Cat intake at the Windsor/Essex County Humane Society in Canada had been increasing every year, and shelter staff knew they wouldn’t be able to keep up with the volume through adoptions alone. More affordable and accessible spay and neuter services were needed.
In 2011, the Humane Society opened its low-cost spay and neuter clinic. Around the same time, shelter officials began persuading government leaders in the surrounding municipalities to fund spay and neuter voucher programs for companion animals and community cats. This enabled residents to get these services at the shelter free of charge.
The outcome was remarkable. Between 2011 and 2016, cat intake decreased by more than 45 percent.
“Increased spay and neuter works,” says Melanie Coulter, executive director of the organization. “We couldn’t adopt our way out of” the increasing intake.
Shelters implement and fund low-cost spay and neuter programs in different ways, but the common thread is that these services save lives and money. Alice Burton, Allie Cat Allies’ associate director of Animal Shelter & Animal Control Engagement, and a former animal control officer, understands this first-hand. That’s why she works with shelter officials around the country to help them figure out how to provide these vital services to the community.
A Look at Different Programs
As Burton knows, one way to offer low-cost services is with your shelter’s own clinic. Baltimore County Animal Services in Maryland has a spay and neuter clinic at its shelter and two satellite clinics in the community, where it offers surgeries for dogs and cats, including community cats, for $20. This fee also includes microchips, vaccines, and an eartip for community cats.
In Oklahoma City, the private Central Oklahoma Humane Society offers low-cost spay and neuter starting at $35 for companion animals, and charges only $5 for community cats.
“My priority for the last year has been the $5 TNR, because I feel like it’s a good incentive for people to keep trapping cats,” say Cati Harris, the spay and neuter clinic manager.
At the Windsor/Essex County Humane Society, spay and neuter surgeries (for community and owned cats) are $50. For community cats, this price includes an eartip, microchip, and FVRCP vaccine. It has a “Frequent Fixer” program, so the surgery is free for every 10th cat someone brings in.
It also accepts municipal vouchers, in which the government puts money into a voucher program so residents can get free or reduced-price services.
Sonoma County Animal Services in California has four separate low- or no-cost spay and neuter programs. They are for dogs and cats belonging to low-income residents, for pit bull-type breeds, for mother cats or dogs with litters, and for community cats. The county partners with veterinarians who accept spay and neuter vouchers.
If your shelter doesn’t have its own clinic, partnering with veterinarians can be a way to provide low-cost services, says Monica Argenti, community engagement manager at Sonoma County Animal Services.
Tapping Into Funding Options
Funding can be a challenge when starting a spay and neuter program. Some foundations, like PetSmart Charities, give grants for spay and neuter programs. Sonoma County and Oklahoma Humane have funded spay and neuter through grants.
Baltimore County Animal Services received a grant from the Maryland Department of Agriculture to offer no-cost services to community members who live in certain ZIP codes.
For municipal shelters that depend on county budgets, it’s important to educate council members about why the services are important. Veterinarian Melissa Jones, chief of animal services in Baltimore, says the spay and neuter program was in the county’s best interest because it also ensures animals are vaccinated.
“As a public health agency, the council and the executive agree with this idea of funding the project to ensure people and animals are protected,” she says.
When Windsor/Essex County Humane Society lobbied the municipalities for a voucher program, it emphasized that spaying and neutering should be a communitywide effort. “Everyone needs to do their part,” says Coulter.
Educating the community about the importance of spaying and neutering animals, and promoting these low-cost services so people will want to use them, is key to the success of these programs. “It’s great if you have the services, but if nobody knows about them, why have them?” says Argenti.
Alley Cat Allies is eager to help you in your quest to provide these services. For affordable spay and neuter resources in your area, check out our Feral Friends Network. You can also tap into this comprehensive database or Spay USA.