Apropos of Valentine’s Day, February is Spay/Neuter Awareness Month!
February May Be the Month of Romance…
But our pets do not need sexy time!
As counterintuitive as it seems, when it comes to love and animals, there really can be too much of a good thing. In the spirit of understanding the many health, behavioral, and social benefits of spay/neuter (S/N), aapp interviewed three animal-saving superstars for real talk about why S/N is crucial for helping our own pets live long, happy lives–and how this surgery saves countless shelter animals across the United States every year.
Kathi Daniels and Michelle Rivera are the CEOs & Founders of two separate high-volume, lost-cost spay-neuter and wellness clinics for the public. They are also industry leaders in bringing affordable veterinary care to their communities, which is enormously important for keeping pets in their loving homes and out of the shelter system. Dr. Tvrdik has likewise earned her proverbial stripes, with nine years of experience as a Shelter Veterinarian and Spay/Neuter Surgeon, and 16 years of working in animal welfare. These humans’ incredible fortitude, stamina, passion, vision, and unwavering commitment to pet healthcare and equality are inspiring. Let’s get to know them and hear their expert opinions on S/N! — Courtney Wennerstrom, AAPP Contributing Editor
C: Why are you passionate about providing low-cost S/N to the public?
Daniels: When I first started my journey in animal welfare, my main reason for wanting to provide affordable S/N was to help lower the euthanasia rate. Less pets born meant less pets entering our already overcrowded shelters.
Rivera: My passion started when I worked in an animal shelter 20 years ago. We were killing pets for space and for many years this was the norm. It was heartbreaking and after seeing results in other states with S/N, I left the shelter and started my own mass sterilization program to help end the killing of healthy and adoptable pets.
Dr. Tvrdik: Working in a variety of shelters, I have seen firsthand the devastating effect that pet overpopulation can have on the lives of our dog and cat friends. Unfortunately, there just are not enough homes for the number of dogs and cats being born every year. Providing spay and neuter access to pet owners can have a huge impact on reducing these numbers so we can find homes for the pets already flooding our shelters.
The Takeaway: S/N Saves Lives!
C: What are the Health Benefits of S/N for Pets?
Dr. Tvrdik: Spayed and neutered pets have an overall reduced cancer rate, especially mammary, uterine, and testicular cancer. One of the biggest health benefits is the elimination of pyometra, or uterine infection. Around 25% of unspayed dogs will develop this infection by age ten, and I have personally seen several dogs under the age of one with pyometra. Cats can develop this as well. Left untreated, this infection leads to rupture and/or death. Treatment requires quick, intensive action including emergency spay and antibiotics. Spaying completely eliminates this risk. I’ve also seen the health problems of older dogs and cats who have not had the benefit of being spayed/neutered. Life-threatening cancers and uterine infections are expensive and scary for our pets to battle, and can be prevented with a relatively routine surgery early on in their lives.
Daniels and Rivera add that by the time parents bring in their pets for treatment for pyometra or mammy tumors, they are too often forced to make wrenching decisions if they cannot afford the care. Therefore, they rightfully categorize S/N surgeries as preventative medicine.
The Takeaway: S/N Improves and Lengthens Lives!
C: What do you wish the public understood about S/N?
Rivera: That it is a very safe surgery with more benefits than not. That we are experts in the field and just because it’s low cost, it doesn’t mean we cut corners. In fact the cost of the surgery is the same as a full service clinic (for overhead costs), it is just that we subsidize the costs with donations and fundraising to help others in need.
Dr. Tvrdik: I do think that people are still concerned about their pets undergoing surgery. While it is an anesthetic procedure and pets, like humans, can react poorly to anesthesia, spays and neuters are generally very safe. With the emergence of spay/neuter clinics and a focus on shelter medicine, many veterinarians have become experts at these procedures and can do them safely, quickly and efficiently–thus reducing time under anesthesia, making incision sites smaller, and putting your pets in the hands of veterinarians who have done thousands or tens-of-thousands of these surgeries. People are also concerned about cost. Private vet fees for spay/neuter surgery are fair, but we understand it can still be out of reach for some owners. Spay/neuter clinics are staffed by experts in these procedures and therefore, we can focus on these surgeries only, do more each day safely, and we can charge lower prices than private veterinary clinics. There are also organizations that help subsidize our special promotions or our equipment purchases.
The Takeaway: Because they specialize in these surgeries, low-cost S/N clinics are perfectly safe, and are a very good option for pet parents on a budget!
C: What are some of the biggest cultural issues or misunderstandings at play when pet parents opt not to get their pets altered?
Dr. Tvrdik: For some reason, many men are still unwilling to neuter their male dogs. Trust us! Your dog won’t even remember what he used to have and he will be so much happier! Neutered dogs are much less likely to roam away from home, reducing their risk of being hit by a car or becoming lost and/or fighting with other pets. Some of the most common injuries we see with intact dogs are being hit by vehicles in their pursuit of a mate. In cats, we very frequently see bite wounds and severe abscesses as a result of fighting and scrapping over territory or during mating season.
The Takeaway: Human constructs of gender, particularly surrounding masculinity, really do not apply to our pets.
C: I’ve Heard that S/N Can Make Pets More Social. Is that true?
Daniels: S/N helps animals become more social with one another: it reduces roaming, territorial aggression, and even marking or spraying. With most pets being spayed/neutered now, there are many pet daycares, boarding facilities, and even dog parks that require your pet to be spayed/neutered to be able to use their services.
Rivera: Male dogs tend to be less aggressive after neutering. Altered pets tend to be more social around other pets.
