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Female vet examining black cat

Is Spay/Neuter an Essential Service During the Pandemic?

There has been a lot of discussion lately about whether spay/neuter is an essential service, with many providers temporarily halting or changing how they operate during COVID-19. 

I've spent 20 years of my  professional life talking to anyone and everyone about the importance of spay/neuter, so to see such services be limited or halted because they were not deemed essential, especially at the start of kitten season, is not easy. 

Spay/neuter is and always has been essential to those of us in the animal welfare field, much like many other services labeled non-essential during the pandemic that we know to be important. 

But non-essential is really a misrepresentative term.  

Decisions to stop certain veterinary services were made based on trying to keep people safe, not on whether that service was important or not. Being labeled “non-essential” may have limited access, but it does not diminish the value of spay/neuter or other services offered by wellness clinics.  

It’s time to get creative  

Regardless of your view on whether spay/neuter should have been halted or not, now is the time for us to all get creative and figure out a way to help these services rebound. Many clinics are in perilous financial situations from losing revenue. With unemployment expected to soar to 30% nationally, clients will need affordable services more than ever.  

We also know that having an unaltered pet going through heat cycles, spraying, mating and having unwanted litters is a big cause of stress in homes. An unaltered pet is also more prone to developing health concerns, and all these things can quickly eat away at an already stretched bank account. 

But every day, we see innovations happening in shelter work as they share images of smiling staff standing in front of empty dog kennels and cat cages. Shelters that never had empty cages before are benefiting from the generosity of their community stepping forward to foster and adopt. 

Just as shelters have innovated with fosters, spay/neuter professionals are poised to do so for providing surgical and wellness services. After all, spay/neuter professionals love to solve problems at the source, which is why we focus on prevention. Spay/neuter is the cornerstone of access to care and preventing pets from entering shelters or being re-homed. 

Today, we need to focus on what we CAN do to help more pets in ways we hadn’t thought of or in a more efficient manner, or we will just get frustrated and stressed thinking about all the unaltered dogs and cats out there. 

Introducing ways to ramp back up with S/N surgeries 

Best Friends Animal Society recognizes that we were not going to return to the old way of doing high-volume spay/neuter for a while, with lots of people dropping off and picking up pets at the same time. We helped convene a diverse group of spay/neuter providers and shelter professionals to come up with a new way to provide such services, and jointly have put together the COVID-19 Spay/Neuter and Wellness Clinic Preparedness Guide.  

The guide, which is hosted on the Best Friends Network website, includes examples of how other clinics are safely providing spay/neuter and wellness services while still following social distancing guidelines. It will be a living document, kept updated as things change. 

Best Friends is also working with funders, national and regional organizations on a plan for a nationwide combined spay/neuter effort to help shelters and clinics catch up on the backlog of surgeries. We will share more details in the next few weeks. 

Finally, our grassroots advocacy team is asking 1,000 people to join with their neighbors and pledge to fix the stray cats in their neighborhood when spay/neuter services are locally available again. We will be rolling out this campaign in conjunction with the national effort. 

Bringing services back as essential categories 

One thing this pandemic has shown us is that everything in a community is connected. Because spay/neuter is more critical now than ever in keeping us from moving forward, 

This is a time to innovate and find ways to bring such services to the forefront again. Spay/neuter, along with a new way of thinking, is more essential than ever. 

Aimee St. Arnaud
Director of National Veterinary Outreach
Best Friends Animal Society