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Why Putting Human Health
Above Unlimited Spay/Neuter
Is the Right Thing to Do

As if living through the unparalleled coronavirus outbreak isn’t anxiety-provoking enough, the suspension or drastic reduction of spay/neuter surgeries by many veterinarians is causing additional heartache and unease within the sheltering and rescue communities. This is a particularly stressful time for those that work with community cat programs that rely on such services to do RTF and TNR. 

We all want to continue doing every bit of lifesaving work right now, but we must balance that with an ethical responsibility to keep our staff and the public safe and healthy and a need to conserve supplies for life-threatening emergencies.   

We agree with NACA’s recommendations for deciding which spay/neuter surgeries and other procedures are non-emergency procedures, and have made the decision to curtail these services to varying degrees at our sanctuary and at our Lifesaving Centers around the country. 

It was hardly an easy choice, but without people we can’t save any animals. It simply didn’t make sense to expose our staff, volunteers, fosters, and adopters to unnecessary risk. We will still reach our goal of becoming no-kill by 2025 and we will do it without sacrificing anyone in the process.  

Why Do We Feel OK About This Decision? 

Just because we decided to make this change doesn’t mean it hasn’t been challenging for us to accept, but keeping the following in mind helps:  

  • It’s not forever. Yes, it’s painful now but the truth is that we aren’t going back 20 years to a time when we didn’t have low-cost clinics. Our national and global supply chain will catch up with the demand and spay/neuter surgeries will begin again in earnest.  
  • It’s one way we can help support the front-line healthcare workers as they fight COVID-19. If you have family or friends who are doctors and nurses, or if you have followed the news stories about those brave people, you know we need to do our part to keep them safe 
  • We aren’t in this alone. Orders ceasing non-urgent care are affecting vets, shelters, and even dentists and other human medicine providers. How we handle this challenge sets an example for how others can save animal lives, especially those organizations that may think killing or stopping all lifesaving activities are the only options if spay/neuter is not available. 

What Changes is Best Friends Making? 

As NACA stated in its recommendations, “The lack of immediately available spay and neuter services should not be a reason for shelter euthanasia” and that is what is driving our choices. A few decisions we have made: 

  • In municipal shelters where we are supporting community cat programs, we continue to do RTF. While we hope that most shelters will discontinue accepting stray cats, if they are still coming in our community cat programs are continuing to save their lives. 
  • Our Lifesaving Centers continue their adoption programs by empowering fosters to conduct their own adoptions using technology to maintain safe physical distance. 
    • At the Best Friends Lifesaving center in Salt Lake City, we are not doing any spay/neuter surgeries based on Utah Governor Gary Herbert's order to shut down until April 26th. The Kitten Care Center and Lifesaving Center are both closed to the public however we are doing appointments for foster and adoption. The meet and greets happen virtually, then adopters or fosters pick up their animals through a drive-up service.
    • At Harris County Animal Shelter in Houston, Best Friends is continuing to operate the RTF portion of the community cat program. The vet at the shelter is providing spay and neuter, though surgeries are limited. We are also continuing with transport for now. We are implementing a "drive by" drop off system for foster-to-transport animals so we do not have fosters and volunteers congregating near each other. We are also practicing the six-foot rule, sanitizing regularly and wearing gloves. 
  • We’re not letting the lack of spay/neuter slow down our lifesaving efforts, including sending animals to foster and into adoptive homes. We are continuing such work and utilizing all social distancing measures to manage interactions.  

How Can Your Organization Adapt to the Current Situation? 

We understand that people are nervous about adopting out unaltered pets and sending people home with vouchers or doing virtual adoptions via their foster homes. We firmly believe, however, that we should look to the positive and allow ourselves to trust our communities.  

Already when shelters have reached out for help, they have received overwhelming support for things like emergency foster parents and donations. This situation is no different and we can put our trust that people will be compassionately motivated to follow through with spay/neuter on the other side of this crisis. Likewise, we can rest assured that fosters are doing the best by the animals in their care and want loving homes for them.  

That isn’t to say there won’t be animals that don’t return for sterilization, however it’s important to also remember that studies have indicated that approximately 86% of owned dogs and 73% of owned cats are spayed or neutered. Overwhelmingly our industry’s message about the importance of spay and neuter will have a far greater impact on the no kill movement than an individual animal reproducing in the worst-case scenario.  

We know that this isn't an ideal situation. But in this time of crisis, we want to remain flexible enough to save lives even when spay/neuter is not an option for us. It's a temporary lifesaving measure now, and we can, and will get caught up as things get back to normal. We have made far too much momentum in the past 20 years to let a few months of crisis hold us back. 

Want More Information from the Experts? 

Watch this video where two passionate spay & neuter veterinarians discuss why spay and neuter is considered an elective procedure and why we should stop them. As Dr Julie Levy says in the video “we will recover” and we will ultimately Save Them All! 

Sue Cosby
Senior Director of Lifesaving Centers
Best Friends Animal Society

Erin Katribe, DVM
Medical Director
Best Friends Animal Society