Dr. Tvrdik: Socially, spayed and neutered pets are typically less aggressive and can play with other pets with less incidents.
The Takeaway: S/N frees our pets from destructive drives and habits, limits dog behavior problems, and makes pets more social, playful, and delightful to be around.
C: Do you have any heart-warming stories you would like to share?
Dr. Tvrdik: One of the most rewarding parts of providing spay and neuter surgery to the public was through the partnership we established with our local emergency veterinary clinic. Many times, dogs or cats would present to the clinic with life-threatening pyometras (uterine infections). These can easily rupture or cause a pet to become septic and die. A large number of clients of the emergency clinic were unable to afford the cost of emergency surgery. The clinic was charging fair prices, but at emergency level care, these dog and cat owners were often not able to come up with the funds. Faced with euthanasia, the ER clinic would refer these patients to our spay/neuter clinic, and the owners would bring their beloved pets to have surgery at our lower cost subsidized clinic. We were able to save countless lives through this program and everyone–including the ER veterinarians, the owners, and the patients–were always so grateful! Recent studies have shown most areas have a spay/neuter clinic nearby that is willing to take on this type of partnership with local full service veterinary clinics and ERs. Also, through targeted S/N of our feral kitty friends, we saw a huge reduction of cat intakes to our local open-intake shelters, lessening their burden especially during kitten season.
The takeaway: How pawsome is that?!
C: Is there anything else you would like me to address?
Dr. Tvrdik: Always follow the recommendations of your regular veterinarian, but it is so important to make spay and neuter an early priority when you get a new pet. When you adopt, many shelters and rescues include spay and neuter in their adoption fees, so this is already taken care of for you before you bring your new friend home! Consider that when you consider the cost of adoption versus purchase of a pet.
The Takeaway: Heed expert advice and save the tinder profiles for humans!
C: Finally, what was your journey or path to this career?
Daniels: My journey in animal welfare started with me volunteering with rescue groups, fostering pets, and helping out at the local shelter. I then moved into working as an Executive Director at a shelter, and then as a program manager, and consultant on a national basis. Seeing how many adoptable, healthy pets were being put down every day due to space really pushed me towards spay/neuter. I knew that the only way we could reduce these numbers was to stop the number of pets that were entering the shelters. I knew the best way to address these issues was to address the need for quality/affordable spay neuter services. In 2010 I started Spay Illinois to help address the need for these services, and we have grown from serving 3500 pets a year to over 26,000 a year.
Rivera: I was in an abusive relationship and part of my therapy, once I got out, was to work with animals by volunteering in a shelter. I was scared of dogs and allergic to cats, so didn’t know how that would work out. But soon after I started, I was able to overcome my fear of dogs. I found that I could relate to those dogs who had been abused and neglected and focused my attention to help those dogs recover from their situations. I left the corporate world and went to work for the shelter to help raise funds, and end the killing of healthy and adoptable pets. However the only way to do that was to leave and start a mass sterilization program for Greater KC. I did that in 1999, and 150,000 spays and neuters later, we have helped end the killing of all healthy and adoptable pets in the Greater KC Area. My journey is not over and knowing the benefits pets provide to people (regardless of financial situation) we changed our focus to help keep pets and people together by providing all resources pet owners might need to help keep pets off the streets, out of shelters and in homes with the owners who love them.
The Takeaway: The people doing this incredibly important work are lifesavers, guardian angels, warriors, and rock stars. I cannot thank them enough for the many ways they make the world a kinder, more beautiful place for animals and the people who love them.
C: Thanks to each of you for sharing your S/N knowledge with our aapp members!
Kathi Daniels is the CEO &Founder of Spay Illinois. She is passionate about reducing barriers to veterinary care by implementing and providing programs that allow access to veterinary care for members of her community. She started Spay Illinois Pet Well Clinics in 2010 to help address the desperate need for affordable pet care. What started as a small clinic–providing general preventive care and spay/neuter has–evolved into an organization servicing over 26,000 pets annually and offering services such as dental care, digital x-ray, and specialty surgeries. Kathi envisions a time when affordable veterinary care is accessible to everyone, so that people and their pets can stay together. Outside of work, Kathi enjoys spending time with her husband and their menagerie of rescue pets.
Michelle Rivera is the CEO & Founder of the Pet Resource Center of Kansas City. In 2002, combining her business skills and seeing the desperate need for affordable spay neuter programs in Kansas City, Michelle started the Pet Resource Center of Kansas City, formerly, Spay & Neuter Kansas City, Kansas City’s first and now largest pet resource program. As a strong leader in her community, she and her team have made PRCKC uniquely qualified to successfully mentor and provide leadership to other start up programs. PRCKC’s programs include affordable low cost spay neuter, wellness clinic, outreach programs such as food pantry, off site clinics and resource distribution and serves over 25,000 pets annually.
Dr. Kristin Tvrdik has nine years of experience as a Shelter Veterinarian and Spay/Neuter Surgeon, as well as 16 years of experience working in animal welfare. She initially began work in the field as an intern, animal care technician, and adoption counselor at Hinsdale Humane Society in 2005.She obtained a BS in Biology from Illinois Wesleyan University and her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from Iowa State University. After earning her DVM, she served as Lead Shelter Veterinarian at a humane society in the Quad Cities followed by 5 years as Medical Director of an animal shelter and Low-Cost Spay/Neuter Clinic in Indiana. She joined the Hinsdale Humane Society team as Medical Director in May of 2019 and is excited to provide high quality care for dogs and cats that reside temporarily at the humane society as well as assist other rescue groups with their spay/neuter needs and provide a low cost clinic to the public.