The Real Cost of Fixing the Pet Overpopulation Problem in Dallas
By Deanna Sauceda: Spay Neuter Network Executive Director
After the tragic dog mauling death of 52 year old Antoinette Brown in south Dallas, there has been a firestorm of criticism about how the city of Dallas handled the situation. There is also a call for firings of city officials, animal sweeps in these neighborhoods plagued by loose dogs, more citations, and aggressive spay neuter efforts. There are steps being taken to learn from the tragic incident, but the solution is not simple and it is not just sweeps, citations or just spay/neuter. Also, Dallas is not the only city struggling with pet overpopulation. I get calls every single day from neighborhoods, cities and towns wanting our team to help spay and neuter in their locale.
As executive director of Spay Neuter Network, I want to offer some history and real data around the problem that has existed in the Dallas area for decades. This applies in any area facing the problem. My organization has been boots on the street working on solutions for five years. There are success stories and the needle has moved in Dallas, but solving the problems associated with rampant pet overpopulation is complicated and multi-faceted. Most importantly, we cannot solve the problem by pointing fingers and burning down what has been accomplished. Instead, intense collaboration with smart systematic data driven programs are the only ways to see historic and lasting change. This is a quality of life issue that all residents, those with pets and those without, play a role.
SPAY NEUTER as a solution
No doubt spay/neuter is the most effective solution in the long run. Consider that one female dog and her offspring can result in 65,000 dogs in five years according to ASPCA. Recently a DMN news article quoted a formula indicating it only takes five to 10 spay/neuters per 1000 residents to result in zero animal population growth. The formula used by animal welfare experts and funders like PetSmart Charities and Best Friends tells a different story.
Dallas’ population is 1.3 million with nearly 800,000 dogs and cats living within the City limits; almost 200,000 of these dogs and cats live in areas below the poverty level. Studies have shown that only about 10% of the animals living in these areas are sterilized. That means we have nearly 170,000 dogs and cats that need our help and attention. 70% of these unaltered pets must be sterilized to greatly reduce the pet overpopulation problem we are facing. The cost to spay/neuter a dog or cat with a low-cost organization, like Spay Neuter Network, is $65-$100 which covers just the cost of surgery. Assigning a cost of $75/animal…that is nearly $12 million. A million dollars will help, but will not come close to paying for the number of surgeries to bring about impactful change; however more is missing from this formula and that’s reaching people.
In the last five years, Spay Neuter Network has serviced 11-thousand Dallas residents and each had an average of 2.5 pets. SNN provided 23-thousand surgeries and of those 94% were subsidized or provided for free thanks to caring national and local foundations and donors. More than $3,000,000 has been spent towards our efforts in Dallas.
In 2011, SNN initiated our first targeted low income program in Dallas thanks to funding from several sources. PetSmart Charities granted $173,000, but only 60% of that went towards surgeries; 40% went towards education and community outreach. The challenge with targeting our poorest neighborhoods is building trust, and building a philosophy of good pet ownership. SNN initiated “Takin’ it to the Streets”- program where today we go into specific zip codes and literally walk door to door, distribute flyers, speak to and educate residents, leadership at businesses, churches, schools and community organizations to join the effort. SNN offers free vaccinations that give us entrée to discuss spay/neuter. We have come to learn it takes an average of four visits with a pet owner to convince them to spay or neuter one animal.
Here’s the real story and how it works. A generous grant from the Petco Foundation is allowing us to strategically reach out to residents in south Dallas. On June 4th, our team held a free vaccination clinic at the Church of the Living God in south Dallas. We had been walking the streets for two weeks getting out the word and telling people about the event. We are following up with a free spay day on June 17th and we worked to sign up for a free spay/neuter at the vaccination clinic. Nearly 100 people started lining up an hour before we were scheduled to begin. While neighbors waited with their 163 pets, our team talked to them about wellness, spay/neuter and keeping pets from running the streets. Most had more than one pet and one family had a wire crate with several small Chihuahua mixes and a few full grown cats all together; all seemed quite satisfied with the accommodations! I spoke with an elderly woman who carried an envelope in her purse with what appeared to be the sum of her social security or disability check. She wanted to pay for every service available for her best friend. Who knows if she would bypass a meal to make sure her pup was healthy. Of the 163 animals, only 23 were signed up for spay/neuter. We have 140 more to work on, or 420 more touches.
Helping to increase spay/neuter in Dallas or any community takes more than money for surgeries, it requires funds for education, outreach, transport and people to do these things. It also requires an army of community volunteers helping to spread the word about the services available to reach those who need it most. Spay Neuter Network has been in the trenches working to solve this problem in Dallas and there has been progress, but we must understand this is a people problem and not a pet problem. That means communication and outreach is vital to bring about systemic change. That means people talking to people, neighbors talking to neighbors and all of us collaborating because we care about our city.
You can help save lives by….
– Sponsoring surgeries – $100 per animal
– Sponsoring a MASH spay day – $3500 for 35-45 surgeries
– Sponsoring a day of walking the streets and educating the public – $400
– Volunteering! You can find volunteer information at spayneuternet.org/volunteer/
– Following and sharing volunteer needs on the Spay Squad Facebook Group
– Texting SPAY TO 41444 or clicking here to donate.