For many years traditional sheltering organizations and rescues have been vigorously “bailing out the tub.” The tub keeps getting filled as animals enter the shelter incessantly, through good Samaritans bringing in “stray” animals to pet owners giving up pets they can no longer care for. Eventually the tub begins to overflow. It’s been happening since the days of the pounds, when dogs and cats were inhumanely killed as space became scarce and no one came to pick them up due to their lack of monetary value compared to livestock.
Killing became the way to deal with having too many companion animals until animal welfare advocates spoke up, stepped up, and made improvements to the system. Still, all these years later, dogs and cats that are deemed healthy and adoptable lose their lives in shelters due to the lack of resources. All the “bailing out” that we have been doing is not solving the problem. We need to invest as many resources as we can towards “turning off the faucet” to minimize the flow of animals into the shelters.
As an organization with the primary objective of providing free or low-cost spay and neuter services, we have been working diligently for over 10 years to turn off that faucet. What we have realized is that we cannot do it by ourselves. Also, we cannot expect animal welfare organizations to do all the work, with so many other obligations to reduce animal suffering and so few resources to work with. We need to remove the barriers to attract more veterinarians outside of shelter medicine and empower them to perform more spays and neuters to save more lives.
Based on our experience in private practice, teaching and learning in veterinary schools, and as animal welfare leaders, we can identify two major barriers that need to be overcome. The first is that many veterinarians do not see the things we see in shelter medicine or the animal welfare world. They know that overpopulation exists, but do not deal with the suffering of animals and loss of life that we witness day in and day out. Only recently has shelter medicine even been a specially. Currently, most veterinary schools lack a shelter medicine program and do not have any training for students in providing affordable care for animals.
The second barrier is a permeating cognitive bias within veterinary training - we continue to do things just because they have always been done that way. For many years the veterinary profession has promoted spaying and neutering at 6 months of age despite the lack of any scientific evidence to support it. Antiquated surgical techniques are still used and taught by veterinary schools. They are not safer or better. Twenty-five years ago we were encouraged to make large incisions because they “heal side to side, not lengthwise.” This is still the way students are taught even though nearly everyone can appreciate small incisions associated with endoscopic surgery minimize pain and expedite recovery.
These are significant barriers, but they can be largely overcome with education and experience in an animal welfare setting.
Frankie’s Friends is positioned to provide this education and experience but, to achieve the necessary reach, we need your help. We will be starting a formal High Quality High Volume Spay/Neuter (HQHVSN) training program this summer to attract veterinary and technician students through the provision of highly coveted externships. At the same time, we will be reaching out to veterinarians and technicians and offering free, RACE approved, continuing education opportunities to introduce them to HQHVSN. This will demonstrate not only the benefits to the animals and community, but also the positive financial impact to the practice when efficiency is maximized. Veterinarians can overcome the cognitive bias and realize that we can help more animals through this greater efficiency and still grow the practice by adopting our proven model. With private practice veterinarians lending their strength to our collective effort, that faucet will finally turn.