problem, it does reduce the numbers of animals being put down every year. But the adoption of one dog or 15 dogs a week somehow helps us cope better with the enormity of the problem. We have received close to $3,000 in generous donations. Each check, however small, has made a difference. One run to Colorado costs about $300 for the van rental, gas and the expenses of the volunteer driver. As long as we have money, we will keep driving our dogs to freedom.

Spay and Neuter

Of course, the most critical issue for stopping the killing is spay and neuter, spay and neuter and spay and neuter. On that front we are making some real progress. The city started us off early in the year with a small contract for low income spay and neuter services. Mayor Chavez announced this wonderful opportunity on Spay Day in February. Our phone started ringing off the hook.

We had been warned that people didn’t care about spay and neuter, that they didn’t want to get their animals fixed and that we would have a terrible time finding folks to use the program. We heard “those people are not responsible pet owners,” or “those people don’t care.” Well, we had a hunch that this was not quite the case. We started with the premise that the reason so few low-income folks get their animals spayed or neutered is simply cost. When we did a survey of the current costs for surgery in the city, we were amazed to see that the costs range from $90 to $300+ dollars. Even most of the places that advertise “low cost” spay and neuter, add a surcharge of $1 per pound over 40 pounds, a surcharge for pain medication and a surcharge if the animal is in heat or pregnant. It adds up fast. And if you are caring for a family of 4 on $14,000 a year, finding an extra $100 to get Molly spayed is simply out of the question.

I have been told by hundreds of people “if they can’t afford it, they shouldn’t have a pet.” Now, with all due respect, I think that is just plain silly. Pet ownership is a joy, and you shouldn’t be denied that joy if you are poor. So our job at NMHP is to find ways to make it possible to have a spayed or neutered and avoid having unwanted puppies and kittens. Our commitment has been to spread the word that we have funding to perform spaying and neutering. We want to become known as the source for low-income spay and neuter.

A 24-hour Hotline

We have set up a 24-hour, bilingual hotline. We answer every phone call we get, and the calls have been pouring in. By the last week in May, we had more than 800 animals on the waiting list. We have people calling us every week to see how the line is moving. They are excited, enthusiastic and eager. Their enthusiasm is infectious. Their neighbors call. Their friends from work call. Their nephews and nieces call.

We worked hard to set up a system to track the requests. I turned my own professional office into a dog and cat response center while we put the pieces together. Our first phone was a local cell phone. It only had a 9-message capacity. We found that sometimes 9 calls would come in during the first phone call. We got a new phone, and our volunteers got really efficient. My son, who speaks Spanish, carried the phone with him all the time so that those who work could call in the evening.

Using the SNAP Van

Now that we had the people and pets, we had to find a way to get the surgeries done fast. We worked out a service agreement with some local providers. We talked to the folks from Houston SNAP, who run the mobile Spay and Neuter Program for the Navajo nation. We noticed that their mobile van was being used only every other week. We asked them if we might contract with them for the off weeks.

They agreed, and we began the daunting task of scheduling animals by size, weight and age for the five days of our first week. The van has 20 cages and a modern, high tech operating room. The veterinarians and two veterinarian technicians have a system for getting each animal ready for surgery, moving them into the operating room and then providing postoperative care. If we could get the folks and pets scheduled, they could get the spay and neuter job done.

We sent out letters with coupons telling folks to bring their dogs to the big truck in the bbank parking lot on Central and San Mateo. “Be there at 7 A.M.,” we said. And they were. Early morning coffee in hand, they showed up. There were eight little guys and 12 medium to big guys. We started with the pit bulls and Rottweilers because a high percentage of those breeds end up euthanized at animal shelters. We chose animals from two-pet, two-sex families in a race against spring fever. When folks left their dogs, we talked to them about the myths of spay and neuter. We told them about the surgery and what to expect. They left their pups and came back that afternoon.

A 93% show rate!

By the end of the week, we had spayed and neutered 93 animals. We now have a working system in place and have worked out the glitches. Our next task is to find the money to ensure that every dog and cat in Albuquerque is spayed or neutered. We have an efficient working system in place now. The glitches are pretty much worked out. We know the task; we have the skill to do it. Our next task is to simply find the money to make sure that every animal in the city of Albuquerque is spayed or neutered.

Call our hotline at 505-410-NMHP if you would like to get your pet spayed or neutered. Call me at 345-3737 if you would like to help our efforts.


SPAY/NEUTER MYTHS VS. TRUTHS

Dogs and cats should have babies so they feel fulfilled.

Dogs and cats have pretty simple goals. They want to be part of your life, have good food and feel good. They don’t think about babies. Their people sometimes think it would be fun to let their dog have puppies. Puppies are cute, but they are messy and need people who have the time and desire to train them.

Male pets are more “manly” if they remain intact.

Male animals don’t think about this. Usually it is the male owners who think this. Male dogs and cats are not like humans. They don’t think about being “manly.” They don’t have safe sex, and their unwanted puppies and kittens end up euthanized when there are no homes available. Last year more than 15,000 animals were euthanized in Albuquerque alone.

Female pets will get fat and lazy if they get fixed.

Just like people, female pets gain weight from overeating and not getting enough exercise.

It hurts the animal to get fixed.

The veterinarian gives your pet anaesthesia before operating and pain medication after the surgery.

It is expensive to get my animal fixed.

This can be true, and is often the reason people failed to have their animals spayed or neutered. This is why No More Homeless Pets offers spaying and neutering programs for people who could not otherwise afford it. We want your animals to enjoy long and happy lives with you.


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